Friday, January 14, 2011

Young Adult: Sex, Drugs ... and life lessons?

Alright, so I am a huge YA fan. For those not in the know, "YA" refers to the "Young Adult" section at the store that is nestled somewhat arbitrailty between "Children" or "Middle Grade" and "General Fiction" at the bookstore (I tend to find it, in actuality, between "Middle Grade Fiction" and "Home & Garden" for some odd reason. Why? Well ... actually, all of the explanations I have thought of include aliens and/or mind control, so ... I haven't an idea.)

I write YA. I read YA.

And here's my beef: I have read YA for about as long as I've read (I was never a picture book person - not sure why, but as soon as I understood that reading = freedom, I picked up novels and never looked back), and I genuinely like them - but I hate the implied censorship of them - always have in fact - when it comes to things like sex, drugs, dysfunctional families, swearing and other such taboo things.

I get the arguments - kids should not be exposed to certain things.

And to that I say - I'm sorry, what? Says who? And why? And why is it that our culture suddenly has this overly developed sense of protecting children for "their own good"? And where do adults come off as thinking that isolating teenagers from this will somehow make them less likely to engage in behavious these things allegedly encourage?

I was a teenager not too long ago. By that time, I was reading everything, not just YA. And I avoided YA for a while because I felt it was too ... baby. I mean, who says "Golly!" anymore? (K, so I can't remember reading that outside of those Gidget books and movies, but honestly, think of this as a metaphor for the wider issues). I started reading my Mom's romance books (without her knowledge) by the time I was ten or so. I started with So Worthy my Love by Kathleen Woodewiss, and it still sits in my bookshelf.

Why did I read that when I could have stuck with the Babysitter's club? I think, mostly, because I looked around and realized that a lot of the YA books were just ridiculously unrealistic.

More to the point, I desired something more to my reading. I didn't want this sunny and happy perspective where the biggest thing that went wrong meant being sent to your room without tv. My life was not like that, and I didn't want to read about kids who were like that.

I wanted sex and drugs and complications - I would read parts of books over and over, just for a hint of that. Like Caroline B. Conney's series of Christina novels (Snow, Fire, Fog) - the love triangle, the kiss in the cafeteria! - and her Milk Carton series - where they end up in a motel, trading sexual barbs - nothing happens, but the tension is there and it's complex. (I am a huge fan of Cooney's work, it must be said).

I didn't want to be protected from these things! Why would I? They just opened up a whole new world for me - a world that I was on the verge of exploring.

And that is why, when I write YA - I write for the teen I once was. I write in the sex, and the drugs, and teh swearing - when my characters talk, I hope they are just as awkward as teenagers are supposed to be - when they love, I want it to be with all the pomp and circumstance of a real teenagers.

I would never presume to protect my readers from the world - I am offering them a glimpse of what I have seen, a small taste of what the world could be - with all its complications, dirty and clean, smart choices and bad decisions - and I do this because I respect them. I have great respect for readers in general - and I would never presume to hide from them, things they would want to know about.

I guess, the point is - why are we really trying to protect our kiddies? And why from these specific things? Why always the triade of Sex and Love (you know, the bad kind) and Drugs? Is it that we do not trust our kids? Or do we just want to protect them in a world that becomes increasingly harder to cope with?

Anyways, food for thought.
Thanks :)


  1. Ammy, this is certainly a interesting post. I had never heard of that author before, but I have looked her up now.

    I have to say, I don't necessary think it is the "kids should not be exposed to certain things" argument coming into play. Maybe it used to be. After all, writers have to abide by certain "guidelines" to sell their stories to publishers who are willing to produce a product that they feel will appeal to a mass market.

    Authors have made great strides in insisting that their work reflects the true nature of their characters, even if it includes sex, drugs and expletives.

    But that still doesn't negate the fact that the majority of what a teen or child should be taught should come from their parent(s). I believe a parent should take an active role in knowing what their children or teens are reading. Not to censor them per say, but to help them explore their feelings about something they read but not fully understand.

    I get the message you are saying, but remember this, what parent doesn't have a natural instinct to protect their kids? And not all are the same. Everyone has different beliefs, and at the end of the day, that is what is going to be the deciding factor. Yes, exposure is good, but there has to be some mediation or safeguard to help explain the consequences objectively. And that is not always possible. In fact, it is likely not going to happen. More and more messages about sex are being pumped out to younger audiences than ever before. Think of how heavy in innuendo cartoons are now a days. I don't have kids yet, and quite honestly I often find myself appalled.

  2. I can't stand that either. Kids should be able go somewhere to to find out about these topics and feel comfortable. If we don't answer these topics in books and they don't feel comfortable going to an adult where do they go?

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  3. I agree with you, only because I was always curious about the dark and gritty side of being a teen and being a person in general. If everything is sunshine and rainbows, it reads false to me...for the most part. Sometimes those books are nice and they can be realistic too. As a person, I wasn't really like the people in these type of books...but I was friends with them, classmates with them, in their peer group, etc. They were around me and I heard about it, sometimes saw it, and I wanted to read about it because it brings these type of things to life and gives people REAL and DEEPER things to think about than just "what dress do I get for prom?" I think all types of books should be out there.

    I write YA too, for the most part, and I try and do the same thing. I don't think it should be as graphic as Adult books, no, but I don't shy away from dealing with certain issues because they are real to teens.

    Nice post!