Man… I really wanna blog about this. I want to sound all eloquent and knowledgeable on the topic and maybe have my blog end up passed around through social media with people echoing all my brilliant thoughts—
Except all I got is, “Wow… WOW. I mean—what? Like…I don’t even—whatever.”
Can I stress the fact that I am not an industry professional. I do not claim to be an expert. I’m just an avid reader of YA fiction, I write it, I love it, I wish I’d had more access to it when I was in high school.
Here’s the gist: An article came out recently, from the Daily Mail (which like, doesn’t mean shit to me because it’s not the Toronto Star, or People Magazine, or the National Enquirer), and basically, it’s the tired old “Young Adult literature is way too dark, and real, and shocking, and oh-my-god-you’re-gonna-give-the-kids-ideas-with-this-stuff, and inappropriate in general.” We did it not that long ago with the #YASaves campaign (and I wrote a blog article about it here).
Now, obviously this debate is going to keep coming back. Duh. I shouldn’t even waste my time blogging about it. Except in this article, the writer brings up several books I’ve read and loved.
First, we have THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. I read it a few months ago and let me tell you, it was awesome. Kids out there are not only battling psychological demons. Some of them are battling physical ones. I should know—I work with chronically ill and disabled children. In this book, you’ll meet characters who are dealing with the regular teen angst, but also with chronic and terminal illnesses. I mean, can you imagine? Apparently some people don’t want to imagine. Which is sad because, yeah, maybe the book won’t be a completely accurate representation of what a real terminally teen might go through (hello, cancer is just a total waste of a human being with no point), but I would like to think that as a teen, I’d enjoy having the option to pick this book up and maybe gain a tiny bit of perspective, some empathy, whatever. I would also like to think that if I were a kid in the fight for my life, I’d like to be represented in books out there. They’re teens too. Why can’t they be cast in starring roles too?
Next, we have my personal idol, Julie Anne Peters, who isn’t even named as the author of BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD in the Daily Mail article. I was reading the writer’s sum-up of the book’s plot and I was like, “What? Is that what the book was about?” Because that is not at all what I remember from it. That’s not what I took out of it by the end. That’s like saying Harry Potter is about an abandoned kid who keeps somehow being responsible for killing and endangering everyone around him. Um, miss the point much?
Is it a newsflash that kids contemplate, and all-too-often carry out, plans of suicide? Please. I mean, all I can think of now is this recent shooting in the U.S. and all the blaming that was going on.
Because it all ties in together. You can’t make kids do things. You can’t make them commit all these horrible acts just by talking about them. It doesn’t get implanted and then grow until the kid is walking around like, “Man, I wish I hadn’t read that Julie Anne Peters book because now all I can think of doing it going online and setting a date to kill myself.” The kid who does that was already thinking about doing something. Stop focusing on triggers. A trigger can be anything. Just because you don’t understand violent video games, and think real-life Young Adult literature is shockingly too real, doesn’t mean everyone thinks like you do. What if that shooter was here to say, “I shot all those kids because I was tired of seeing happy families while my own wasn’t happy”—what should we do then? Not flaunt happy families because it’s a trigger?
Why aren’t we blowing a gasket over all the vampire and werewolf teen romance book phenomenon? All these submissive girls, swooning over dangerous bad-boys all because they’re turned-on and also trying to defeat some kind of evil? Because it’s OK as long as it’s not real?
Here’s a paranormal-y romance-y kind of YA for you:
Seemingly ordinary girl with family tragedy meets angry overly-attractive jerk-boy who opens her up to a world of magic and evil. Ordinary girl becomes attractive, boy is still a jerk, but a wounded one so we feel sorry for him. Boy has some kind of supernatural ailment (he’s a vampire, a werewolf) and it’s killing him. Girl must save boy. Big scene. Someone looks like they’re dying. They don’t. The end.
Now let’s strip out the paranormal-y stuff and turn it into a real-life YA:
Girl with self-esteem issues and strained family relationships meets charismatic boy. Girl’s world changes as boy breaks through. Boy is strong but girl realizes something’s wrong. Boy is sick, or boy is crumbling inside and on the edge. Girl and boy try to save each other. Big scene. Someone might die. Someone might consider not dying. The end.
I mean, what the hell? Both are good—albeit for some issues I have with this submissive-girl-and-moody-jerk-love-interest trend. But the bottom line is they’ll both have an audience. They both have merit.
Anyway, it has come to the point where I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore. The article mentions more books I’ve read and enjoyed. It just blows my mind how many adults are shocked at how awful the teen years can be. Parents, I know you don’t want to know what your precious babies might be dealing with, but just ’cause you close your eyes doesn’t mean it’s not still happening. And you know what? The teen years are also most-excellent at times. But, let’s all think back to our most-excellent teen moments…
Were we doing things adults would want to know about? Probably not. The good stuff’s also quite dark and shocking at times. So, it is what it is. All you can do as a writer is try to report the teen experience as accurately as you can.