Why do so many teens gravitate toward street lit?
The Baltimore City Paper has a provocative article about the dearth of YA fiction reflecting the lives of teens in urban poverty.
Though librarians often think of authors like Walter Dean Myers, Coe Booth, and Sharon Flake as the answer to teens of color looking for reflections of themselves in literature, Corbin believes they don’t go far enough:
Take [Myers’s] 1999 novel Monster as a case in point. Often touted with book review hyperbole as his grittiest truth-telling tale, Monster is ultimately a pedantic cartoon…. Steve Harmon, the novel’s hero, gets caught up, a good kid hanging with the wrong crowd. But in the end, in an ending we all know, young Steve is reconciled, chastened, and therapeutically massaged back into the arms of the nuclear family, the clan of troubled but good kids, our kind of kids. He was merely an interloper in that other world. Those other characters whom Steve got caught up with–James King, Bobo, Osvaldo–they are cartoons; they can’t make the precious moral decisions, and therefore have a literary life, that Steve has to make. For they are those real urban, black kids, the kind who don’t read books, don’t write books, don’t have character.
In other words, the teens who make grey moral choices in order to survive—drug dealing, violence, other crimes—are never represented in YA literature as fully human.
This is a simplified view, but I think it goes a long way to explaining why the “young, urban, and black” readers Corbin mentions might feel more comfortable with—and excited by—a book like The Coldest Winter Ever or True to the Game where protagonists consider their own survival before considering the moral implications of their actions.
Street lit is a hot topic in urban libraries these days and is featured in YALSA’s Diversity in the Library podcast.What do you think?How do you see teens interact with mainstream YA titles and street lit books?