For the next little while I'll be on summer holiday and so won't be posting here (or elsewhere, for that matter). It could be some time before I return to the blog because once I'm back there's a good chance I could be jumping straight into revisions for book 5.

Anyway, before I go I want to tell you a bit about my vacation because this is something I'm really excited about. I'm heading someplace I haven't been in thirty years, somewhere my money will go much further but there'll be a whole lot less TV and no Internet for the masses. I've been there before but since I was really young last time around I didn't pay much attention—this time I plan to take notice of everything! Vacation destination photo hint below:

some Time covers from 1981

My travel agent has finalized all the arrangements and quite soon now I'll be on my way to (drumroll)...1981! For those of you who have never been there or, like me, haven't been there lately, here are some fast facts about 1981:

• the global population was roughly 4.5 billion
• the median household income in the United States was $19,074
• the cost of a new home in the United States was $83,000
• a gallon of milk went for $2.22 in the U.S.
• it was the year MTV debuted
• aspartame was approved by the FDA
• The Yukon Gold potato was introduced
• Lean Cuisine frozen dinners first appeared in American supermarkets
• IBM introduced its Personal Computer (PC)
• Pope John Paul II was wounded by a gunman
• the U.S. hostages in Iran were freed
• an assasination attempt was made on President Ronald Regan

And to give you a further cultural snapshot here are some number one singles from the U.K. and U.S. in 1981

Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield

Prince Charming, Adam and the Ants

Under Pressure, David Bowie and Queen

Jealous Guy, Roxy Music (*caution, I think it may be impossible to watch any live Bryan Ferry performances from this period without swooning)

Don't You Want Me, Human League

The Tide is High, Blondie

There are many things I plan to do while in 1981. A few musical highlights of the trip will be watching Adam and the Ants play Tokyo (the videos up on YouTube look fantastic—it's time for me to see the real thing!), Billy Bragg (Mr. Love and Justice himself) gigging with his band Riff Raff before they break up later in the year and catching Simon and Garfunkel's free concert in Central Park along with half a million other people. Of course, I'll also have to make it into the MTV studio to watch the station's debut as they play their very first video, Video Killed the Radio Star.

You can't go back to 1981 without watching the Royal Wedding so I'll be stopping into St. Paul's Cathedral to see Princess Diane and Prince Charles tie the knot. I also plan to witness the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia and watch (live) Scott Hamilton win the U.S. male figure skating championship and then take gold in the World Championship. Go, Scotty!

I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at the movie theatre during my first time in 1981 but couldn't snack on popcorn back then because of my braces. Sob! This trip will see me rectifying that wrong by stuffing my face with buttery popcorn while watching Harrison Ford proclaim his fear of snakes and battle nazis on the big screen.

As for the small screen, since I wasn't normally allowed to stay up after Love Boat to watch Fantasy Island on Saturday nights I will be good and sure to stay awake well past ten o'clock and watch both ABC shows back to back (also while stuffing my face with popcorn!) while in 1981 this time.

As a Canadian, one of the wonderful things about being in 1981 will be knowing that the country has decent political leadership back there (Pierre Trudeau). It's going to be hell coming back to an epically small-minded, cold-hearted, ethically-challenged Tory majority government, I tell you! But let's not put a dent in my holiday enthusiasm by dwelling on the negatives.

Because 1981 was the height of Pacmania I fully expect to indulge in some ghost munching during the vacation. Depending on how much spare time I have, I could drop into my old school (which back then had grades 7 to 10 but which subsequently transformed into a full high school meaning I was able to attend the school all the way from grade 7 through 13, yes we had 13 grades in Ontario then!) and tell a certain teacher of mine how much she sucked. But I probably won't. Better just to let it go, right? Who wants to deal with unpleasantness during their vacation?

One thing I will absolutely make time for is dropping in to visit my Aunt's Airedale Terrier who was the BEST DOG EVER. I wonder if he'll recognize 2011 me as the same kid he knows in 1981? It wouldn't surprise me.


Of course, there are some people I'd love to catch up with who have since passed on but are alive and well in 1981—my grandparents and several of my uncles—and other folks I've lost track of over the years but as you know, that would be breaking the rules of time travel so I'll have to be content to watch them from a safe distance.

I hope you also have a wonderful summer vacation, whether you're spending it at home, some other place or some other time. See you back in 2011 later in the summer!

Adam and the Ants, 1981
So much wonderful writing has already been done about the recent Wall Street Journal article claiming today's YA fiction is too dark and that 'grim' as some YA novels from years past were "they seem positively tame in comparison with what's on shelves now" that I felt I hardly had to say anything about it and didn't plan to. But now it's several days later and the article (particularly the dismissive superior tone) is still irking me so I guess I want to talk about it a little after all.

sunshineObviously I firmly disagree with the WSJ article and to quote from my own website FAQ, “As far as I'm concerned many of the things that are hardest for people to talk about are the things we probably need to discuss in more depth and try to drag out into the light. I know there are some people who don't think that teenagers should be reading about things like drug use, sex and sexuality, abusive situations etc. but the reality is that teenagers live in this imperfect world with us and are already exposed to these things through the media, their own lives and the lives of their peers. I believe books are a medium that can inspire critical thinking and give young people a chance to explore their thoughts regarding various subjects as well as open discussions.”

I have numerous problems with Megan Cox Gurdon's article which, as others have pointed out, is an opinion piece masquerading as 'news':

1) The article completely ignores lighter YA offerings and pretends they simply don't exist. Yeah, the first thing you're likely to see as you approach the YA section of a bookstore is a table full of covers like this one because paranormal and fantasy YA have been hot for some time now and many of these books tend to have a certain look to them. But there absolutely are lighter, less controversial teen books available on the shelves than those Gurdon spotlights.

2) The article negatively compares YA of the past to the current crop of YA books without taking into consideration that we live in extremely different  times. To give Megan Cox Gurdon a taste of what the times are actually like:

* A recent survey by The National Campaign showed 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys had sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves. 39% of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages. 48% have received such messages. “38% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say they have had sexually suggestive text messages or emails—originally meant for someone else—shared with them.”

* In the U.S. the rate of teen suicide has tripled since 1960. “The decrease in suicides for 14- to 18-year-olds during the summer months is stark.” Recent statistics reveal “that approximately three million youths, aged 12 to 17, either thought seriously about suicide or attempted suicide in 2000. More than one third, 37%, actually tried to kill themselves. Most were suffering from undiagnosed or untreated clinical depression.”

* 20% of children and youth in Canada have a diagnosable mental health disorder according to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. "Depression is a huge reality among youth right now," according to Sue Cook, a therapist who specializes in working with families. Currently, about 40% of young adults with depression do not use any mental health services.

* “Two recent Canadian studies showed sexual harassment at school was epidemic. 29% of Grade 9 girls ... felt unsafe at school partly due to sexual comments and unwanted looks or touches; 27% of the girls in Grade 11 admitted to being pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do; 14% of the females reported being harassed over the Internet.”

* 44% of sexual assault victims in the U.S. are under 18.

* “Almost one in six teenagers deliberately harm themselves by cutting, burning or other self-harming behaviours, according to a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.”

“In the U.S. approximately one in five teen girls have been physically or sexually abused by their partner.”

“23% of Ontario students report that they were offered, sold, or given a drug at school in the last year.

“42% of Ontario students surveyed have used an illicit substance in the last year.

“83% of Ontario students in grade 12 drink alcohol. 49% of gr. 12 students admit to binge drinking.”

This is obviously not an easy time to grow up. Gurdon writes that, “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” but I would argue that the books she criticizes the most scathingly, books like Shine by Lauren Myracle and Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, accurately reflect a world that Gurdon herself isn't prepared to look squarely in the face. Often teenagers don't have the luxury of avoiding these realities as they're experienced either personally or by their friends, peer group or at school. It can hardly be an accident that teen suicide rates are lower in the summer. Not only does the high school environment create stress, “research has shown that alcohol consumption, poor self-esteem and sexual activity (are) related to youth suicide, there is little discussion about the fact that these risky behaviors tend to originate at school.”

So suggesting that avoiding dark YA books will keep teenagers content is ludicrous. We need to talk about these issues, not put a happy face on and pretend they don't exist. To quote a Billy Bragg song (as I'm prone to do): “He said that some things are really best left unspoken. But I prefer it all to be out in the open.”

3) My final issue is that Gurdon makes absolutely no distinction between glorifying or glamorizing issues and behaviours and intelligently examining them. In this lazy way of thinking you could charge that the movie The Accused, Laurie Halse Anderson's book Speak or Emma Donoghue's Room make rape more acceptable. At the very least I suppose Gurdon would state (as she does about another book during her piece) that “one depravity does not justify another.” So talking about harsh realities equals depravity? Huh? How on earth are we ever to discuss anything unpleasant under this philosophy?

To my mind (because I won't pretend this isn't an opinion piece) YA books can offer young people a safe space to emotionally and intellectually explore difficult real life issues. Gurdon, and people like her, who knock books they deem dark, do teens a huge disservice by suggesting some of their realities are too dangerous and unseemly, not fit reading material.

By all means, let's all do whatever we can to help create a better society where young people have less mental health issues and are safe and happy at home, in school and wherever they go, but until we achieve that better society let's not do young people the disservice of acting as though what Gurdon terms 'misery' and 'coarseness' are author invention or exaggeration. 

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