Okay, this article on YA books being too dark has been making the rounds and being duly torn apart. I'll let someone else handle Hunger Games. I wanna talk about Sherman Alexie's Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has apparently been "challenged" quite a bit in libraries. So Alexie says something about being impressed his book has that much power when you can find much worse on the internet. Article writer potshots "It is no comment on Mr. Alexie's work to say that one depravity does not justify another," but the comment is implicit, isn't it? Depravity's a loaded word.
I am really quite curious about why Part-Time Indian was challenged. Possibly it was only mentioned in this particular article so the author could quote Alexie for the purpose of slapping YA authors on the wrist. Possibly she never read it. I can give her the benefit of the doubt. It's a little rough content-wise (although not so rough that my local, quite conservative-town library doesn't carry it proudly in the teen section, like Hunger Games), so let's suppose we removed the swearing, and maybe anything marginally sexually or violently psuedo-kinda explicit (not really present, but we'll pretend). What about the depiction of despairing alcoholism? Is that okay? Interracial relationships? What about the concept that leaving a reservation school for a white-dominated school could have serious social repercussions (repercussions that are, by the by, largely overcome during the book through time and effort)? What about racism?
Depravity is a very loaded word. I haven't read a lot of these books and for all I know, some of them are shock-value style trash. But I have read Part-Time Indian. You would like it. It's engaging, it's instructive, which is what teen books should be, right? Just because the life experience isn't one you recognize doesn't make it invalid. And that is the trouble with hand-wringing about darkness. Some things are dark because the author just thought a bit of nastiness would be awesome and edgy or because angst and torment is deep. Some things are dark or "dark" because not every kid grows up in an idyllic situation where everything goes well (well, does any kid?) and these experiences are worth writing about. You can usually tell the difference between the poseurs and the thinkers.
And not every YA is dark any more than every fantasy is dark. If you go looking for the unhappiest stuff in the pile (which I don't think I would rank either Part-Time Indian or Hunger Games in, frankly), then you will find it. And kids will read what they very well want to read, even if they have some swearing or mention the existence of sex or are kind of downers. Duh. Look, I happily ran around picking up Brave New World and Carrie and Invisible Man (Ellison) in my teens, and I was a really late bloomer. Just saying.