As I was standing in James Dashner's signing line at the Utah Festival of Books on Saturday, a teenage girl asked me a question. "A friend told me The Maze Runner is really dark. Did you think so?"
I was quite surprised by the question. I told her that the book was about a bunch of teenagers in a very horrible and sometimes violent situation. However, I didn't find it to be dark. To me, the book focused on these boys banding together to win over the atrocities that were done to them. While terrible things happened, it never felt dark to me.
With the recent hullabaloo about YA getting too dark, I found this to be an interesting question. Is YA getting too dark? I think it depends on your definition.
I'll admit, there are some subject matters in YA that I personally don't want to read. There are some books I would have to read myself and discuss with my (future) teenager before I'd determine if I'd let them read it. I do not like books in general that have intense amounts of swearing, sex, or gory violence, and I won't let my kids read books that have too much of any of those. (Though that's NOT to say I would order any book banned from general consumption-- everyone has a right to make their own choices.)
This is a personal opinion. And that is where the issue of darkness comes to: we all have different definitions of what is inappropriate, and different ideas of what "dark" means. I had a friend in high school who refused to watch the Lord of the Rings movies, because she said they were too dark. I was surprised. I found the story to be inspiring. Good triumphs over evil, right? How could Frodo and Sam's friendship be anything but inspiring? That doesn't mean I'm right and she's wrong-- we simply looked at the movie in different ways.
In my opinion, darkness isn't just something inappropriate. It's what you find when a terrible situation is presented, and in the end, the darkness wins. And actually, that's not even entirely accurate. In the book 1984, Big Brother wins. But I didn't find that book dark. Frightening, yes. But it was a warning, a message to be careful what we did with our world. Darkness is when something evil is portrayed as good, as acceptable. And that is a kind of book I won't read.
There are tough subject matters in many books, YA or not. I found The Kite Runner to be very difficult to read. It was eye-opening in a horrendous way, but I won't ever read it again. It's not one that I necessarily recommend, even though I didn't dislike it and even though it ended on a note of hope. There are books in YA that deal with some of the difficult issues kids face today. Some I've read; some I haven't; some I don't want to. Some I don't want my kids to read, either. Those books might be right for some people, but not for me.
So, my friends, I want to know. What do you think constitutes "dark" in literature? Are there things you don't read, and choose not to let your children read? What do you feel is inappropriate in books? I'll be taking part in the discussion in the comments today, rather than by email, so let's talk about it.