The publishing industry, schools and libraries are filled with benign and progressive people who care about inculcating children with the “right” values, and instilling love, hope and kindness. As these people are also the ultimate decision-makers regarding what kids read – or what they don’t don’t – they often unwittingly convey to poorer students their class values of what constitutes “good literature” and “bad morals”. There’s a difference between rubbing a child’s nose in Game of Thrones gore and violence and teaching them imaginative empathy about how different teenagers live, speak and experience the world – teenagers their own kids could easily know and befriend if they were allowed to catch the train two stops down.
Perhaps that’s why some teachers who have no problem with teaching Shakespeare (murder, suicide, anti-Semitism, madness) baulk at touching anything by Sonya Hartnett or John Marsden. Perhaps there’s the erroneous belief that young adult writing is “low-class”, not the high-brow stuff of literary analysis.
Or maybe the teenagers in those books are too real, too visceral. Perhaps a book about an acid attack on a teenage girl would be worthy and teachable if set in India or Cambodia, where the focus could be on misogyny in different cultures; but for Marsden to have set his seminal work at an Australian girls’ school was a huge risk. It paid off, because enlightened teachers like Ms Clarke taught it, and in doing so, taught us that a teenage girl can be funny, sardonic and insightful without having to mimic middle-aged Henry James or Edith Wharton.