Young at Heart discussion

What is too much in YA?

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message 1: by Karen (last edited Oct 17, 2008 09:50AM) (new)

Karen Syed (karensyed) | 5 comments Mod
As a new YA publisher, I have a very difficult task when it comes to deciding what is too much to publish in a YA book.

What are some of the things you read in YA that you think don't belong there.

Karen Syed

message 2: by Angela (new)

Angela | 2 comments I think anything can be addressed in YA, but it is a matter of HOW it is addressed.

I've read about suicide, divorce, sex, abuse, life-threatening illness, death, and other tough topics in YA books. The thing that struck me most was how the topics were addressed with respect, even more respectful than some adult books addressing the same topics.

message 3: by Heather (new)

Heather Ingemar (heatheringemar) | 3 comments I agree. YA books can -- and should -- deal with everything, because the teens who are reading them are dealing with those things (regardless of whether we want them to or not!).

I think that the tone of the book has a lot to do with it. Take sex for example. You wouldn't want to have anything bordering on erotica in a teen novel. But if it is used as a tool to explore the nature of an intimate relationship (too soon? used for control? used for love? consequences?), then it's probably alright.

Just my 2cents.

All the best,
Heather S. Ingemar

message 4: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Garber (callista83) | 3 comments I agree with the general thoughts so far. I don't know how much murder though I'd include. I'd hope not that many teenagers are dealing with that. But for the most part, as long as it's shown in a real light (not played down as nothing) and in the proper doses (not that I can describe what that would be) it's okay.

message 5: by Karen (new)

Karen Syed (karensyed) | 5 comments Mod
Kathleen, You make a good point. One good example (and I can't believe I am going to use this) is the new Nancy Drew movie. There is obviously a lot going on in the background, and yet, the writers did an excellent job of simply hinting at the other stuff and keeping us entertained at the same time.

One of the things I am a little distressed about is the new Gossip Girl television series. Now, I watch it, but that is as an adult, and I have to say I would not want my teen watching it.

I find it entertaining in an odd way, but it is very distrubing to me to see teenage kids having sex willy nilly, sitting in bars and drinking with no consequence, and so on. There don't seem to be a lot of lessons, just gratuitous "stuff."


message 6: by Terry (new)

Terry (readingtub) I would second/third/fourth a lot of the comments. This is an audience that begs to be "all grown up" and wants to learn about the world without actually having to talk to a grown-up about it.

The key is "how" the subject is handled. I recently read a YA book that had a very interesting character and plot, but it also had a lot of details about how to commit arson, almost to the point of being a step-by-step guide. As I was reading I couldn't help but think about how kids have learned to build bombs on the Internet.

I don't envy authors and publishers that fine balance between presenting a detailed, meaty story and not trying to "glorify" behaviors.

message 7: by Jenna (last edited Oct 21, 2008 06:25AM) (new)

Jenna (jennieb) This is very interesting to me, as I'm putting the final touches on a YA mystery right now. Would anyone mind if I put the basics out here for some feedback, since it kind of applies to the discussion?

My protagonist is 16. Her brother is 17. When his girlfriend (also 16) is found murdered (beaten and strangled) he's arrested and charged. His sister wants to prove him innocent. The murder takes place off-stage, before the story even begins, and she doesn't see the body. There's a later suicide, a hanging, where she does see the body, but only for a second. Someone else, another 17-year-old, sees both bodies, but since the story is first person, his account is second-hand. The book also touches on sex (in discussion only), teenage pregnancy (the dead girl was pregnant), infidelity (it wasn't her boyfriend's baby), and using sex as a tool to get things (she was essentially bartering to get better grades/make speeding tickets go away, etc.). There are a few dammits and hells, and I think a shit, but I was told the f-word was too much for YA, so I had to leave it out (and I'm actually quite mad about that. It's a word I don't use much, even in my adult books, but I had the perfect place for it.)

So what do y'all think? Is this stuff acceptable in YA, or am I writing an adult mystery, just with younger protagonists? And what about the f-word? Can I use it, or not?

Thanks, and I hope nobody minds being used as guinea pigs!

message 8: by Karen (new)

Karen Syed (karensyed) | 5 comments Mod
I was just at Bouchercon and sat in on a panel for YA. FIrst of all, in the scheme of the market you are still writing a YA. However, what I learned from that panel is that this is where you will have to make a choice. While writing, you have to decide what your market is. Do you want this in school libraries? Or are you okay with bookstores and other venues. With what you have described I'd say that school might be a stretch for you.

As for your premise, it sounds interesting to me and it also sounds as if you have put a lot of thought and consideration into the writing aspect to ensure that you don't cross too many lines.

AS for the F word. It is one of my favs and quite honestly, kids today say it more than I, and if you don't mind not being in school libraries, I say if it fits, use it.

Karen Syed

message 9: by Jenna (new)

Jenna (jennieb) Thanks for your thoughts, Karen.

No, I don't care about the school libraries. That is, I care about MY kids' school library, but I don't care if my book ends up in it. I want it in book stores and then on TV, if possible. It's all about the money, baby.

I don't use the F-word much. Not when I talk and not when I write. I haven't used it in any of my adult books, the one that's published or the two that are written and that are coming next year and the year after. In this particular book, at that particular moment, it fit, though. I might put it back in...

message 10: by Elyse (new)

Elyse (elysedraper) | 1 comments I'm also a Young Adult author Karen ... and luckily enough for me the plot is progressing in ways that I don't need to use the f-word.

I have a friend who used the f-word is if were replacing 'like' and 'you know' in his most recent book. Fascinating in retrospect, he intentionally used it until it became ambiguous (not only was it published under YA, the public is eating it up) … as a point to express a message, profanity has its place. If you feel the situation needs it … I’d go for it.

I always try to keep in mind that we are selling to an audience that can see PG13 and R rated movies. I just hope that my writing has more ingenuity and creativity then Hollywood.

message 11: by Linda (new)

Linda Regarding issues addressed in YA books and the use of what is considered to be profanity:
Personally I think it would be ideal if the characters and plot could be interesting enough and something that the reader can relate to WITHOUT using a lot of profanity. If having the character say "Dammit" helps the reader to understand the type of person he is, it may be useful. But I think the decent characters, the ones we are supposed to like and see as heroes and examples, should be kept from using profanity. In the same way, although a story may include violence or sex, use it to show the readers the negative consequences of their actions, not as typical behavior to be accepted and approved of. I think a writer has a responsibility to his audience and should consider the message that is being conveyed, not just thinking how popular the book will be.

message 12: by Jenna (new)

Jenna (jennieb) Ideally, I would agree with you, Linda. However, it's not an ideal world, and I think that as authors, not only do we have the responsibility of creating decent characters with moral integrity that can serve as examples for our readers, especially when writing for a younger, more impressionable audience -- I think we also have a responsibility of not lying to our readers; again, especially when writing for a younger, more impressionable audience. If we're writing in the real world (as opposed to, say, historical fiction or alternate universe, where the rules are different), we owe it to the people we write for (in this case, teenagers) to show the world as it truly is. Without pulling any punches and writing 'down' to the readers just because they're younger than we are. No, I'm not saying we need to slap them across the face with the 'adult' world in all its (sometimes) nastiness, but I don't think we need to coddle them, either. And I certainly don't think we need to preach. I don't tackle the issues I do, in the way I do, because I want the books to be 'popular' - if so, I'd write about vampires - but I'm not going to compromise the truth of what I'm writing - and the fact is that a lot of teenagers are a whole lot more crude and rude and sexually active than I've ever been - to teach morality. My 0.02, for what it's worth.

message 13: by Heather (new)

Heather Ingemar (heatheringemar) | 3 comments I agree. If you preach to them (i.e. writing a book about the negative consequences), that book is going to sit on the shelf. Teens don't like to be preached at.

Entertain them first.

And on a side note, there aren't just negative consequences to things. There can be positives as well.

All the best,
Heather S. Ingemar

message 14: by Linda (new)

Linda When I mentioned "negative consequences" I meant to negative, undesirable behavior, like violence for example. Sure there can be positive consequences to violence, like getting what you want, but we don't want to send that message and reinforce negative behavior.
And I do believe you can teach good morals in an entertaining way without being "preachy," but it may be challenging. Entertainment is fine, as long as morality and truth accompany it. Just my "old-fashioned" opinion - and I'm not even that old!

message 15: by Janni (new)

Janni I don't think cursing (and sex and murder) are taboo in YA books, so long as the story wants them (much like in adult books). I think there are some (not all) libraries that will shy away--but there are also books with cursing that are bestsellers (again as with adult books), so books with profanity in them definitely can and do succeed.

I am a little puzzled by the notion above that keeping characters from cussing is part of trying to make them good examples. I personally don't cuss much at all, the goodness or awfulness of the people I know has nothing to do with how much they curse, and the notion that cursing is a sign of somehow being a lesser person is a little troubling to me.

Then, too, there are situations where it's hard to get around it. It's the rare person who will say "oh, darn" when a dragon is breathing fire down their neck. Sometimes there are workarounds--saying someone is cussing without giving the actual words, for one--but like all other words, sometimes the story truly does call for various forms of profanity. It depends on the story, the situation, the characters, the setting, and the tone.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that's really taboo in a YA book is, well, boring the reader. :-)

message 16: by Marc (new)

Marc (authorguy) | 1 comments I can't imagine getting such a book for my children. My youngest daughter is currently on a non-fiction kick, but in fiction she was reading the Oz books, The Secret of Bailey's Chase, and animal-based fiction such as the Animal Ark series.

message 17: by Janni (new)

Janni I think there's a range of books out there--those dealing with edgier subjects, and those that are quieter. I don't think either is a bad thing, honestly--different teens want different books, just as different adults do. Why shouldn't teens be able to choose what they want to read, just as the rest of us do?

And how many adults look only at whether there are positive messages and themes in their own reading material? We read for fun, and whatever messages may or may not be there reach us in a secondary sort of way. It makes me uneasy, really, that we feel like adults can read for fun, but that teens and children can't, that we need to constantly worry about whether their books are "good" for them. If my teen reading were regulated in that way, I never would have become a reader--I'm grateful for parents who let me read anything I wanted to, and I never met a book that did me harm.

I think we need to trust teens to choose the books that are right for them--in my experience most teens will put down a book they're not ready for--and let them just enjoy reading, the same as the rest of us.

message 18: by Janni (new)

Janni Hi William,

I think it's that there's more of a range now, with the edgier books added into the mix. When I was a teen, even the gentler books mostly weren't as strong--I remember a lot of bland and message-y books (many of the welcome exceptions being in fantasy), and as a result many of my peers kind of back away now if you suggest they go anywhere near a teen book, because they disliked much of what they read as kids.

While the teens I know now actively love teen books and are passionate about them, and it isn't just a few fringe kids who like to read all the time. So I guess I think the increase of range is for the good!

message 19: by Janni (new)

Janni (I should add that I of course agree that there'll always be individual teens that a particular edgy book isn't right for, teen readers being just as varied as adults!)

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