#YASaves by Johanna Harness

08 Jun

Life hasn’t been going well for me the last couple months.  It seems we’re in the middle of a rash of family illness and death and general bad luck.  It’s one of those extended times of doom that most of us experience eventually.  There’s not much to do but hang on and wait for it to end.

My friends have been reminding me to care for myself as I care for others in my life.  With that in mind, my teen daughter and I drove over to Boise for Monday night’s SCBWI meeting.  We settled into the comfy back room of Rediscovered Books, feeling a bit numb and battered.

Then our guest speaker, a local junior high school librarian, started talking about books.

“I’m in the middle of that one!” my daughter told him, pointing at Liar by Justine Larbalestier.  “No spoilers!”

“Isn’t it great?” he asked.  “Are you into part two yet?”

And somehow in those moments, our dark cloud vanished for a while.  For the next couple hours, we talked about YA books and the kids and adults who love them.  We came away with a dozen more books we want to read.

This past week, young adult writers and readers have been livid over a June 4th article in The Wall Street Journal.  In “Darkness Too Visible,” Meghan Cox Gurdon argues:  “If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.”

The element that most amazes me in Gurdon’s statement is her underlying sentiment that anything hideous about life is a distortion of reality.

I cannot do the mental gymnastics to deny the bad in the world, either for myself or for others.  Bad stuff happens. It happens all the time. I can offer friendship and comfort and an ear to listen. Thankfully, I can also offer books.

Monday night, that junior high school librarian didn’t know he was saving me from my pain.   He just offered books.  It was what I needed.  I’m sure he does the same for his students every day.

On Twitter this week, writers and readers embraced the tag #YASaves to react to the WSJ article, declaring over and over how much good comes from reading YA fiction.  #YASaves.  It’s true.  These authors deserve enormous credit for their bravery and honesty, but let’s not forget: teen librarians are often the ones putting those books into the hands of the readers who need them.  Many thanks to Gregory Taylor for speaking with our group.  I endorse my daughter’s assessment.  You do, indeed, rock.


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16 responses to “#YASaves by Johanna Harness

  1. JC Rosen

    June 8, 2011 at 5:42 AM

    I’ve read so many fantastic YA books recently, both those recommended by my son and those by friends who write YA. I am often in tears reading them, thinking how precious these gifts would have been had they been available during my own YA years. Whether they offer “simple” escape or deal with a hard-hitting issue, they touch a person’s life. I am so glad these books impacted my son to the extent that he often reads them again despite his now 24 years of age. I’m also grateful for the issues they’ve helped me address in my own life. #YAsaves – even adults.

    Johanna, you and your family are in my thoughts and heart.

    Take care,

    • johannaharness

      June 8, 2011 at 5:48 AM

      Thank you, Jess. It is telling that YA book readership continues to grow. Not only are more teens reading these books, but more adults too. The quality of writing in this genre is amazing.

  2. lizfredericks

    June 8, 2011 at 6:50 AM

    Take care Johanna and thank you for reminding us to find comfort in books.

  3. Janis McCurry

    June 8, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    Johanna, any book that encourages respite and exploration is a good book. Great article.

  4. Peggy Staggs

    June 8, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    Even as a kid I escaped into books. They’re always a wonderful distraction. You and your family are in my thoughts.

    • johannaharness

      June 8, 2011 at 4:43 PM

      I agree, Peggy–and thanks so much for the good thoughts.

  5. Meredith Conner

    June 8, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    Books can be lifesavers at times. A chance to escape the here and now or a different perspective on life. Best wishes for you and your family Johanna.

  6. Megan Hutchins

    June 8, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    There’s also been a very amusing and highly-sarcastic #YAkills thread mocking the WSJ journal. The thing that shocked me the most about it was the assumption that all YA’s the same. I love how many different kinds of books YA holds — it means I can always find something just right for me.

    • johannaharness

      June 8, 2011 at 4:47 PM

      So true, Megan. Did you see the reply from Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton? He makes the same point, that there are all kinds of books in YA, but goes on to say, “the books she [Gurdon] cites are far from typical of the genre as a whole, which in the main has been given over to high-concept, hook-heavy beach books whose most alarming characteristic is their resemblance to one another and sheer replaceability.” His full response is here:

  7. Kristina

    June 8, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    Thinking of you my friend…thinking of you.

  8. Carley Ash

    June 8, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    Your blog brought back memories of the wonderful books I read in my youth. Thank you.

  9. lynn mapp

    June 8, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Johanna, finding escape for the sheer drama of life is always a good thing. I’m glad you were able to have that. You’re in my thoughts and prayers,

  10. Mary Vine

    June 12, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    Nice blog. I shared it on Facebook


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