The Dark Days of YA

There was an article–and if you’re active in the YA community then I’m sure you’ve seen it or reacted to it–about darkness in YA.  The premise was that YA bookshelves are brimming with dark stories and that YA authors are turning children into cutters, drug addicts, and devil-worshippers, etc, etc.

I’m not going to respond to the article itself, since that’s been done to death.  Honestly, I’m so tired of reading about darkness.  There were further discussions about it last week, on the radio no less, but I didn’t tune in.  What I do want to blog about is my own teenage brush with darkness.

My life was cushy.  I didn’t deal with any real life trauma in the way that a lot of kids have to.  Still, I was drawn to dark subjects like a buzzard to a dead body.  Something about the dark side of humanity was enthralling to me.

When I was in middle school, I had WebTV (Yes, I had the internet in middle school, I’m young thankyouverymuch).  If you don’t remember WebTV, it was just a box that you put on top of your TV that let you connect to the internet and use the TV like a monitor.  I don’t know why we didn’t just have a computer, but I suspect WebTV was the poor man’s computer at the time, so there you go.

Using my WebTV connection, I created a personal Angelfire website (OK, you got me, I’m not really young at all).  I had multiple pages with cool quotes and animated .gifs.  I created a lot of it on my own, using HTML, so I was super proud of myself.  One of the pages I remember was entitled Torture Devices.  Another was Serial Killers.  Still another was Witchcraft.  I researched these topics with gusto.  Time, effort, and the Dewey Decimal System.  We didn’t have Google.  We had AltaVista, and that wasn’t half as intuitive.

I showed off my awesome website to friends and internet boyfriends, but I wanted IRL pats on the back.  So, I showed my mom.  She was appropriately horrified.  Here was this website that I spent hours and hours perfecting, and it was about torture, serial killers, and witchcraft.  There were some brighter bits, like an about me section and a section about books, but do you think she saw the brighter stuff?  Nope.  She zeroed in on the dark stuff and I got a good talking to.  Or yelling at, anyway.

Even as I researched these things, though, I didn’t ever feel compelled to duplicate them.  There was a fascination with mortality and all of that, but I didn’t want to test my own mortality.  I think that, as teenagers, we finally begin to understand the shortness of life and the depravity that surrounds us.  We get our first glimpse outside of our sheltered lives, and we want to explore the how’s and the why’s.

Unless I was just a very weird kid, which is totally possible, I feel like a little teenage darkness happens for all of us.  Whether the darkness gets us interested in torture devices or field hockey, it’s there for everyone.

I don’t know what this really adds to the conversation, except to say that darkness isn’t new for teens.  Darkness is new for marketing campaigns centered on teens.  The inherent curiosity about dark subjects has finally been picked up on by The Man, so The Man is giving teens what they’ll buy.  Teens today have a lot more cash to burn through, hence the shelves of darkness in the big box book stores.


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