To understand what bothered me about this book so much, you almost have to read it. My review will give you an idea, but it really won't be enough. Let's just say that I would choose Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars over Oblivion, if I had to pick one--and that is saying something. At first glance the storyline sounds wonderful, fresh and fascinating. A high school girl is victim to a psychiatric condition called graphomania. This is an urgent compulsion to write without apparent purpose, and the writing (at least in this story) usually makes little sense. Through the girl's struggles with the condition, the threads of a gruesome mystery begin to unravel, until at last she is able to remember and help solve the crimes she witnessed a year earlier. Not bad for an exciting premise, eh?
But then the story fills in. Frequent swearing, several sex/sexual scenes between the protagonist and two different boys (separately)--plus a drunken lesbian encounter and talk about a menage a trois. And this is just for starters. There is also a wicked Christian pastor (though to be fair it is made clear that his church is clearly not a recognizable, authentic one), child sex abuse, the discovery of infant murder, and…shall I go on? The point is that the darkness of this story was not titillating and exciting as dark stories can be, at least not to me; rather, it was oppressive and horrifying. If I'd read it as a teen, it would have haunted me for months. My mind would not have been ready for something like that.
This is book for teens? This is how far we've come in pushing the limits in the YA book industry? Perhaps this is the outer limit, but I doubt it. Sure, there will always be a point at which publishers will edit an author's book for appropriate content, but they travel an unbelievable distance today before meeting that point with no indication of where they will stop.
Yes, Oblivion weighed so heavily on my spirit that it has actually caused to rethink my commitment to maintaining this website. The truth is that every book I read affects my mind, spirit, and emotions, just as it does with teens. Sometimes I end a book feeling uplifted and better for the experience, even some books that address difficult or painful themes, such as Like Water on Stone, which is about the Armenian genocide. Sometimes I shrug my shoulders, indifferent but unscathed. But often--much, much too often--I leave a YA book depressed, disgusted, or disturbed. I am not talking about books with specific objectionable content here, such as swearing or sex. The stories that leave me this way are usually the ones that are disturbing or spiritually oppressive as a whole. These are ones I need to approach with caution or avoid altogether. I need to learn to just put them down. Finishing so that I can write a review is just not worth it, I realize.
I know that dark, edgy, and/or heavy is hip in YA literature right now, and I know that what brings me down doesn't affect everyone the same way. If teens didn't like them, publishers wouldn't print them. That they like such stories is understandable, considering the point they are at in their development and considering the difficult situations they often face in real life. Perhaps such stories help them process what is going on in their lives. Still, after reading so many of these novels, I have to conclude that YA fiction, generally speaking, is definitely not the safe sort of entertainment many parents assume their teens are getting, even parents who have no concerns about swearing, sex, and other such content.
Perhaps teens can handle these books; perhaps many of them are mature enough to choose and we should trust them to make a wise choice for themselves. This is what I've often heard parents and teachers claim, and these sane, intelligent adults seem confident enough about it that I sometimes wonder if I'm just a worrywart. Still, my instincts and past experience raise too many red flags to simply shrug and relax. I can't help but wonder if these adults would be so approving if they read a lot of these books themselves. Not just an isolated one here and there, but a lot of them as I have. Perhaps if they did, they would come to feel, as I have, that the YA market has gone too far in doling out the dark, edgy, and oppressive to our impressionable teens.
What we read and watch helps to form us; it has power. The words don't always roll off of us like water off a duck. Many times they sink in, and we can't control that. Sometimes we don't see their effects until years later--I am still haunted by things I read and seen in my youth, for instance-- but they are there. Why don't we care more about this for our teens?
When I began this website, I was mostly concerned about the objectionable material that most concerned parents want to monitor--swearing, violence, etc. Now, after two years of struggling to find uplifting, funny, and/or lighthearted novels to balance out the darkness, I have to conclude that our (my) concerns are too heavily weighted towards specific words and scenes. What parents should be concerned about most are the stories in a holistic sense, just as we might consider whether our teens are ready for difficult but brilliant movies like Schindler's List or The Passion of the Christ. We should be focusing on how books will affect our teens holistically, too--their minds and spirits, their emotions and continued development.
Making this discernment is much harder than simply noting whether a book contains upsetting swear words, gratuitous drugs, or scintillating sex scenes; yet, it is a task we parents should not ignore. There is still the problem of "how," though? Parents are already so busy. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to help a teen avoid potentially damaging books, though, and it won't do to throw out the whole genre to make things easy. There are too many good books, and besides, the tried and true adult classics can contain disturbing material, too.
Concerned parents really have two choices. We either open the door wide for our teens and trust them to make wise choices on their own. Or we must put in the effort, whether we are busy or not, to help them avoid making poor choices that may harm them. Although it may not be "PC" to say so, on this I must take a firm stand. The truth is, there is only one right choice.