The YA Debate

June 11, 2011 at 1:31 am (writing)

A debate seems to be raging rampant in the publishing world these days – has Young Adult fiction become too violent/sexual/ controversial for its intended readers? Personally, I think people are asking the wrong questions and, in the attempt to answer them, they are lumping both the genre and its readers into general stereotypes that don’t answer the erroneous questions that they are asking to begin with. There are some forty-year-olds who are much more immature than some fourteen-year-olds I know, and when deciding what is appropriate for an individual reader, you have to consider much more than age and the content of the book. What is the reader like with regards to education, culture, religious beliefs, family relations and life experience? How resilient and easily influenced by others is that individual? What positive and negative things might they draw from that particular storyline? Have they already been exposed to the “mature” content in the book in some other way? As my husband pointed out, there are young adults in the military learning how to kill people. Do we have the right to tell them that they can’t handle violence in their fiction?

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover (although many do,) you can’t judge a reader by their demographics. On that same note, you can’t judge the value of a particular story based on select aspects of the plot. You will find violence and controversial issues, and yes, even sex, in some of the classic novels out there that are considered must reads of their time for people of all ages. Speaking personally, some of the books that I read during my youth, that moved me the most and made me a better person for the reading, touched on difficult and uncomfortable topics. They gave me a better understanding of the world that I would be growing into, and some of the challenges that I would be facing. They prepared me for various struggles in life, and while they may have been dark and unsavoury in some way, the protagonist usually faced their grim fate with hope and personal fortitude. Those stories were inspirational.

I’ve read some of the prominent YA novels being held in contempt, and I can honestly say that I found some valuable lessons carried within them. All this being said, I can understand where the knee-jerk reaction to these books is coming from. I have a nine-year-old daughter who reads beyond her grade level and has already begun exploring YA novels. There are some things I know that she’s not ready to deal with just yet. I don’t think that this means the industry is responsible for censoring the books she reads. It is my responsibility as a parent to know what she is reading and to decide what is appropriate and what is not. Yes, that means that it takes extra work and vigilance on my part, but nobody ever said that parenting was supposed to be easy. Few things in life are easy – a message in many of these questionable books.

For my part, I’m not comfortable in labelling my books YA, although I am informed by many test-readers that my Fervor series, my Blood Is Strong trilogy and my Masters & Renegades fantasy series would all be appropriate to be marketed as YA. My publisher agrees with me that this is not what works for these books, and we’re using speculative fiction genre-appropriate labels for them instead. There may be children or young adults in my stories, but there is also some very mature material built into my tales as well, including segments of the stories that deal with suicide, rape, abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, religious and social intolerance, torture and sex. None of these things were included gratuitously, or for cheap thrills, and some younger readers are capable of reading and dealing with the material appropriately, but I’ve chosen not to target a YA audience specifically with my books. Let them approach my books with the understanding that they contain adult themes and while they may be worth reading, they won’t be right for everyone.

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5 Comments

  1. theleagueofelder said,

    Great Post, Chantal!!

  2. chantellyb said,

    Thanks, Ren. The articles and blog postings I’ve read on this topic seemed really one-sided, in one direction or another. I was hoping I could offer something a little more balanced.

  3. Katy said,

    This is a very interesting post. I agree with you that the parents should take some responsibility in monitoring the appropriateness of a book for their children. Everyone is different after all, and some are exposed to adult themes at earlier ages than others. Great post.

    • chantellyb said,

      Thanks! I’ve only read one blog post that seemed to address this debate properly, so I felt I had to add my opinion to the mix. It is a reasonable topic for debate, but I think more people who are posting about it should look at the pros and cons from both sides, instead of just getting angry and defensive.

  4. Young Adult Literature: Is it too dark? WSJ Thinks So… | The World in the Satin Bag said,

    […] (Some others talking about this very issue:  Word Blurb) […]

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