Meghan Cox Gurdon said she didn't expect anything like the degree of reaction that her Wall Street Journal essay on darkness and depravity in young adult literature has generated -- but she did think it would probably get up the noses of some people.

It's a live issue for a lot of families -- what exactly is in these books, why is it so dark, she said in a debate taking place with YA author Maureen Johnson this hour on WHYY's Radio Times.

Johnson, who has written 10 books for young adults, said the article touched off a wellspring of enthusiasm for the genre.

But it really focused on one very niche area, and then it misrepresented that area. And the article was free of fact, she said. What I was upset with was a misrepresentation of young adult literature, which is a such a vibrant place to be right now, and could be saving kids' lives, she added.

Gurdon, the Journal's longtime children's book critic, responded by pointing out that she made it clear in her piece that there are exceptions to the case she was making.

There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader -- or one who seeks out depravity -- will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds, she said, reading directly from her article.

She hesitated to call YA a genre, and said it is thought to date back to the publication of The Outsiders in 1967. YA literature is relatively new in our society, and it's something that parents have to think about, she said.

It's reasonable to talk about the state of the culture, and I'm not sure what facts one is supposed to have at hand in order to talk about the state of the culture, Gurdon said.

Johnson said Gurdon is correct that many people are not familiar with young adult literature, but said the name usually means that the protagonist is someone between 12 and 18 years old. The spectrum of YA is as wide as the spectrum of adult literature, and not mostly books about cutting and so on, Johnson said. I was upset that it was grossly misrepresented.

You say you get your information from talking to people. I get my information from reading, Johnson said.

I don't know what that is about, Gurdon replied.

Gurdon said what she was talking about was a particular trend of wallowing in darkness in young adult books.

She pointed out that Piggy's murder in The Lord of the Flies is sparing -- you know what is happening, but you are not dragged into the depths of it. But many contemporary YA books have realistic depictions of darkness that are not sparing, she said.

Overall, Gurdon said, This is very healthy, and it's very good to have this kind of discussion.

The Philadelphia public radio program is being guest hosted by Tracey Matisak. Go to to listen to it live, and for the show's webpage.

Edward B. Colby is the Books editor of the International Business Times. He can be reached at