When I was in my early thirties, I had to have a wisdom tooth pulled. (Short dental story here, skip this paragraph if such things make you queasy.) I chose to have it done under local, because it was cheaper, because I had a thing about being knocked out. The oral surgeon put in the anesthetic, waited a bit, and then tried to pull. Pain, lots of pain. I made him stop. He got mad. He told me, eventually, that I didn’t actually know what pain was, that what I felt was pressure.
As I said, I was in my thirties. I’d already had one baby. I’d lived my life. I had a pretty good idea what the difference between pain and pressure was. It didn’t fit with his plan for my immediate future though, and for his own. That plan required a quick extraction so he could go on with his day, so he chose to deny that my pain existed.
Situations over YA books and whether teens should be allowed to read them often fall along those general lines. There’s often an insistence that a book shows something “obscene,” when what it actually shows is a life. Were we to all drop our facades for a moment, tell our real life stories, chances are that most would have an element or two (or fifteen), that someone, somewhere, would label obscene. That someone, somewhere, would insist we should keep hidden away.
So we do. We teach ourselves to hide pieces of ourselves. By refusing to acknowledge the realities of the world around us, we teach our kids to hide pieces of themselves.
Other people may feel pain, or fear, or have lives completely unlike one’s own. Don’t invalidate them by insisting they don’t exist, or worse, by insisting that their existence should be covered up by shiny happy stories. Trust me, finding oneself in a book when one is struggling is a powerful thing, sometimes a lifesaving thing.
And those kids who aren’t struggling, who happen to read a book about a life unlike their shiny and happy one? Odds are it doesn’t warp them, but teaches them empathy, and just maybe makes the world a better place.
I haven’t read Eleanor And Park, though the current fuss over it has certainly bumped it higher on my reading list. I think Book Riot gets it right here, as does the NPR link embedded there. Read them both. They have important things to say.