Fair warning: I love musical theatre. And more often than not, when I want to make a point, I quote a musical. This would be a good time to click “home” or something. Maybe check out Pottermore.
Still with me? I knew there were some other musical buffs out there.
Let me set the scene for the musical 1776. It’s summer in Philadelphia. Sweltering temperatures are adding to the acrimony as the Continental Congress meets to discuss the affairs of the thirteen Colonies. A controversial resolution to declare independency from England is brought before the Congress. This should automatically trigger a debate on the issue. But Colonies who disagree with the idea of independence make a motion to table the question of autonomy indefinitely. A vote on the motion is split down the middle, the deciding ballot going to Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island. Hopkins states, “In all my years, I’ve never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous, it couldn’t be talked about.” Hopkins votes in favor of debate.
I have no idea if the real Stephen Hopkins said this. Still, this musical—that line—pops into my head every time an online firestorm erupts following an assault on young adult literature. This tends to happen every 4-6 months by my calculations. And, in my mind, every argument condemning some aspect of YA can be boiled down to this philosophy: discussion of a controversial topic is the same as advocating it.
As John Adams says repeatedly with disgust during 1776: “Incredible.”
The best YA promotes discussion. Whether it’s chatting over coffee about which werewolf from which book is sexier or some sort of deep discourse about hard-hitting issues that reflect the realities of many readers, YA succeeds when discussion follows. As an advocate of free speech, I’m fine with people who want to question the content of YA. I wish they used things like, you know, evidence and, heaven forbid, logic to do so. And I wish they’d understand that the act and art of intelligent discussion—something that stimulates the mind—isn’t tantamount to brainwashing. But the fact that they get their knickers in a twist is simply demonstrating that contemporary YA is doing exactly what it should be: fomenting dialogue.
Thanks to all defenders of YA. And thanks, in a more peculiar way, to those who would take it to task. Rest assured: we’re all doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Stephen Hopkins would be proud.