Hello! I had a fairly good time in Belgium, but I'll ramble more some other day. Anyway, today, we JENNY E MILLER talking about what's suitable and what's not in YA novels. This is something that has come up a bit in my family, more on the what can I read than what can I write, but this is a really interesting topic. So, yes. Read this great post.
While writing my young adult novel ASYLUM, I was constantly asking myself what I could and could not write about. Without giving too much away, the book deals with murder (though not gruesomely), teen pregnancy, blossoming relationships and unstable families. Was I pushing the envelope with a sixteen year-old pregnant character? Could I say the f-word? Could a young girl commit murder?
The long and the short of it is, yes, I could. It was and is my book, and I can write about whatever I want. But the subjects I’ve chosen aren’t usually discussed in young adult writing, unless they’re taking place in an alternate universe (and therefore not exactly taboo). Take the TWILIGHT saga, for example. Sex? Yep. Pregnancy? Yep. Teen marriage? Uh huh. But it’s all with a vampire, and not realistic to our world, so it doesn’t exactly push the envelope. The HUNGER GAMES series contains murder by the main character, but it’s in self-defense, and part of a game in a dystopian world.
My book delves into the paranormal, but it’s a touch more realistic than TWILIGHT and the HUNGER GAMES. But still, the question is, what subjects do authors use and which do they shy away from in teen books?
I think (and I’m generalizing here—I’m sure there are exceptions) that young adult novels that are set in this world, in present time, tend to shy away from sex, violence, drugs, and language. But once they move to an alternate world, everything is fair game. A dystopian or fantasy world lets you break all the rules and create your own.
So what topics should young adult writers cover and which should they steer away from? In all honesty, my answers are everything, and nothing.
I believe that kids today are much smarter and more self-aware than we give them credit for. Bella Swan didn’t spawn a thousand teen marriages, and Katniss Everdeen didn’t cause a band of young girls to pick up bows and arrows and start shooting. I truly think that we can write about whatever we want (as long as it’s intriguing, smart and well-told) and there are very few subjects that should be taboo. It’s all about how you handle it. As long as you’re not blatantly encouraging murder, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc., go for it. Chances are kids have been exposed to these subjects long before they read it in your book.
That being said, parents should always, always pre-screen the books their kids are reading to make sure the content is appropriate for their age and personality. Just because they can read beyond their grade level does not mean they should. Books at higher reading levels are more mature in grammar and in content. And unless you’re prepared to answer questions and discuss the subject matter with them, don’t let them read the book.