Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why I Write for Teens, or, Life is an Often Overwhelming Challenge

In Forgiven, Kula arrives in San Francisco in 1906 prepared for challenges but not for this: the enslavement of children. I've written about this before, and will again. Young girls (average age, around 10 - young girls, let's be frank) were either kidnapped or sold into slavery in China and brought to California to service the men of San Francisco.

San Francisco of the time was more or less lawless, with a government happy to take bribes in order to look the other way, and an underground culture extant in both the Barbary Coast and in Chinatown. The city was filled with men fresh from the gold mines or the railroads or the seas, and they were looking for entertainment of the most basic kind. That's what these children (let's be truly frank) provided. Most died before maturity. Many died in childbirth or because they were pregnant and were deliberately starved to death.

Let's be truly, truly frank. This was the most abhorrent kind of child sexual abuse imaginable - the girls were caged (yes, you read that right) in cribs no larger than a dog kennel.

Now, why would I write about such depravity - for young adults, no less?

Because it existed. And it still exists today: as many as 1.2 million (yes, you read that right, again) children are subjected to this kind of trafficking and abuse worldwide - and don't even get me started on the issue of child brides, which is a disgusting form of legal child abuse.

If I seem particularly impassioned it is because of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in which the author despairs that YA fiction today features depravity. Really? Well. My reasonably "clean" novel features the kind of depravity imposed only by adults on children.

Should young adults not be exposed to this reality?

Let's not even address here issues of teaching tolerance and awareness. Let's go directly to the heart of it: what teens feel like.

Recently I wrote a blog post for Dear Teen Me about how I felt as a teen. I had a relatively sheltered and happy childhood - no abuse, drugs, or dislocations. Yet I suffered from depression, isolation and bullying. It took a huge toll on me, but I survived. Readers of my post celebrated my bravery for speaking about it.

But I think teens today are the brave ones. They face a world of challenges and painful realities. They face a world of changing climate, of financial instability, of political upheaval. They face profound choices and dilemmas that make what we faced in the past decades seem tame.

They face childhood slavery and exploitation.

And that doesn't begin to address their personal feelings - about being different, outsider, odd, peculiar, shunned, bullied, name it, kids feel it. And they need to know they are not alone. They need to know they can rise above. They need to know they can get help.

For pity's sake, they need to know they can help.

YA literature today saves. It saves because it faces those issues head on. It saves because if provides an outlet, or an inspiration, or an example.

YA saves. Yes, it does.

Here's an organization that helps kids suffering from exploitation:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children


Michelle said...

Beautiful post Janet. I think there is a good range of YA Books that shows the reality of life and if someone thinks it's too much I think is because of ignorance. This kind of people will love their Teens living in a bubble. For me it's like the same argument with swearing in books like if SOME teens don't speak that kind of language at school in front of others. At the end the news are a lot of more R Rated than the majority of YA Books. This generation of Teens are growing under special circumstances where our nation is at war and where there's a lot of bullying at schools. So GO for YA authors who have the courage to write about life itself and the reality of it.


By the way Happy Release Day I been so busy that I diden't have the opportunity before to congratulate you. Wish you ALWAYS the best.

Janet Fox said...

Michelle - Thank you so much, both for the good wishes and the thoughtful comment. I understand how some parents feel. It's a difficult world! But sticking heads in the sand is not the answer.

Big hugs to you - j

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this! When I was in Korea, I met a lot of the victims of the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery system, who were taken mostly when they were still teenagers. I want to tell the world - I don't want to hide this away. Teens are the most open to learning about the problems of the world and often, most willing to right the injustices.

Janet Fox said...

Absolutely right. Teens are the future, and we need to give them credit for being much wiser in many ways than their elders.

Thanks for your comment!

Swati said...

Great post, Janet. Thanks! Very well stated! I think books are a great way for those teens who aren't dealing with these issues directly, to learn about what happens in the world. Aren't we supposed to show kids the world in a way that is safe and responsible? It is shocking and hard to learn how depraved people can be. But they are going to have to learn it -- we all do. Books are the safest way for them to do that.

Janet Fox said...

Yes, Swati, so true. And your brave book is a testament to that truth. Thank you.

Blessy said...

Wonderful post, Janet! The WSJ article was shocking, but I'm glad you voiced your thoughts on this. Looking forward to reading your novel, FORGIVEN.

Janet Fox said...

Thank you so much, Blessy. Hugs - j