As soon as I read that now infamous Wall Street Journal article “Darkness too Visible”, which slammed Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars along with much of today’s YA fiction, I rushed to get her book. I’m sure many others did too.
In my day there were no YA books to give an innocent high-school girl insight into things that parents and teachers didn’t want to talk about. I was stuck with what were then considered scandalous adult books, so dangerous to a person’s morals that the London Public Library didn’t keep them on the open shelves. Instead such books were hidden in a back room and adorned with “restricted” labels, lest they fall into the wrong hands.
You had to be over eighteen to read Fanny Hill, Candy, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Lolita or In Praise of Older Women. You had to fill out a special request form. The librarian had to approve your request, and then you had to endure public shame as she checked out your risqué choice.
But lucky me. As a teen I worked at the library after school and on Saturdays, so had easy access to those evil books. I never told anyone at the time, but I’m ready to admit now that I “borrowed” those books when no one was looking. That’s right. I didn’t ask for permission, since it would have been denied. Instead I sneaked the books home, hidden under my coat.
So as not to incriminate myself, I didn’t even stamp the books’ pocket cards with a due date. Oh, the guilt! I can assure you that to a dedicated library page such as I was, that felt almost as wicked as wanting to read those books.
After that I quickly became, to quote that WSJ article, “one who seeks out depravity”. I began to write heartwrenching poetry full of angst, moons and roses. I shortened all my skirts and sometimes went braless. A couple years later I took up with an older man and dropped out of university.
Eventually, I fell even farther from the nice southwestern Ontario United Church girl I’d once been. I became the kind of woman who reads edgy YA books and attempts to write them!
My forthcoming YA novel, How to Tend a Grave, Great Plains Teen Fiction, Spring 2012, is full of unpleasant stuff that might upset some people: prostitution, vandalism, teen pregnancy, miscarriage, death.
So you can totally see why I was excited to read Scars, a book so lurid that The Wall Street Journal had warned the world about it.
Well, what a surprise! Scars is not at all the dark, damaging horror I’d expected. Brave would be a better word. Uplifting would be another. Yes, it’s true that the book deals with difficult subjects, but in a positive, life-affirming way. Plus there’s hardly even any profanity!
All good YA books offer at least a sliver of hope, but Scars beams it out. And at the heart of Cheryl Rainfield’s dark story you’ll find love and light.
Sorry, WSJ, but anyone seeking depravity will have to look elsewhere.
As for my own moral decline brought about by “restricted” books, just so you know, I reformed, destroyed all my terrible teenage poetry and went back to school. I wear underwear most days now. And I returned those books to the library.
Okay, yes, I returned them in secret. But would a girl who’d been irredeemably corrupted by her inappropriate reading material have bothered at all?
Great post, Jocelyn. The moment one is “warned” not to read a book it often has the opposite effect on most of us. Thank goodness for those writers out there who are delving to into “real” subjects for today’s teens.
Thanks Laura. I agree about the opposite effect. My Dad used to say that the only way to get me to do something was to forbid it. That certainly worked with those books. I might not have bothered with them otherwise.
Loved this, Jocelyn. You’re a ‘Cleavage’ girl, through and through! Much bolder, more daring, than the prudish teen that I always was. Difficult subjects will always be an important part of YA. Teens need to read about issues with which they can identify. That’s why YA exists, after all! And it’s a place they can turn to for those ‘slivers of hope’ in the midst of darkness. To discover that positive endings are always a possibility!
So true Deb. Thanks for your thoughts.
What a wonderful, wonderful post! Now, whenever I see you, I will check to see if you are secreting a banned book under your coat.
Thanks Lena. But I thought people would be checking to see if I was wearing underwear?