‘Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity’ Discuss.
Is it? Does it matter? Should we write this stuff? Should we rinse our pens out with soap and water and slap ourselves on the wrists for putting such depraved thoughts on paper?
I went to a recent CBC meeting, where the recent outpourings from Wall Street columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon were discussed.
A controversial blog post Darkness Too Visible by Megan Cox Gordon recently sparked outrage from the most eminent echelons of the YA writing community. She described Young Adult fiction as "like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is". Among teen books she mentioned were: Go Ask Alice - drug addiction, rape, overdose; I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier - murder; Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler - self-injury; The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith - a boy is drugged and raped.
The panelists included Joy Court, past chair of CILIP and co-ordinator of Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards; Bali Rai, a writer of contemporary fiction that may be described as an example of the above (but who has not as far as I know ever rinsed his pen out with soap and water); Julie Randle of Scholastic Book Clubs, who is responsible for direct selling of books to children in schools and Shannon Park, executive editor of fiction at Puffin.
The room was filled with publishers, writers, teachers, librarians and anyone with a passion for children’s books.
It was billed as a ‘debate’, but although the discussion was lively at times, it wasn’t really a debate - because everyone agreed that the books Meghan Cox Gurdon was so concerned about deserve their place on the shelves of our bookshops and libraries.
The closest we had to disagreement was a suggestion that YA books should not be labelled as children’s books.
Parodies of teenagers by British comedians. Vicky Pollard (left) the obese juvenile delinquent motormouth, and (right) Kevin the Teenager, rude and sex obsessed
I think this is a valid point - there are content issues with YA books, which may well be inappropriate for younger readers. But YA books do carry warnings that they are not suitable for younger readers and their covers should reflect the age of the reader they are aimed at.
SOME LINKS TO THE BUZZ SURROUNDING YA
YA authors Katie Crouch and Gradie Hendrix write that the 'insane pace' of YA fiction is affecting quality
YA writer Tahere Mafi responds in hilarious fashion
Gurdon's piece Darkness Too Visible
Provoking strong responses from YA literati Judy Blume, Neil Gaiman, Libba Bray and Sherman Alexie.
Maureen Johnson starts up a Twitter hashtag YAsaves which immediately goes viral.
Gurdon defends her essay in another Wall Street Journal piece.
Loretta Nyham warns in International Business Times that if YA Saves, there's a danger of equating the genre with self-help ... which isn't literature
Scott Westerfeld calls on teens to help their parents understand YA fiction
Here are the interesting points raised at the CBC debate:
• Young adult books differ from adult books only in the age of their protagonists. That means YA books have main characters their readers can relate to.
• Young adults should have the same freedom to choose what they read as adults. They will have access to adult books and will read them.
• It is not in the interests of publishers to take on books that won’t sell. If the teens are buying them, they will publish them.
|Bali Rai is the author of |
Killing Honour and (un)Arranged Marriage
• There are a lot of ‘paranormal mums’ out there - a whole market of mums who can’t get enough of teen vampire books.
• Publishers do have a sense of responsibility. Violence must have consequences, sex must be in context, swearing must be in character and filling a book with violence and depravity for its own sake will never work. The most important thing is that the writing must be strong and engaging. (Hmm, wonder whether you’ve heard that before?)
• Reading is SAFE. Young adults can read about the real world and all its issues without going there.
• Reading violence does not make young adults violent, any more than reading crime turns adults into murderers.
Bali Rai in correspondence with Notes from the Slushpile had this to say:
I feel that reading is often under attack from some quarters and as such we should take every opportunity to defend books, the importance of reading for pleasure, and our right, as authors, to write challenging and boundary-breaking fiction without being vilified as a bunch of evil misery-pushers. Reflecting REAL teenage experiences is far too important to leave it to a morally righteous minority who forget that the 1950's and the rise of the teenager ever happened. Left to their own devices such people would have sixteen year olds reading the Famous Five and wearing Hush Puppies!
The one issue that cropped up over and over was quality of writing. That is what sells books and that is what us writers are aiming for.
So - where does all this leave us, the humble writer?
The answer is simple - exactly where you were before.
Write what matters. Write from the heart.
And if you feel the need to write about the real world where teenagers meet abuse, violence and depravity, then feel free to write about it. As long as your writing is strong and engaging, that is what really matters.
Jackie Marchant writes humorous fiction for boys 8+, as well as YA fantasy. Her story Picture This was published in Scholastic's Wow! 366 - a collection of stories of just 366 words each.
Jackie lives in North West London with her husband, two teenagers, and a her ex-trainee guide dog. Jackie has helped train three guide dog puppies and now looks after guide dogs while their owners are away. She spends a lot of time walking in the woods, thinking about what to write and bumping her head on low branches.
Jackie is represented by Alice Williams at David Higham Associates. Photo: Rosie Marchant