Sonlight offers a better alternative to contemporary YA fiction

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"Books show us the world, and in that sense, too many books for adolescents act like funhouse mirrors, reflecting hideously distorted portrayals of life."

I agree with that quote from Meghan Cox Gurdon, children's book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal. The Young Adult sections of libraries seem full of lurid exploits, harsh details of abuse, and abundant profanity. Gurdon challenges that darkness so popular in books today.

You can read her insightful article here (Warning – this article contains brief examples of typical dark plots. If you're a child or teen reading this, please check with a parent before clicking): "The Case for Good Taste in Children's Books."

Gurdon says that even though some teens do live in horrible situations, Young Adult books shouldn't therefore gluttonously wallow in darkness in an effort to identify with those hurting teens. Instead, we should realize that books help tell teens what the norms are in life. So we have a choice of what norms to portray.

Sonlight books create the norm for students that young people do face trials, get hurt and make mistakes, but that they can ultimately overcome in the end. Sonlight does not pretend the world is perfect. But we do show that young people can step up to the challenge, grow through hard times, and live with courage. They can make a difference in their families, communities and world.

On vacation, 14-year-old Emma P reads They Loved to Laugh, a beloved work from Core 100.

This is one reason I use my 7-point test to determine if a book is "Sonlight worthy." One point of the test is that the protagonist must change for the better over the course of the book. So many Sonlight books in the upper Cores don't just fulfill these standards; they go way beyond them. I think of works such as Peace Child, To Kill a Mockingbird, Till We Have Faces, The Hiding Place, Red Scarf Girl, The Great Gilly Hopkins, A Separate Peace, The Chosen, Jacob Have I Loved, and A Severe Mercy.

It seems that so much of what's on the non-Sonlight shelves for young people today just perpetuates the feelings of insecurity and angst that teens already face. Far better to give our students quality literature where young people acknowledge these feelings and find support to grow beyond that insecurity toward real courage.

Even when teens have been abused, I don't think the answer is to give them books that validate their experience as normal. We should instead offer adult aid that helps them see the abuse as a distorted, horrible thing that happened to them. We should help them heal instead of giving them novels that make them perpetually re-live their pain.
So I'm with Gurdon on this one, too:

I [take] the less progressive, less secular view that parents should take a more interventionist approach, steering their children away from books about sex and horror and degradation, and towards books that make aesthetic and moral claims.

As parents and educators, we have the responsibility to help shape our children. We should not glorify teenage angst and misery. Instead we should stand as mature guides, helping teens acknowledge their hurt, see the bigger scope of life, and find constructive ways forward.

Real literature – with believable characters and situations – can help us do that for our children. Though children will see right through boring moralistic tales, let's inspire our teens with great biographies and compelling fiction that shows the world as it really is – a troubled place with lots and lots of hope.

I'd count it a privilege for Sonlight to come alongside you as you do that.


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