I've noticed a disturbing trend in Goodreads reviews: people are giving one or two stars to YA books because they include instances of teen sex (and sometimes drinking and/or drug use). Reviewers often complain that a book provides poor role models, is immoral and offensive, or simply is not reflective of modern teen life.
When I read these reviews I want to type in the comment box, do you actually know any teens? According to the National Survey of Family Growth (sponsored in part by the CDC), 42% of teen girls and 43% of teen boys are sexually active. Contrary to the myth that teens are having a lot less sex, these numbers have remained steady for the past ten years.
The adults posting these reviews know this. Maybe their teen isn't having sex, which is well and good, and let's face it, preferable. But there are millions of other teens who have decided to do the deed, often quite responsibly--is it so hard to admit a novel may be reflective of that reality? And, that it may have value as a work of art because it does?
Now, I should cut the teens writing these reviews some slack. And I will. Because the more I read them the more I lose faith in our school systems, not our young people.
Increasingly, these reviews contain no mention of character, plot, or even a gut-reaction like or dislike. The sole reason for giving a book a low rating is the inclusion of sex. Judging a novel on that basis illustrates a definite lack of critical thinking skills. Expecting novels to only reflect your system of values is expecting them to cease to be art.
Good art has always challenged, provoked, reinforced, reflected. Good art investigates what it means to be human. This is something one used to learn in high school. But (sweeping generalization alert) it seems we're focused on training kids to only search out what art means to them personally. There is a place for that response, but there is also a price for using it as the only evaluative tool. We're not teaching our kids to look for a book's impact on society or to appreciate an author's skill. We're not showing them that though a book may infuriate, it may also instruct. We ask, how do you feel about this? and leave it at that.
This is a type of close-mindedness. It creates narrow thinking, a terrible trait to develop as our kids face the challenges ahead.