Rage Against The Darkness — A Guest Post By Cedar Sanderson

Rage Against The Darkness

Cedar Sanderson

As a girl, I was kicked in the chest by a horse. He wasn’t very big, but neither was I, and the next thing I remember is looking up at the blue sky wondering how the world had tilted. I tell you that to illustrate the reaction I had just now to a google search result. I typed “victims in young adult fiction” in, and the first result on the page was “Rape Book Lists – Goodread Lists about: YA Violence & Abuse Novels, Best Traumatized Heroines, Male Characters You Would Run From If They Tried To Date You.”
Someone made a list of the Best Traumatized Heroines? and a list of rape books, like this is a huge thing that we all want to read about? I had a moment where I literally could not catch my breath.
I am a survivor of abuse as a child, and again as an adult. It’s not something I talk about often. I’m not bringing it up here for any reason other than this: as a young adult victim, the last thing in the world I would have willingly read were books that discussed in detail actions/feelings, heck, ANYTHING that would have reminded me of what happened. They would have triggered my flashbacks that took me years to come to grip with. I realize this is one experience, and perhaps there are idiosyncratic responses, but I am inclined to think that most true victims don’t want to read about scenarios that resemble their traumas.
So who is reading these books? There are 290 books, voted on by 240 people, on the Goodreads Best Traumatized Heroine page. A few rows below it is a list called The Real Bodice Rippers. Despite the search string that brought me here, these are not YA books. But there is a list called YA Violence and Abuse novels. It contains 341 books voted on by 436 users. The subtitle is “Teen books dealing with physical/emotional/psychological/verbal/sexual abuse, bullying, guns, gangs, dating violence, rape, etc.” Do we really think kids who are in these situations are reading about this? No…
I think what is happening, and I’m not sure how I’d confirm this, is that teachers, publishers, whoever drives the impetus, has decided that children OUGHT to read about these topics. Because, it happens to someone, somewhere, right? Girls should know all about rape, because it’s an issue. And that is where my problem lies. Yes, rape is an issue. And many other forms of assault and abuse. But reading a fiction novel glorifying that is not the appropriate response, a doctor, parental support, and a therapist is. Teens, especially, seem to be drawn to the dark, the abyss, to look into it and some of them just let go and fall into that darkness. Do we really want a rape victim to become our daughter’s heroine? Why not a book about a girl who had been taught to defend herself, and thus never became that victim?
If we want to teach our children that rape and abuse are terrible, and why I am not sure when it is so self-evident, then perhaps rather than emphasizing a passive protagonist who is suffering afterwards, we give them examples of what they could have done to escape harm. I took my daughter at the age of 12 through a hunter safety course, and taught her how to shoot. I taught her how to deflect and deflate bullies with words and humor, a tack that will work well on drunks and overly aggressive but not insane males. Yes, there are horrible things that happen to children who are too young to defend themselves, through no fault but that of an evil human being. No, we do not need to make lists of books with the Best Traumatized Heroine.
We do not need to explain, at length and in detail, what happened to those fictional victims. One book on the list, Living Dead Girl, got this review “The author draws you in with her unique and just plain strange writing style, despite being weird it’s also very effective. It takes us deep inside the mind of a person who has not only suffered extreme physical and sexual abuse (though there’s been plenty of that) but has also been so psychologically damaged that her hope is only for death to come swiftly, she is so desperate that she is even willing to sacrifice a young girl to make her suffering end.” Another reviewer points out that there is no redemption in this book, that it only exists as torture porn.
The vast majority of teens will never experience something that terrible. But we hold up all these examples and say “here, this could happen to you!” Is this a healthy thing to do to teen girls? And most especially if they are given no choice, and required to read them, for a true victim it could cause them to have to relive horrors. For an innocent bystander, it gives them a thrill at the expense of those who are not in need of fiction to help them cope. It does not teach them to avoid those behaviours, they are teenagers, they need parental guidance, strong, mature role models, and the education to defend themselves. Teen boys don’t need to think that all boys do is harm girls. They need to know that gallantry and chivalry need not die out.
I grew up reading adventure books. I started out with Westerns, and moved on to ER Burroughs, and then read pretty much anything that would stand still long enough for me to see. I read a lot… and very little of it YA. There was some that was age-inappropriate. I was allowed to read ERB’s Mars series by a librarian who wouldn’t let me even go into the Adult collection at the age of ten. I can remember being thoroughly grossed out by VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, and that, for all the disgusting themes in it, is tame compared to some of the so-called “Young Adult” books I found today.
It’s time we took back those shelves. I urge you, whoever you are, to consider writing something that isn’t about glorifying evil, abuse, and the terrors no child should ever face. I am not naive enough to think that none do – I have been there, literally – but I do not think that novels about those experiences are kind, necessary, and by all that is good, ought never to be assigned reading for a class of impressionable minds. What has happened to books full of adventure, plots that edify and amuse, characters that children will want to emulate in their honor, duty, and sense of resolve? Have they been buried under a wave of books that shallowly address “the issues?” Who decides what is an issue? Give children choices. Good books, decent books, where pain is real, not so abysmal they cannot see hope for recovery, dreams, and a real life.
I say to you who have lived through the valley of shadows: do not embrace victimhood, I implore you, be a survivor. Instead of looking back at what happened, dauntlessly face forward and say “what can I do?” Where will my dreams take me? I can tell you my dreams have brought me places I never expected, and I have happiness. I’ve written stories about some of my pain, but mostly I write about hope, and strength, and honor. I wrote a story for my daughter, about a girl who is given a great responsibility, and even though gods pursue her, she protects the little ones in her care. She doesn’t give up, she just presses onward. This is what we need to give our young ones – the strength to keep going, not the filth to wallow in.
I’ll leave you with a poem created by an anonymous man who fears for his grandchildren’s future:
Keep an open mind they said.
Don’t shut your ears , don’t close your head…
And then the open mind collapses,
shedding sense and nerve synapses
Fact and fiction soon enmeshed,
that tenuous attachment to reality unfleshed
And then we sit and wonder why,
all we knew as good has died.

227 thoughts on “Rage Against The Darkness — A Guest Post By Cedar Sanderson

  1. Agreed … some years ago, I read William Kirkpatrick’s Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong –
    and found myself agreeing with much of what the author argued – that children and teens ought to be given books which stressed moral behavior. Not sappy, goody-goody-two-shoes kinds of things, but books which showed characters behaving well, and ethically.
    So much of what is now being pushed as appropriate YA is horrible, nihilistic, even defeatist. Kids want adventure, to explore all kinds of options, and in a positive way.
    Which is one of the reasons that I took to writing myself.
    A couple of weeks ago, I joked about what I would do to re-tool the Lone Ranger? The more that I thought about it, the better idea it seemed. My daughter suggested that I make it a YA book, specifically oriented toward boys.
    I’ve got the first chapter posted at my writing blog – check and see if I have filed off the serial numbers sufficiently!

    And PS – I am still looking for a third YA writer for the blog tour!

    1. re-tool the Lone Ranger?

      Which reminds me. I was looking for movies to watch with my daughter (and find the “Despicable Me” pair quite good, in fact), and that “Johnny Depp and the White Guy in something that looks like the Old West, sort of, if you squint enough and tilt your head just right” movie came up.

      I decided, “No.”

      Instead I went to Amazon Instant Video and bought the Clayton More version. Sat down in front of the computer and watched it with my daughter.

      Her response: “That. was. epic!”

      The movie held up quite well even after all these years. Oh, some of the mores were dated–the “bad guy” raising his daughter as a “tomboy” was written as part of his “bad guy” character but, well, my daughter and I just thought it made him more sympathetic.

      Still, I firmly believe that there is room in the world for heroes, larger than life good guys who put it on the line to help others and to fight the bad guys.

      C. S. Lewis, I believe, said something along the lines that kids will inevitably learn of the existence of monsters. So it’s good to teach them that there are knights to fight them.

      1. “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” – C. S. Lewis – from “Of Other Worlds”, in the essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.”

        1. That’s the one. Another formulation that I’ve heard is that “fairy stories” don’t teach that there are monsters–children will learn that anyway. They teach that monsters can be fought.

          1. It’s funny, I found that quote not two days ago… after having picked up “Of Other Worlds” a couple weeks ago and not having gotten ’round to it yet… and then this essay… (which was fantastic. Well done, Cedar!)

            Eventually the clue-hammer gets through.

          2. Exactly – that the monsters can be fought. Also, how to judge whether you can do it yourself, or should run; and how to fight, who to trust to run to. Mental rehearsal for success, not immersion in defeatism.

      2. IIRC, there’s a tradition of bad guys raising their girls with an eye to making them just like themselves– it’s the male version of the “Terrible Mother” archetype where they don’t want their “baby” to ever grow up. Subsuming the child into their own ego.

        The more modern version almost always gives them a son, and always has them be the opposite of the parent in inclination, and has them push them into unsuited roles. (Usually whatever sport dad did in high school.)

        1. “IIRC, there’s a tradition of bad guys raising their girls with an eye to making them just like themselves”

          Oh, I’m well aware of that. However, Athena’s reaction on seeing this–the guy teaching her to ride and shoot and so forth and the mother being upset at that–was that the father was right and, frankly I had to agree with her. Especially when you consider that he had no other heir and it was brutally clear that the mother wasn’t going to be up to the job of running that ranch (although she appears to have been “rehabilitated” a bit in the end in that respect).

          But a lot of it held up so well. The “bad guys” were individuals, not entire races/classes of people. And–I’ve said it before–I really, really liked the way Jay Silverheels was able to play Tonto as an intelligent and capable partner (not “sidekick”) to Moore despite that stupid Pidgin the producers insisted he use. (And I am so glad they didn’t limit Mingo to that in Daniel Boone.)

          And the rather black and white morality? Frankly, that’s kind of refreshing given so much “black and gray morality” (and pretty dark gray at that) in “modern” fiction. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlackAndGrayMorality)

          But the most important part of the whole thing was spelled out in my daughter’s reaction. Despite what we’re told by the “literati”, kids today do have room in their hearts for tales of heroes, where the good guys are really good, and where the good guys win.

          Man, I’ve got to get back to my “girl and her dolphin” (or perhaps “dolphin and her girl” 😉 story.

          1. Ain’t no gray, just white what’s got grubby.

            (For something much, much less well phrased: if it looks gray, you’re probably standing too far away; zoom in so you can see the pixels.)

            1. An acquaintance of mine once commented that there was ONLY black and white, and that any grey you saw was simply a failure of resolution.

              This is, as an analogy, true. Each little atomic choice is, or can be relatively black and white. It’s the connections between the choices, the “whole picture” that the individual choice helps color that starts to get grey.

            1. Yes and I actually did a little research into what would go into making silver bullets from ore, etc…I’m a bit of a gunnie (Kim can attest to that)

              1. I had a friend who worked P/T for a CA gunsmith a long time ago. One day a lady came in to ask for 45 long colts loaded with silver bullets (Her husband had a prop pistol and rig from the Lone Ranger TV series) He said they spent a good amount of time casting silver bullets with molds and he says it was a b#tch. Apparently silver is very touchy about temperature. He had to pre-heat the molds on a stove burner and get right on casting them so they wouldn’t cool. When I asked why he didn’t do a lost-wax with a centrifuge he gave me a “oh, right” look.
                Primitive centrifugal casting sound like a lot of fun. You get to put your molten metal flask and mold in a sling to flip it around your head, all the time hoping you don’t spill any down your collar. Positive side

                He also said they didn’t shoot straight, and figures they didn’t engrave correctly. (Silver might need fine, multiple drive bands or maybe a sort of lead “gas-check” to engrave on and to assure proper obturation)
                I read the article. If you want, I can try to dig the particulars out of my friend and get some information on how it actually turned out.

                1. Primitive centrifugal casting sound like a lot of fun. You get to put your molten metal flask and mold in a sling to flip it around your head, all the time hoping you don’t spill any down your collar.

                  Why not use a big, old butter churn?

                  I know some of them have the egg beater style, but some are just two or three big paddles that you spin the lid and it goes round and round….

                  1. Well, I’m thinking of doing it under the spreading branches of the Mesquite tree, listening to the call of the horny-toad, while laying up to plan your next defense of the right. You gotta ride light for that scenario, Butter churns may get in the way. (I am being silly, I know)

                    1. *laughs* You know the tone you want to set better than I do!

                      … oh, goodness, now I’ve got a mental image of a “love interest” that’s the daughter of the local silver smith.

                    2. Actually, if someone is sitting under the spreading Mesquite listening to the song of the horny-toad reverberate o’er the land, a butter churn might by appropriate equipment after all.

                  1. Sorry to kibbitz – well, not sorry really – but imagine the sequence of “shirt-short-shucks” cussing while he tries to cast silver, and finally Tonto clues him in on casting silver with a sling. You can work it into a metaphor to parallel the Silver bullets in that not only is a valuable and vengeance spendy, but that also justice is an art and an exacting craft.
                    I never liked the “lives are precious” meme anyway. In today’s money (with an online calculator) a 250 Gr bullet would go for around $10. Kemosabe is stingy.

            2. That’s an awfully long article, but based on the first couple of sections, my immediate question was, “Why wasn’t she talking to silversmiths rather than bullet-makers?” At least after the first couple of responses from people who had tried. I mean, Paul Revere could make all kinds of beautiful stuff from it, a hundred years or so earlier…

        1. Oddly enough, while the silver bullet or other such weapon is rather old, the werewolf specific folklore in fact springs from the movies.

  2. I browsed my parents’ bookshelves constantly as a child. My mother once complained when she found me reading James Bond books at 10 (because of the sex scenes which I found amusing), so I was careful to hide my actions after that.

    My mother took modern fiction courses and, once, I took down Jerzy Kosinski’s “The Painted Bird”, intrigued by the title. It came out in 1965, so I was probably 12 when I read it. Don’t read it yourself — let me spare you that. Here’s the blurb:

    Originally published in 1965, The Painted Bird established Jerzy Kosinski as a major literary figure. Kosinski’s story follows a dark-haired, olive-skinned boy, abandoned by his parents during World War II, as he wanders alone from one village to another, sometimes hounded and tortured, only rarely sheltered and cared for. Through the juxtaposition of adolescence and the most brutal of adult experiences, Kosinski sums up a Bosch-like world of harrowing excess where senseless violence and untempered hatred are the norm. Through sparse prose and vivid imagery, Kosinski’s novel is a story of mythic proportion, even more relevant to today’s society than it was upon its original publication.

    This book was a nightmare. Into my barely-formed pubescent imaginations I got to digest the notion of bottles shoved where they didn’t belong followed by a foot stomp, willing female intercourse with a goat, and a variety of other indelible, lovingly described, incidents. I won’t claim I was irrecoverably traumatized, exactly, but I can still feel the stain, and I was residually haunted by those images for years. And on top of it all, the book was completely unredeemed — no rescue, no good behaviors, nothing but suffering. If I’d thought no one would have noticed, i would have burned it.

    1. This^^ This has now infected literature. The most horrible part of this (and I too read books like that because for a long time dad tried to read the books that got good reviews in literary mags. Took a long time to give it up) is that there’s no MORALS of any kind in the book. I’m not talking developed moral system, like, say Christianity or even paganism at its best. I’m talking moral sense that “this is wrong” and “this damages” and “To build a life I should avoid this” — or even brute resentment at people hurting you. It’s all vivid description of pain happening in a moral wasteland even animals don’t experience. Sorry, even the great apes have group rules. Ask Dave Freer if you don’t believe me.
      It’s impossible to avoid the suspicion that they want to SCULPT humanity into this morally blank … thing. Instead, they cause untold suffering.
      Do these things even happen? I mean, I know some do somewhere to some people (I’m referring here to Karen’s book. I’m aware child abuse happens, for the most obvious of reasons. BUT that’s besides the point.) I know things around a war traumatize country are horrible, but this? This chain of events? Does it even happen? Or was it “heightened for effect?” HOW often does it happen? I’m sure we have a much exaggerated view of that thanks to this “literature”.)

      1. “It’s impossible to avoid the suspicion that they want to SCULPT humanity into this morally blank … thing. ”

        In my darker moments, when I feel civilization crumbling, I suspect this is all about grooming potential victims.

        1. It may be even simpler than that. I suspect some if not many of the sickos are simply creating the greatest evil they can imagine so that their own personal perversions pale in comparison. Seems like every time one of them is caught and brought to account their inevitable defense is “but so and so did ever so much worse than I.”

      2. Thinking that the Western Intellectuals PLAN on deconstructing everyday morality and ethics gives them far too much credit. When dealing with anything other than their own egos the typical Western Intellectual Twit has the attention span of a concussed fruit fly.

        The vast majority of them support crap like THE PAINTED BIRD or PISS CHRIST simply because they enjoy listening to sensible people go postal over it, and telling themselves that this makes them morally superior.

        Be careful of attributing to malice what can more easily be explained by stupidity, ego, and lack of taste.

        1. I do believe there’s active, planned malice involved, by a very few individuals. The vast majority of them, however, are (as you pointed out) nothing more than useful idiots.

            1. They are considered, “useful”, in that their numbers can be added to those who claim to agree with whatever the Vile Progs (TM) are saying, so that they can be used as “proof” that the message is supported. They can also be counted on to join the chorus against anyone disagreeing.

              The disheartening thing is that all too many otherwise-intelligent people are among this group.

        2. Oh, I disagree. I think quite a bit of it IS planned, with the express purpose of starving people of their moral compass and leaving them wanting, so they will be more likely to accept outside control.

          Ok, a lot of it may be follow-the-leaderism (totally a legit phrase), but the “leaders” are leading the way into darkness.

          1. I have a simple and satisfactory explanation.

            “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
            – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

            Some would term this “simplistic” and to them I observe that Einstein’s mass–energy equivalence is simplistic — but the working out of its implications is quite profound.

            Whether personified as fallen angel or the yetzer ha-ra (יֵצֶר הַרַע‎ — evil impulse) the effect is the same; we need not know what the black box is to observe (and frustrate) its operations.

        3. Any man living in complete luxury and security who chooses to write a play or a novel which causes a flutter and exchange of compliments in Chelsea and Chiswick and a faint thrill in Streatham and Surbiton, is described as “daring,” though nobody on earth knows what danger it is that he dares. I speak, of course, of terrestrial dangers; or the only sort of dangers he believes in. To be extravagantly flattered by everybody he considers enlightened, and rather feebly rebuked by everybody he considers dated and dead, does not seem so appalling a peril that a man should be stared at as a heroic warrior and militant martyr because he has had the strength to endure it.

          — G.K. Chesterton

      3. Most of the links here are probably not safe for work, nor for those of delicate sensibilities.

        Do these things even happen? I mean, I know some do somewhere to some people (I’m referring here to Karen’s book. I’m aware child abuse happens, for the most obvious of reasons.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuzL-Tr0ifk Hadn’t even thought of them in hears.


        Back in 1994 or 95 a friend and her then boy friend stayed with us for a few days while she took a look at a local college. She is a fairly typical liberal (though when I knew her she wasn’t full on progressive), but her boyfriend was serious back woods. He claimed to have worked a road crew in the south where *every* co-worker at one time or another admitted to sodomizing animals. There are enough reports in the news (http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4158101.html), a few famous porn clips with dogs and at least 2 FLIR videos of muslims and goats for us to assume that that sort of thing goes on.

        We know again from the news that there are people who abuse the living crap out of, well, anything.

        I’ve got acquaintances and friends who almost *need* hot wax and needles (not the drug delivering kind in this case) if you know what I mean.

        Have you seen where some people put metal studs in THEMSELVES?

        Yes, there are monsters. They wear clothes and talk nice and use a napkin and don’t put their elbows on the table. And we’re not allowed to shoot them in the f*ing head and burn the body.

        1. There was also the teacher in TX who seduced a sixth grader and put the pictures in gay porn sites. AND at his trial his fellow teachers sat beside him.
          BUT here’s the thing — I don’t doubt it happens. I know it does. BUT with the frequency depicted in these books? I doubt it.

          1. I have no doubt that it happens. I survived it. What I said was that it does not need to be described in loving detail in books that are written as entertainment. When did evil become the new cool? Yes, I realize the authors probably think they are ‘teaching’ but in reality, the survivors of abuse need hope, courage to stand up and keep going, not to be plunged into graphic details.

            1. When did evil become the new cool?

              Ginsburg. Cult of the anti-hero. James Dean Rebel with out a cause.

              In a sense a sort of roguishness has always been a breeding strategy.

          2. Not only that, but the guy who said the road crew he worked on had all admitted to sodomizing animals? Probably most of them were putting him on, waiting to see how long it took him to say, “bulls***”.

          3. Since I don’t read those sorts of books I can’t say, but there’s a crap load of abuse in this world,

            Most if it is as pedestrian as that sort of thing can be (e.g. not the bottle stomping thing, and probably not as organized as Lolita appears to indicate), but it’s wide spread and deep.

            A friend of my wife’s used to work for the FBI doing photo and video forensics. After the SCOTUS decided that fake images don’t deserve legal protection the vast majority of pedos out there started claiming that all of their images were clever fakes and her division was called on to prove the images real. This was fairly easy for many images as these pervs swap them around and many of the images have a history with a Real Name and a Real History attached. The rest can be proven “real” with very little effort (at least 5-6 years ago. IDK what the state of the art is today).

            They were pretty busy at this sort of thing. Guys with kids did NOT handle it very well. Burned a few of them out.

            1. I may be whistling in the the dark here:

              I believe the prevalence of predation and abuse in the experience of those who are tasked with combating it stems from their singular focus. It is a noble and terrible focus that I do not envy them.

              But, 314 million people in the U.S., and I don’t want us to lose hope that all has devolved into degeneracy because we pay such special attention to the deviancy that we begin to see it everywhere. By the way, I think that special attention should be paid, but struggle to maintain my perspective in the face of despair.

      4. Here’s a simpler possibility: perhaps Aristotle was right when he said that people like characters who are as good as they are, or a little better. While he encompassed more than the morally good in that, it did include the morally good.

    2. And this is exactly what kind of book is being written and pushed. I was sick to my stomach reading excerpts and reviews the night I was writing this post. Children do not need – and young adults are still children – to read these sort of horrors.

      1. There are a good number of adults who should not read these sorts of horrors, if for no other reason than it gives them ideas.

    3. Agreed. I read that book in college and still wish I could un-read it. Same with the Steven King novels I read unsupervised in my teens.

      I work with the textbooks and novels used in our local high school’s English department. There are a handful of books that look like what Cedar is describing. I wonder about who is reading them and why. I guess I should read them if I want to talk about them, but see my first paragraph, custody of the mental images and suchlike. My reluctance also extends to adult novels such as The Road, which I have picked up is a lot of suffering p*rn, and which is being taught in our high school’s AP English Lit class. I’m kind of glad my daughter is dropping out. On a tangent, I was surprised when I started this job at just how few meaty classics our high schoolers are expected to read. The only teacher that teaches books comparable to what I did when I was home schooling my kids is the AP English teacher. The rest of the teachers teach “easy” books and overt YA junk.

      I’m working on the Harvard Classics list. I looked at the Great Books list but was daunted by its length, so I decided to start with the shorter HC list. Working on Ben Franklin’s autobiography and loving it; he was a real pistol, as we say back home.

  3. Reading is an immersive experience. We either identify with the POV character, or the book is boring and doesn’t engage us. I can only hope that these sorts of books are so poorly written that the children just skim enough to pass the computerized test and get their reading points.

    Rape, abuse, torture, even experienced vicariously, can be a traumatic experience. How it would affect someone already traumatized is hard to imagine. But even the self-confident can be worn away if told enough times that they are victims, that they are powerless. This is not a good thing to do to a young girl.

    I like that you also brought up the boys who have to read books assigned by a committee from hell. Boys need good examples to follow. They need personal heroes to look up to, to emulate. They do not need a never ending parade of brutes and abusers being shoved into their forming minds.

  4. BTW, here are professional reviews. Turns my stomach to read them. I cannot imagine listening to an audio version. I don’t expect us to ban books, but it makes my skin crawl to read the adulation.

    Amazon.com Review
    Many writers have portrayed the cruelty people inflict upon each other in the name of war or ideology or garden-variety hate, but few books will surpass Kosinski’s first novel, The Painted Bird, for the sheer creepiness in its savagery. The story follows an abandoned young boy who wanders alone through the frozen bogs and broken towns of Eastern Europe during and after World War II, trying to survive. His experiences and actions occur at and beyond the limits of what might be called humanity, but Kosinski never averts his eyes, nor allows us to.


    “One of the best. . . . Written with deep sincerity and sensitivity.”—Elie Wiesel, The New York Times Book Review

    “A powerful blow on the mind because it is so carefully kept within the margins of probability and fact.”—Arthur Miller

    “Of all the remarkable fiction that emerged from World War II, nothing stands higher than Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird. A magnificent work of art, and a celebration of the individual will. No one who reads it will be unmoved by it. The Painted Bird enriches our literature and our lives.”—Jonathan Yardley, The Miami Herald

    “Extraordinary . . . literally staggering . . . one of the most powerful books I have ever read.”—Richard Kluger, Harper’s Magazine

    From AudioFile
    The painted bird of the title refers to a garishly painted creature cruelly released to rejoin its flock. The flock, confused by its artificial coloring, rejects the bird and sends it plummeting to its death. The young protagonist who observed this incident uses it as a metaphor for his own life as he wanders, rejected and mistreated, from village to village in Poland during WWII. In the afterword, written by the author in 1976, Kosinski notes that the book itself became a kind of painted bird, banned in Poland, lambasted by critics for its focus on human brutality, and disputed as to its true authorship. Now 45 years after its publication, this audiobook soars above those controversies and deserves–actually, it demands–one’s undivided attention. In a soft Polish accent narrator Fred Berman spins this tale with a storyteller’s intimacy, uninterrupted by character voicings. (There’s no dialogue.) The production poignantly and beautifully captures Kosinski’s dark, melancholy landscape. R.W.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine

    1. I can see the point of adults reading about a kid’s terrible life, because it should enrage you and make you swear that such horrors will never happen on _your_ watch. But even in a story for adults that is a story of horrors, there should be something good to help the reader want to fight and not despair.

      Uncle Tom’s Cabin was full of horrendous images of the horrors of slavery. (Holy crud, even the silent movie version is shocking!) But it also showed that good people could win even in losing. It wasn’t stupid and pointless to resist.

    1. I was homeschooled through 9th grade. I would have taught my own at home, but my ex didn’t want me to. I do hope you have the opportunity to do it, it’s a rewarding process. At least *I* think so, but I’m biased!

  5. Torture porn is what it becomes, whatever vaunted notions the writer entertained.

    The damage being done derives in large part from the normalization of experience youth extract from the observations. When the media they’re following is saturated with this drivel then they internalize the belief that victimhood is normal (and desirable) and the more victimized the higher status.

    For many young people (particularly males), it’s cognitive dissonance. What they believe themselves to be and what they’re being told they ‘ought’ be. Or worse, what they ‘really are.’

    1. This victimhood thing — mentoring writers younger than I, like 30 somethings — I run to this horrible craft mistake. You know, you can get someone to empathize with a victim who takes it heroically. That’s human nature. But to make it a main character you have to show the reason for the heroism and the admirable qualities of the victim. These authors by and large DON’T. To be a victim IS to be a hero to them. If you get mistreated by everyone, it makes you good. It’s mind boggling.

      1. Yeah, I see that more and more in common discussion out and about the ‘net. This badge of victimhood and victimhood hierarchy. That it’s showing up in fiction, particularly the YA, does not fill me with hope and joy for a rational future.

        And that they can’t empathize with resistance, heroic survival, opposition to oppression…this is what’s tilting my writing notions to a form of heroic fiction. Firmly stuck in the midst of the Human Wave, I hope.

        1. Well, duh. If you resist, you may succeed, and then what will you do without your victim card?

          What’s worse, you may make those who don’t resist realize they could have. What a dent to their egos. . . .

          1. That second point may be the bigger problem for some. That people might get the idea they can legitimately resist?! Horrors! See the absurd recommendations for sexual assault on campus for examples…

      2. *Snort* I’d have been canonized in Jr. High and High School if being assaulted and harassed made me good. I’m a survivor, not a victim, not a hero. And you bet your bippy no one’s going to do anything like that to me ever again. “Touch not” THIS “cat but with a glove.”

      3. Well, the victim-hero isn’t new. There were a lot of sweet, saintly, suffering Mary Sues in Victorian fiction. But even then, there was generally a difference between a mere damsel in distress and a distressed heroine.

    2. “The damage being done derives in large part from the normalization of experience youth extract from the observations.”

      In the safety literature for aerospace, there’s a term, the “normalization of deviancy.” X isn’t supposed to happen so we design it away. It happens anyway through some deviation from what ought to occur. It happens several times and there’s no catastrophe so it must be OK!! Presto, deviancy is normalized.

      The term might better be used in the context of this so-called literature. I agree with Eamon that the exposure to too much of this stuff makes it seems normal.

      It’s pain porn, and its readers are voyeurs.

      1. In aerospace that attitude has cost us two orbiters, 14 astronauts, and untold numbers of aircraft.

        Just imagine what it’s doing to the general culture.

          1. The sad thing is that 20 years earlier the exact same mindset contributed to the Challenger loss. NASA is supposed to be full of smart people. How can they not ask the question I expect an 18-year old Third Class to ask before starting up a fire pump: “What could go wrong?”

              1. Feynman didn’t come up with the idea that the elastomers became brittle at cold temperatures. NASA engineers knew about it, but they were forbidden by management from talking about it. One of the engineers managed to get around it by having Feynman over for dinner, taking him out to the garage to talk cars, and mentioning he had carburettor problems in cold weather because of the rubber seals.

                1. Iirc Feynman explicitly disavowed credit for the idea. Iirc he attributed it to another panelist (an Air Force guy?), but I don’t have time to dig into the history just now. If Feynman was pointed in the right direction by a NASA person, it’s possible that he deliberately diverted attention from that fact. Iirc the 1980s Air Force had little love for NASA because they did not trust the Shuttle but were forced to use it.

          2. Oh, don’t get me started on that one. The correct conclusion should have been “because we are idiots and should have taken the exemption and kept using the old foam instead of trying to appear ‘green’ and using the newer more brittle ‘eco-friendly’ formulation” but the report is never allowed to come to that conclusion because saying that wouldn’t be PC and might negatively reflect on a decision made by an upper-level bureaucrat at NASA with no engineering background.

    3. So, first everyone snickers when talking about the old adventure stories and their description of a ‘fate worse than death’ when the heroine is being threatened with rape.

      Then they write a story about rape and do describe it as a fate worse than death.

      Then they imply that this alone makes the protagonist sainted, in some way.

      One possible ending the same as for the old time/old fashioned love interest who did get raped and then killed herself, main difference that then it was done in order to traumatize the hero and send him on his journey of revenge/redemption, now the story is more likely to end there so we wont even get the pleasure of seeing the bad guy/s punished? Or else we perhaps see the surviving suffer endlessly, or be forever warped because of it. Or if there is revenge it’s only bad, bad, bad for everybody, either the rapist had redeemed himself and was now an upstanding family guy and when he gets killed leaves behind a suffering lovely widow and kids who will now grow up warped or if he was still evil the revenging protagonist decides that killing him solved nothing and he is now feeling even worse than before. No redemption for anybody.

      Well, there may be some real issues with the old version but I think I still rather stick to them.

      1. We can’t trust people to make good decisions, so we have to have people make decisions for people.

        Corporate bureaucrats will abuse their power, so we have to give power to government bureaucrats.

        1. We have The Anointed, as Thomas Sowell would say — smart people able to make decisions reflecting their more refined essence. That there is a world of difference between being Smart and being Wise forever escapes them.

          Government bureaucrats are disinterested third parties and therefore not tainted by such tawdry motivations as keeping their jobs, gaining promotion or personal preferences. If you believe that I can get you a terrific buy in Nigerian bank stock.

      2. The only legitimate use of government is to define the limits of social interaction and enforce it. You might disagree with the where the lines are drawn, we all will quibble about how to enforce it, but we all want some sort of lines.

  6. If someone is able to contact Speaker, he could probably tell a bit about impressionability and adolescent brain chemistry to go right along with this. As I understand it, there’s quite a bit of development in the brain during adolescence, and patterns laid down then can have lifelong effects (and be hard to eradicate or change, if one deems it necessary). I don’t have the knowledge or experience to say definitively *how* reading torture porn affects developmental outcome, but I bet it has *some* effect, and not good at that.

    I was lucky, growing up, to escape a lot of the things (horrors.) that happened to other people. A lot of that “luck” was good parenting and mentoring. It also was putting good stories in front of an impressionable nine year old, and acting with decency and common sense. I can’t recall exactly when I encountered explicit sex or gratuitous violence in anything I was reading, but it wasn’t of the torture porn variety (or even the “porn” variety- I had my tastes and they ran to battleaxes and laser cannon for the most part).

    Adolescents, by and large, have an aversion to being coddled. I know I did. This can lead one to looking to be “treated like an adult” without having much concept of what that means. For my family, it meant heaping responsibility upon responsibility to see if us kids could manage the weight. If something was banned or verboten, there were always some kids who gravitated to it *for* that very reason. Those good stories of high adventure, honor and justice, and keeping promises made will draw folks in, I believe, because there is something in basic human nature that cries out for it.

    Make no mistake, there is a part of human nature that revels in the dark side. Everyone I know has that part within them as well. The kind of book that feeds that beast within is something I hope would not be among the “recommended literature” for young adults and teens. I won’t say that such books should not exist, at all, ever. Like those very stories we want to promote, though, we should be able to call them by their real names. True evil and wickedness are aberrations, not the norm. Just as most men are not rapists, most women are not helpless victims either.

    A person is the sum of his actions and experiences. Who wouldn’t want to be the one that not just survives, but prospers because they stood firm against adversity, perseveres despite the difficulties and enticements to abandon their course, and gains the respect of those they respect because they refused to play the victim? Perversity and carelessness are easy mode. It takes work and sacrifice to follow the right path, as it should. Those who do know the worth of intangible things, like honor and decency. That’s the side of the mind we want to feed.

    1. Make no mistake, there is a part of human nature that revels in the dark side…. Everyone I know has that part within them as well. …the beast within…

      It’s one thing to acknowledge that side. It’s another to feed it. It’s yet another to glorify it. From glorifying it, it’s a short step to worshipping it.

      That side is not openly celebrated in today’s culture (yet). It’s just that you’re unenlightened and closed-minded and judgmental if you’re not open to fearless, transgressive, taboo-shattering explorations of the human condition.

      I’m an agnostic just this side of atheism, but I can’t help thinking of the saying that the Devil’s best trick was to convince people he does not exist.

      1. It’s one thing to acknowledge that side. It’s another to feed it. It’s yet another to glorify it. From glorifying it, it’s a short step to worshipping it.

        Precisely. When the folks don’t acknowledge it and call it by it’s right name, it loses its value on the moral scale. If it has no value on the moral scale, we can call it “multiculturalism” instead of depraved and immoral, say, when a woman is stoned to death for the crime of “allowing” herself to be assaulted. There’s an element of Stockholm Syndrome to it, as well, I think. Accept this, and the rest follows.

        That side is not openly celebrated in today’s culture (yet). It’s just that you’re unenlightened and closed-minded and judgmental if you’re not open to fearless, transgressive, taboo-shattering explorations of the human condition.

        Not in *our* culture, no. Not the worst bits. But in the spirit of evil triumphing when good men do nothing, they are celebrating how open minded they are by inflicting this kind of nastiness on teenagers. I believe they are contemplating taking that short step.

        1. I remarked elsewhere that:

          If present trends continue, in a decade or few public schools will be pushing bisexual experimentation. “Why won’t you go out with me? Is it because I’m a lesbian?” Heaven help the teen girl who answers “Yes.”

          If that sounds ridiculous, remember how once upon a time the Left ridiculed the notion that ‘gay rights’ would lead to gay marriage.

          To take that a step further, I can picture public schools deciding that their job is to “help” students “get in touch with” their sexual orientation. “If that sounds ridiculous,” consider the second paragraph in my quote.

          1. Let me add that I’m dubious/go-slow about gay marriage on the merits, and more than dubious about the agenda of the people insisting on it, but not 100% adamantly opposed.

            If I could trade gay marriage for a limited government that facilitates a strong defense, market economy, individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, etc. I’d cheerfully dress in drag and be a bridesmaidperson.

              1. 1. Better than Scalzi, anyway.

                2. Can you say the same? 😛

                3. Btw Sarah, I am not sending Scalzi traffic from your site. My link goes to Google cache.

                  1. But it doesn’t! I definitely pasted the URL. Apparently WordPress doesn’t link to Google cache.

                    For the link, google. To The Dudebro Who Thinks He’s Insulting Me by Calling Me a Feminist.

                1. You know, in response to your second point I was going to say something about looking better in baby-puke (AKA seafoam) green. Then I find the picture of Scalzi wearing a slinkier version of what I was thinking about, which would have been totally embarrassing. I mean, can you imagine how gauche it would be to be seen (metaphorically speaking) in a similar outfit to an admitted leftist?

                    1. Do lefties even have balls any more? I would think a mutter-in or some sort of top-down organized play-date would be more apt. Balls might require dancing, and I am sure dancing balls are an anathema to the Select, at least ones that are openly and freely dancing.

                    2. Re: Bob’s comment just above mine…

                      My first thought on reading your first sentence was, “Well, Scalzi seems to be trying his best to prove that he doesn’t.”

  7. My reading was one thing never restricted. Done right it made the story more real, bad things happen to good people and there is not always a happy ending though I prefered an ending where the person used what happened as motivation to become stronger and even better get revenge. The acts have a place in some story lines but I do not think they should be glorified.

  8. I had another thought about the origins of this sort of writing (there are many origins, of course):

    It feels like something that occurred in the visual arts way back last century, the end of beauty. The visuals are still struggling to get past the influence.

    Is ugly literature a response to the ‘end of beauty’ phenomenon?

    1. After WWI, yep. We must bring civilization back from the shock of WWI — not that I’m, you know overestimating our strength and ability or anything. Actually, I’m not — I’m just determined to do it in spite of our lack of strength and ability. We must — as my grandmother would say — make our guts into hearts. And brains too. And we must save the future, so there is one.

      1. We are no less great than our grandparents. Well, we have no less *capability* for greatness than they. Different times, different situations and all.

        Oh, it’s not as common to hear of it these days. We used to embrace heroism- everyone wanted to be that guy, that gal! Now, “sex sells,”
        if it bleeds it leads,” are the watchwords uttered by many.

        We’re still human, and we’ve not reached the limits of that yet. Maybe its become easier to overlook the amazing people in our midst, but they are there. I know it’s easy for me, at least, to descend into pessimism. But we have a culture with a tradition of greatness. That’s worth remembering today.

        1. Dan Lane, that pessimism is all to easy for me, as well. Which is why choose to look for that greatness in our midst, and why I’m trying to write stories founded in that culture of greatness. As our host said, we have to take it back.

                    1. People around here keep wanting to decant my brain…but what if it’s a rare bottle of lost wine? Decanting may reveal the vinegar and ruin the value.

                    2. Pardon, sir, but would you care for a fine glass of brain? Odd vintage, yes, but it has a nice bite with only a touch of sweet and a very unusual piquancy.

                      You looking for a glass of the brain? Nah, outta that. How’s about a beer? (I hear this last in a Boston accent…why?)

                    3. I think that one works in my head too. And I’m still stuck wondering why? Something in the cultural gestalt that has me hearing blue collar bartender as some version of metropolitan Northeasterner…

                1. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness to light, and light into darkness, who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!”

        1. WWI persuaded many a person that the values of the Civilizations for which so many had fought were flawed and unrealistic. In truth, as Chesterton said in another context, those values were tried, found difficult and abandoned.

          The problem with nihilism is that its proponents forfeit all right to object to being abused for their beliefs. When somebody declares “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” kick them in the shin. Should they protest point out that there is nothing inherently wrong in what you did. If they protest further, point out they’ve contradicted themselves and are now asserting that there are, indeed, right and wrong.

          By that same token, I cannot describe with what amusement I have watched Left-Wing critics of President Obama’s Syria policy reveal themselves to be racists.

  9. One aspect of this cult of victimization that is seldom brought out is the way it awards victim status upon some and withholds it from others. As a white, middle class, male who was sexually abused as a child, I find that my story doesn’t fit the narrative.

    I have been told by women who themselves have never suffered a sexual assault that I can’t understand what it is like to be abused because I am a man. My personal experiences don’t count for anything in the face of their equation that white males are always the villains, never the victims.

    1. I was going to leave it at that, but upon reflection, I need to go further. Since the person who sexually abused me was an adult male, many people wouldn’t consider him an “abuser” at all. Gay men, after all, are victims of homophobia and intolerance.

      The double standard is sickening. Any adult heterosexual male is considered to be a terrible threat to young girls, and every effort must be made to prevent contact between them. On the other hand, an adult homosexual male who has actual sexual contact with young boys is a hero for standing up to society’s evil prejudices.

      It is inconvenient to the Gays Are Victims narrative to acknowledge that adult males do abuse boys sexually, and so boys who are abused have to be made invisible, or to be shown as willing participants.

      Unfortunately the man who abused me wasn’t a priest. That is the one exception to the rule.

      1. –You have my sincere sympathies. I know at least three white males in my family/friend circle who were sexually abused (not by priests). Two of them before I was born. So yes, it can happen to young boys and it really screws up their abilities to deal with reality– sadly.

          1. Well, gay is not the same as pedophile — and pedophiles often go for both genders. The liberals mixing the two do a disservice to gay guys and I know many who’d rather self castrate than touch a child.

            1. YES– it won’t let me post the name of a person who is sexually attracted to prepubescent humans… what I was going to say is that those kinds of people are sick inside… whatever gender.

              1. Certainly homosexual behavior doesn’t equal pedophile behavior. But there are definitely a fair number of people calling themselves “gay” who really are either pedophiles, or “chicken hawks” preferentially going after minors. And sure enough, some of these folks are in fandom, taking advantage of fannish hospitality toward Odds.

                But then, much as every parent loves and trusts friends and relatives, I’m pretty sure that all parents ought to keep an eye out to make sure nothing inappropriate happens. There are plenty of heterosexual people who prey on the young, also.

            2. Saying “not all homosexuals are pedophiles”, which is true, is much different than saying “if you condemn same sex pedophilia than you must be homophobic”, which is the Gay Rights official (if unstated) party line.

              Consider the slant on the articles about the puppeteer who portrayed Elmo on Sesame Street having a sexual relationship with a sixteen year old boy. The majority of them had no problem with a grown man who worked on a children’s television show having sex with a child, the real problem was that “some people” objected to a grown man who worked on a children’s television show having sex with a child.

              Can you imagine if he had relations with a sixteen year old girl? Would there have been the same outpourings of support? I think not.

              The message is clear–if a predator wants to sexually abuse a child, boys are much safer victims.

              1. A lot of chicken hawks live in New York and have good jobs for influential companies. Amazingly, the news media reflects their influence on their friends and neighbors.

                Also noncoincidentally, a lot of practicing homosexuals who have Serious Issues and get nasty in their denial of them, are people who were themselves victimized by chicken hawks when they were teenaged minors, and try to tell themselves (I guess for their own self-respect) that’s that’s the normal homosexual lifestyle. If somebody is determined to tell himself that victimization or outright rape was “love” and “guidance,” the anger he’s not letting out at his victimizer/s is bound to come out somewhere.

              2. I’ve got a lot of flack for making this comment before but I feel a large part of the ‘problem’ with the gay community and supporters is the laager mentality of everyone is against us, so we can’t make any critical comment about our own, even if we don’t approve. Which has meant that behavior – chickenhawking as a typical example has become ‘okay’ or ‘normal’. It sure as hell happens outside homosexual circles, but it isn’t ok or normal. Hetero males look down on their peers who pick up young schoolgirls, and are not afraid to let them know, which puts a large social brake on what is the thin end of the pedophile wedge. Which is why I am for breaking open the laager – but with it has to come pretty much the same standard of ‘acceptable’ behavior in hetero circles, as accountable and subject to social norms. If you want to get married and be accepted as ‘normal’ you have to modify your behavior to close to what is accepted as normal het behavior, which means as an older man or woman if you try it on a post-puberty, but not fully ‘adult’ person, you get the same flack a heterosexual would – from your peer group as well as the rest of the world. But it appears, like most folk, they want to have special rules, _and_ be normal. You can have one or the other, not both.

                1. We are often lectured about not ascribing to a group the characteristics of given individuals within the group. We are also, and often by the same people, often lectured about not permitting members of “our” group sit down and shut up — see: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, TEA Part speakers, conservative Christians, moderate Muslims, Mormons who don’t support polygamy.

                  Similarly, “group guilt” is terrible when applied to communities which provide cover for their deviants (gays / pedophiles) but entirely proper for our group (white people / white racists.)

                  And yet, by defending those who break group normative values you rewrite the group norms to include those violations. (One reason I recommended the banhammer of our “Anglo-Saxon” visitor — that which you tolerate you endorse.)

                  It is almost as if our critics are more concerned about lecturing us than about being held accountable for their loonies. “No enemies to the Left” has one minor flaw: those to your Left view you as being to their Right and thus feel no reciprocal obligation to defend you when the hammer comes down.

                  1. It goes back to what we’ve said before. Outrage = power. And to give up outrage is to give up that which gives power. To allow reconciliation is to destroy the base from which power is built. Which no one on either ostensible “side” (Republicrats and Demoblicans) can allow.

                2. I see the sense of what you’re saying, and there’s a lot of reason in it. The problem, as I see it, is the propaganda machine telling them that everyone is against them, Until that can be stopped, and enough time goes by for its effects to be mitigated, the problem will largely solve itself.

  10. *Stands, applauds vigorously* Brava, Cedar, Brava! or as is more commonly said around this corner of the plains, “Amen! Preach it, Sister!”

    1. There can certainly be one if we want it. I am also thinking I may start a list on my writing blog. In addition to my own book, I have no trouble promoting other good ones.

    2. Not per se. I suppose part of that is my own experience – I was reading “adult” sf and fantasy at eight years old. (A Spell for Chameleon. LOTS of that went right over my head. I only read it because I wanted to get to The Source of Magic, which was book 2 and I didn’t want to skip anything).

      We do have a tag for 14 and up, based on content, but nothing that’s an outright “Recommended for YA” yet.

      The group’s bookshelf is here: http://www.goodreads.com/group/bookshelf/104359-hoyt-s-huns

    3. There’s a For Children and Adults section. . . and I know there are actually YA there, just not filtered out. . . hey, I’ll go do some.

      Anyone who wants to help sort or to fill it up is welcome. As is anyone who wants to fill up any other section. 0:)

      1. I will nominate a few classics for group consideration.

        George MacDonald’s “Princess” books — The Princess and the Goblins and The Princess and Curdie — may be challenging to today’s dumbed down readers but properly presented they ought enthrall.

        Five Children and It or many another of E Nesbit’s books, but this is probably the best place to start. Published in 1902 and never yet out of print.

        If inclined to provide “graphic novels” Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates comic strip collections are a marvelous experience. While extremely rough at its beginning, the first year of the strip tells a superb adventure story while displaying Caniff’s growth from raw artist to superb professional in one year. The challenges of producing a story in 3 – 4 panel daily installments is a particular challenge and delight. For all the modern mockery, the Harold Gray Little Orphan Annie strips are effective stories depicting the virtue of pluck.

        Heinlein’s juveniles are, of course, already multiply endorsed. I recommend the vintage Tom Swift, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books — preferably nothing not published before 1965.

        Veering into the “sports for boys” genre (some boys will read nothing else) I don’t think you can go wrong with the Chip Hilton books and I am far from the first to sing the praises of John R TunisThe Kid from Tomkinsville and its sequels. According to Wikipedia, the book “is also considered an influence for Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and Mark Harris’ Bang the Drum Slowly.” In it and its sequels the reader is introduced to the problems of coming of age, of antisemitism, racism and, in The Kid Comes Back the challenges of reentering American society after experiencing the challenges of WWII. Tunis is considered one of the creators of the YA genre.

            1. Although Walt Morey had a decidedly lefty slant, his books were very much about self reliance. My favorite was Canyon Winter

        1. I will actually nominate A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is the most “girly” book I ever liked and boys might gag at it, but it is (much better than the film) perfect of its kind, because the young woman retains her self respect and her CHARITABLE ability in horrible circumstances. And because in the end her charity is returned with equal charity and un-prompted love by a gentleman who is trying to redeem a PERCEIVED fault. (I.e. a fault others might perceive in him.) This makes it a perfect book. My girly self (she’s little, but she’s there) also appreciated the decoration and the clothes and stuff.

        2. Hmm. . . . I put the Girl Genius books on the bookshelf, but not filed under YA. Do people think that would be appropriate?

  11. I’ve read many good books that included torture and brutality. However, those were not the main themes of the novels. A good example is James Clavell’s ‘Shogun’. It featured strong, moral characters, average characters, power-hungry characters, and characters who tortured prisoners and brutalized people who lived with or worked for them. The novel showed that the latter characters were people with deep flaws, not purely evil demons. This more realistic presentation of badness was counterbalanced with the actions of the protagonists. Torture and brutality were not venerated.

    1. If you want to add moral complexity to the work, the right way to go about it is not to make all your characters shades of gray, let alone the same shade. It’s to mix up which side they are on. If you put both a paragon and a double-dyed villain on both side, then you get complexity.

  12. Just going through the YA science fiction page is a real downer. Where are the optimistic wonderful stories like the ones from Norton, Heinlein and Anderson that I grew up on? All the books I see are either dystopia in the ruins of wrecked cultures(hunger games) or victim and poor little me stories both of which by and large have female protagonists. Where are the stories written by men for boys? Did Rowling success mean that that’s the only sort of thing we see?

    1. Sod if I know. At least Rowling told a positive story where doing the morally right thing paid off and the characters weren’t “good because victims”.

      1. In addition to the lack of depressing endings to the HP books, they also have some interesting messages regarding the power of the state vs the individual. In fact it has occurred to me that you could sensibly nominate JK Rowling for a Prometheus award seeing as she presents the downside of intrusive and incompetent government so well….

        1. I have come to the conclusion that Ms. Rowling is a closet Conservative or at least has been at the not mercy of the government to know it thoroughly and truly detest it.

          1. I think she’d be a conservative if she thought about it.

            She hasn’t, and the default for “nice people” is liberal, so she’s liberal.

            Run into it a lot with my family– especially my sister. Stuff she knows about (such as the life cycle– babies are people, not “choices”) she’s very conservative about; stuff that hasn’t bit her yet? Knee-jerk reflexive liberalism.

        2. The funny thing is I think that’s the art, not the artist. If you read her “where are they now’ note that every worthwhile character “now’ works for the government. (SIGH)

          1. Well, you’ve heard the line that “wanting to be President” disqualifies you from being President?

            Perhaps we need people working for the Government who don’t like the Government. [Wink]

            1. The twins — Fred & George — opted out of government work and proved quite successful.

              Harry wanted to be a cop, which pretty much means government work. At least one of Ron’s older brothers worked for Gringott’s, but Ron was going where his pal Harry went (I can just see Harry & Ron doing the “Sgts Friday and Gannon” thing,) Hermione, well, naturally born bureaucrat, that girl. It was only her involvement with Harry & the Weasleys that saved her from becoming a latter day Umbrage.

          2. Well, she’s been raised to be a supporter of government control. HP had a case of government becoming corrupt, but it was fixed at the end of the books, you see, so them going on to work for the government which was now benevolent again, was ok.

            She got pretty far, considering where she was coming from (especially having been a teacher), but she wasn’t able to jump the gap to understand that more government was always susceptible to being corrupted.

            1. Especially the government of the Wizarding World, which was an almost unaccountable bureaucracy (I think the one thing that prevented its normal mode from being despotism was its parliament).

    2. I think, technically, the first two of my Colplatschki Chronicles could be called YA, since the protagonist is 16 at the start of the first one and 20 at the end of the second one. Granted, she is female, but she’s a fighter, not a whiner (most of the time.) She’s too darn stubborn to be a “good victim,” though. I think teenage guys would find something there.

      I’m trying something new and the first book should be out in December, barring unexpected interruptions.

    3. Actually Rowling had a boy as main character which was a HUGE departure. The sickness predates her. I was thinking about this while ironing. Feminists think that making men weak will make them gentle, but gentleness in men comes from strength. when you make them weak you just create barbarians.

      1. Yes, on gentleness being a result of strength. In a fight, if you’re weak, you have to fight hard and vicious if you get into trouble. Someone who is very strong can afford to simply stop someone who is trying to fight them. In relationships, the drive to be a leader and protector will lead a weak man to try to dominate by using a similar viciousness.

      2. …gentleness in men comes from strength. when you make them weak you just create barbarians.

        What scares me some watching how education is being handled and how boys are being socialized, is how this sort of fundamental truth is ignored. There are reasons, compelling and necessary reasons, we instill ‘gentlemanly’ behavior in boys. And it has nothing to do with condescending to females…

      3. Mmmmm … gentleness derives from character. Strength, in its truest sense, derives from character as well.

        This Land Is Mine
        In a Nazi-occupied French town, meek and mild-mannered teacher Albert Lory lives with his mother. Few people, including his students, have any respect for him and he literally shakes in his boots during an air raid. He is quite friendly with his fellow teacher, Louise Martin and her brother Paul who also happen to be neighbors. If truth be told, Albert is quite in love with Louise but she is in a relationship with George Lambert and he feels she is quite beyond his reach. Paul is a member of the resistance and is killed when Lambert informs the Nazis. Outraged at what he’s done, Albert arrives at Lambert’s office just as the informer commits suicide. Albert is charged with murder but the local Nazi commander, Major Erich von Keller, offers him a deal: if Albert agrees to remain silent rather then continue a speech in his own defense which is arousing fellow citizens, he will ensure a not guilty verdict. Albert returns to the courtroom and in an act of bravery urges his fellow citizens to fight their oppressors.
        SUNDAY NOVEMBER, 17 2013 AT 06:15 AM on TCM,

        One of Charles Laughton’s best performances, this depicts true strength.

        Gentleness is predicated on strength because it is strength restrained, just as bravery is acting in spite of fear, not in fear’s absence. Weakness cannot produce gentleness, only its pale counterfeit, meekness.

  13. I was following the Marvel Comics series The Young Avengers with interest for a while. One of the characters I particularly liked was Kate Bishop, a normal human but a big admirer of superheroes, who had gotten instruction in skills such as fencing and archery and was just waiting for the chance to prove herself (initially she didn’t even have an AKA!). I thought that was pretty cool. Then they did a revised origin story for her in which her drive to superheroism came from her having been raped . . . and that killed my interest in the character. Not so much because it was a cliché (I didn’t realize it was, then), but because of the idea that someone who aspired to extraordinary achievement must have some deep trauma hidden in their background. No thought that maybe it was believable that a person achieved great things because they had gifts that cried out to be used, or out of idealism, or simply because they thought it was fun, “the only really neat thing to do” (as James Tiptree put it).

    I’m fine with Batman having undertaken to fight crime as an avenger. But I don’t think every superhero needs to be an avenger (even if they’re a Young Avenger).

    Since then, I’ve heard a story about a woman comic writer who was writing a popular woman superhero, and got asked, in a conversation with fans, when the character was going to be raped. Not even “if”: They apparently took it for granted that the only way you could prove you were a serious writing was to subject your character to horrendous trauma, and that the only convincing trauma for a woman was rape. Or something; I don’t know the actual reasoning, if it is “reasoning.”

    The Crazy Years are a lot uglier than Heinlein told us they’d be.

  14. It’s been coming for a long time. I imagine it’s worse now, but I recall a year in school that I refer to as the “Humans suck and you should feel bad” year. Required reading that year consisted of almost entirely “humanity sucks” type books, master pieces like Monkey Island (homeless boy meets homeless man, homeless man is murdered, homeless boy is hospitalized) and analyzing songs (like Another Day in Paradise) for their deeper meaning as applied to our culture. Some of them I did “enjoy” (Maus and Maus II) in as much as they could be “enjoyed”, but mostly because I was allowed to choose them (from the preselected list of humanity hating books) and because those two in particular were real books about real people with real results.

    But mostly I remember from that year feeling like the idea that all humanity was bad and evil was sort of being artificially pushed down our throats, and even then I knew it wasn’t true. It was never that bad again throughout the rest of my schooling, but there were plenty of moments (some random book about an overwieght highschool girl who carves a name into her forehead with a knife, I don’t even remember the name or even what the book was really about, just that the book was really boring and that scene disturbed me). These days I really can’t imagine what the required reading lists look like if the books this essay is about are now standard fare on the YA lists.

    1. I may have mentioned it elsewhere, but the daughter is in 9th grade English on the AP track this year, and there are three required books.
      Animal Farm by Orwell, Bullfinch’s Mythology, and Life of Pi, which was a pretty movie, but… I need to read the book. 2 out of three isn’t too bad.

      Incidentally, the local PTA was selling books for all the required reading in the kiddo’s high school English classes, and they had every single book but one. The one book they weren’t selling… Ender’s Game (which, points for it being required reading for someone’s class… but still…). I don’t know if that’s because of a problem with the distributor, or if they couldn’t get their hands on it or something but it does seem a mite fishy.

      1. Life of Pi is…weird. It also has a bunch of philosophy from different religions thrown in but they get at least the Christian items seriously distorted (I assume if that’s wrong likely much of the rest is), so yes, you might want to read and discuss at home. I forgot as much of that book as fast as possible. (I, too, had it as required reading, but at least it was when I was a bit older.)
        Given the current huff over Card’s politics and religious beliefs I can see
        some distributors refusing to carry Ender’s Game.

      2. Kiddo in 6th grade read Brave New World, Animal Farm and 1984. This would have been fine if he’d not been clinically depressed. On his own, the next year, homeschooled, he continued reading some dystopia, but first he went through a tear on classical SF.

          1. This was the year he was being bullied by 18 girls with the EAGER cooperation of the staff (who was related to most of the girls and believed whatever they said. Not coincidentally the year he turned cute, though we didn’t notice. When we took him to the psychologist she said “you have noticed he’s an unusually beautiful young boy, right? The girls have. And he is not looking at girls yet. And there’s your problem.”)

  15. 1) “Why not a book about a girl who had been taught to defend herself, and thus never became that victim?”

    If we can include in “defend herself” “learning to recognize people and situations to be Avoided, thereby never ending up in the predicament in the first place”.

    Personal Example: In my days as a Civil Air Patrol Cadet, there was one Senior Member who, shall we say, “had a rep” as a Creep, but there was nothing provable (yet — he did eventually get a Form 2-B [involuntary termination] for kiddie-fondling). However, that there was “nothing provable” did not mean we Cadets did not take measures — word spread (verbally — nothing committed to paper >:) ) “do not let yourself be alone with this guy”. And we didn’t — either we worked with this guy in large groups (preferably with a more-reliable Senior Member around as well), or worked with him where we had multiple means of De-Assing The Area With The Quickness should need arise. (Me, specifically? Let’s just say my reputation preceded me. >:) )

    The truly interesting bit? I ran into him at the 2007 Worldcon — I recognized him long before he recognized me; our subsequent chat (held in a hallways with many witnesses — some shit don’t change) was… Interesting. (Yes, he was still scared of me — and now I’m taller and stronger than he is….)

    2) Anyone else here seen _Grave of the Fireflies_?

    I mention it here because: The Japanese *ACTUALLY HAVE A FUCKING REASON FOR WRITING THAT SORT OF THING*. Two of them, to be exact (more if one includes various firebombings).

    Some folks write Depressing Stories not because they think it’s “edgy” or “hip” — they write them because they’ve not only taken a bite of the shit sandwich, they also got stuck with the bill. Those who haven’t had to dine at Chateau de Merde are going to have a far-different reaction than those who have. (The problem arises with those who read the Depressing Stories, and think there’s a damned thing which can be done about it. Life sucks; get a helmet.)

    And let’s face it: The folks who’ve BTDT and write about it are going to be *far* more convincing than the poseurs. (It’s why I can’t watch modern “horror” films any more — “what in *HELL* do a bunch of well-fed, well-clothed, well-sheltered Urbanites know about Horror?)

    So let us make sure we know the distinction between “the folks who actually know the Darkness, and write from experience”, and the Poseurs; and not tar all “unpleasant” writing with the same brush.

    1. 1. Invert the paradigm. Build the first half as the standard victim narrative, but when she is pushed to the wall and acts in self-defense, killing (or maiming) her assailant, build the second half around society’s condemnation of her for ultimately rejecting victim hood.

    2. I am currently wrestling with how to get my heroine abducted while she’s soundly ensconced in a castle during the attack. (No, they can’t weasel in the front door.)

      Prudently avoiding dangerous situations takes work to make it dramatic. You can, for instance, have all but one of the teens go up to the allegedly haunted house, but to get that one into the story let alone the hero you have to have something be stirred up and come down the hill.

      Or, of course, you can have the hero decide that the mountain pass is worth the risk in a time-critical situation, which means he then gets to kill the dragons.

      1. Chuckle Chuckle

        There was an article about Batman where the writers commented that not only did they have to think of a way for Batman to “think of a way out of a trap” they had to reason out “why/how Batman would be trapped”.

        After all, the “best way” to get out of a trap is to not get trapped in the first place. [Wink]

        By the way, back when I was reading Batman, the writers would have an innocent to be already trapped and Batman would enter the trap to get the innocent out of the trap.

        1. Unfortunately, I have a whole castle full of guys who would go after the innocent. This is a world where they still fight with swords and so do not have silly ideas about upper body strength.

  16. I wonder when John Norman will be put on the required reading list? Oh, I forgot, he won’t because his male characters are stronger than his female characters.

    1. One of my greatest television viewing moments was when 60 Minutes interviewed a prisoner participating in a prison literacy program. They asked him what book he was reading currently, and he looked embarrassed and showed them Slave Girl of Gor. Alas, the interviewer didn’t recognize the book series.

      He was in prison for rape, of course….

      1. (Footnote: The first book in the Gor series is actually a pretty fair Burroughs pastiche, and the stuff about slaves wanting to be slaves and women wanting to be raped has the mickey continually taken out of it by the main character, who wants to end slavery. Unfortunately, Norman soon found out that his readership liked exploitation more than liberation, so the next book or so make the main character do a heel turn to the bad.)

        1. Unfortunately, Norman soon found out that his readership liked exploitation more than liberation, so the next book or so make the main character do a heel turn to the bad.

          That reminds me of one of my favorites in the “sword and space” genre: the Dray Prescott series (by Kenneth Bulmer, writing as Alan Burt Akers, writing as Dray Prescott). Dray, when not being jerked back and forth by the Savanti and the Everoinye, is motivated by two things: His love of Delia of Valia (to whom he remains strictly faithful throughout the series) and his detestation of slavery and the work to end it on Kregen (the planet on which the action takes place).

          Very refreshing among all the “anti-heroes” out there trying to “deconstruct” Burroughs.

          (And I’ve been tinkering with my own possible project in that genre–the key difference from most is that my hero’s primary motivation is to finish whatever task the overlord types have for him so he can get back home to his wife and family. Yes, the “love of his life” is back on Earth, not on the distant planet to which he’s constantly being whisked.)

        2. That is how I was introduced to John Norman (if you like Burroughs you should try…). I picked up several of them and managed to finish the first one and found myself skimming and skipping pages looking for when the plot and story continued on the others, unfortunately the ‘women really want to be slaves’ and how to properly train them BECAME the plot. There is a ready market for them on the used book market though. 😉

  17. I don’t know about the books listed, in part because I’d like to not be wrathfully depressed this evening before bed… But I hope there’s a place for YA-book characters who “had something horrible happen… and got to a satisfying, decent place anyway.” There are too many kids who have things happen to them when they are too young to fight, perpetrated by the very people who should be protecting them. (How many? Too many. One is too many.) Erasing them… doesn’t help them speak up and try to get help; the family narrative is “pretend you’re normal; tell no one that you’re not.” (Let’s just say that while my situation wasn’t as horrible as it might be, it wasn’t a very good role-model for healthy relationships, and I credit books for a large part of believing in healthy relationships in all defiance of the evidence I grew up with.)

    Of course, depicting people who have horrible things happen, and go on to be capable, confident protagonists… is a blighted tricky thing, because if there’s anything that crushes more often than inspires, it’s, “Well, since you’re not getting over this EXACTLY on this timetable, just like this other person here, you’re weak and selfish and just enjoying your victimhood.” It’s a fine line to walk, since it varies so much between people, as to how to inspire instead of crush (even well-meaning).

    (That said, hurt-comfort is something in moderation or at least self-awareness, and hurt-angst… Mmmmm, dunno. I told myself so much of that as a teenager — a zillion AU stories of deepest, darkest ANGST — and it cleared up eventually (roughly around the time I was getting out of that nasty family situation, actually; funny, that). Not sure if I was interested in anyone else’s angst, mind. My own AU Angst-stories were far better-suited to me.)

    1. It is true that bad things do happen, and we deny that at our peril and at our children’s peril. But there’s a difference between recognizing that as true, and wallowing in it. Maybe my perspective is a little different because I grew up in a good home, was not abused, and was not a kid who got in trouble. Maybe that makes me naïve. At the very least, it should remind people that there are kids – probably a hell of a lot of kids, who aren’t abused, aren’t raped, aren’t kidnapped and beaten or sold into prostitution, etc.

      Books that introduce horrors into the lives of children who have not experienced those horrors firsthand can be planting a seed. It’s already been alluded to by others that the lesson for young men in a lot of these books is that men are aggressors, rapists, and brutish, evil thugs. So if that’s the role model in the books they’re specifically being given for their educational benefit, then can we really be surprised that they learn from them?

      Let’s not be so careful to be sensitive of the needs of those who have suffered horrors that we ignore what we may be doing to those who have not, and who should not have such things forced upon them.

  18. NOT a victim:

    POWERFUL STUFF: Disabled 13yr. Old Rion Paige wins Simon Cowell’s heart on X Factor premiere
    By Clash Daily / 12 September 2013
    It spawned One Direction and no less than 350 top ten records but the X Factor has never launched a disabled star – but that could all change now Rion Paige is in town. The adorable 13-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida stole Simon Cowell’s heart on the opening night of USA’s season three – leading the A&R kingpin to stunned silence and emphatic praise. Before singing Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away the curly haired contestant cheerfully explained how a medical condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC) leads her to have curved joints in her wrists and weak hands.

    1. Sorry, there are too many people close by that need swatted to bother with traveling halfway around the globe to deliver a swatting… now if you were to offer some fresh seafood to take back in exchange for the swatting I might reconsider.

      1. I sense a business opportunity. “Swat the Stupid”

        Have a friend who desperately needs a swat up side the head, on the back or on the ass, but they live too far away for you to deliver it? Call Swat the Stupid and have one of our experienced, highly trained operatives go by and deliver an appropriate swat just where it’s needed most! Never again a need to interrupt your busy day just to tell a friend “don’t be a dumbass.” Call Swat the Stupid and we’ll deliver it for you within 24 hours!

        *All swats guaranteed non-lethal or injury-inducing. Special bulk rates available for coaches, sports teams (referees not included) and politicians.*

        Franchises available.

  19. Someone above asked where to find books like Heinlein’s juveniles. Well, two authors to check out are Timothy Zahn and Kenneth Oppel.

    Zahn’s Dragonback series — six books beginning with _Dragon and Thief_ — is an excellent example of YA space opera with a strong moral center. It’s tragic that this series remains as poorly known as it is, even among industry insiders. I attended a panel on YA science fiction at NASFIC a few years ago and none of the members of the panel had even heard of the series, leaving little chance that your average reader would track it down. I read this entire series to my son when he was 10 and 11 (and when he still wanted Dad to read to him before bed time — he’s not so interested now that he’s 17) and he loved it as much as I did.

    Oppel has a three book series set in an alternate, somewhat steampunk universe about lighter than air ships and the adventures of a young airman. The first book is _Airborn_, followed by _Skybreaker_ and then _Starclimber_. Again, there’s a strong moral center to the books along with exciting adventure. And, yes, I read these to my son as well.

    Finally, to toot my own horn, I hope to announce the release my own first novel, _Scout’s Honor_, in the near future. Bruce Bethke’s Rampant Loom Publishing is leaning toward publishing the book in ebook form with, we hope, a limited trade paperback run. It’s a Sword & Planet story of adventure and romance and, as the title implies, honor. I also use language you won’t mind having a child read (I use “damn” once and “dammit” once, nothing stronger). I’ve been posting the first draft of the story online for the last 16 months at my blog site, so you can check it out for free. (The latest version has been expanded and modified, so I hope those of you who like it will also buy the ebook!) Click on my name to link to my site, then select the fake magazine cover graphic with the airship to read from the beginning.

    1. Henry, if your book is YA – do you want a little plug for it? I am supposed to post for a blog-hop today, and I needed to link to three other YA authors. I still need a third.
      The hop is to basically post on your blog, or facebook page answering four simple questions… and link to three more YA authors. It’s all about getting the word out about new YA books!
      Let me know, send a private message. clyahayes@gmail.com

  20. Cedar, on reflection I am afraid that a great number of those sorts of books are written as a misguided idea of “giving voice to the abused”. Somehow by writing drek like this the author is doing some great social duty and making the world better by making sure any victim knows she/he/it are not alone in their victimhood – like some bizzaro world Horatio Alger story, where instead of fighting out of poverty and oppression to find happiness and success the MC gets victimhood status.
    That the result is to keep victims victims is just a bug.

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