Guest Post: Boundaries in YA

Posted by Rachel on February 15, 2013 in guest post, musings, plot, writing |

Today I have a wonderful guest post by Louise Gornall about a topic I feel doesn’t get much focus in the children’s lit community. Where do you draw the line for edgy content in young adult novels? Here’s what she had to say:

I want to talk about boundaries in YA. Why? Because I was recently having a chat with someone who was shocked to discover that my teen characters like to drink, swear and generally get up to no good. This person actually said I wouldn’t have thought people would like their teens reading about “that sort of stuff”. Well then I got to thinking, what is so wrong with writing some real life rebellion into my characters? Are teens really reading anything in stories that they haven’t already learnt at school, at the movies, at Brad McSexy’s Friday night Keger?

I’ve read a lot of YA Contemp. I’ve met teens that carry guns, cut themselves and spew f-bombs. Teens that have sex. Teens that drink till they puke out of their noses. Teens that commit crimes. Teens that have been raped by other teens, but the whole time I’m reading I’m thinking these are so much more than adolescent, angst ridden stories. They are relatable. Survival guides. Distinctly not manuals on how to misbehave and f@%k up your adolescence, but a place where things you’re not sure you’re allowed to talk about in real life are talked about at length. I recently read a story in which a fourteen-year-old was raped. She says nothing about what happened to her and ends up on this self-destruct downward spiral. Obviously I would want my fourteen-year-old to come to me in the event of such a tragedy, but if she couldn’t I would want her to read this book and learn how much worse things can get when you don’t talk about “that sort of stuff”.

So, what do you guys think, is there a line in YA? I see ‘there are no boundaries in YA’ advice all the time, but then I saw a query for erotic YA sink like the Titanic last week. That’s right, I said erotic YA. Chew on that for a second…leaves an icky taste in your mouth doesn’t it? Is this the line?

Louise is a YA writer from that place they call the U.K. She loves books and movies and Marvel comics and when she grows up she wants to marry Orlando Bloom. You can connect with her on twitter @Rock_andor_roll


  • T.L. Bodine says:

    Erotic YA, oh dear god. Can’t say I’m surprised, but….ugh.

    In other news, I sometimes wonder about the portrayal of all these street-hardened teens in YA books. Writers often like to say, “I’m writing books real teens can relate to!” but I wonder if we have any data on that. Because undoubtedly, there are thugs of all description in the real world…but I’m not entirely sure they’re the ones reading books? I almost wonder if the so-called “good kids” are reading these books and thinking, “but…that’s nothing like me.” I know that’s why *I* stopped reading YA as a teenager — the worlds they described bore little resemblance to my life, and I found more interesting things in adult books. It just makes me wonder…at any rate, I’d say there’s probably still a place for both the “hardcore” and, erm, fluffy? in YA-land.

    (I say as if I have any knowledge on the topic)

    • bookishblurb says:

      Hi T.L,

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving us a comment. Honest to goodness YA erotica… *rolling tumbleweed*

      I’m so glad to read that you think there’s room for both. I agree that not every teen going through high school is a rebel, but as long as there are teens out there having a hard time there’s room in the market for uncensored YA.

      Enjoy your weekend 🙂

  • bookishblurb says:

    […] guys, so I’ve got a guest post over at Rachel Horwitz’s blog. If you get a second you should head on over and check it out. I’m talking boundaries in […]

  • Carissa says:

    I wonder about this too … it’s such a dilemma for me as a writer (and maybe for a lot of us writers?) because I was totally the goody-two-shoes. Never drank, smoked, slept around, never even swore.

    So it’s really, really hard for me to write these kind of MCs with any sort of authenticity. I don’t know, maybe in the end that’s the most important? Writing the characters that resonate with us … the ones that we could see ourselves identifying with in high school, and the ones that we could learn from. In that sense, we should see the whole spectrum in YA. Or at least the spectrum of avid teen readers who grow up to be writers …. which may not be a very large spectrum at all …

    • bookishblurb says:

      Hi Carissa,

      I completely agree. There’s room for every kind of character in YA. I love both light and dark contemp. Like I said to T.L, as long as diversity exists in real life it should be allowed to flourish in books.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. I hope you have a great weekend!

      Louise 🙂

  • Coren says:

    This is great Louise!! My next assignment in children’s lit is on exactly this topic (in reference to Melvin Burgess’ ‘Junk’ (which I haven’t read yet) and others. Exciting topic!!! 🙂

  • My YA book has a lot of drinking, partying, pranks, and swearing. The boys are thinking about sex and the girls are agonizing over it with their BFF’s. Should I do it? Shouldn’t I? Will it hurt? Is he going to break-up with me if I don’t? To me those are real issues that are not too over the top and make the story/characters believable.

    However, the idea of erotic YA? Well…..I’d never write anything like that, but I have read books that claim to be YA yet have a touch of the erotic in it. Maybe a scene or two that isn’t fully faded to black but not as vulgar as an adult erotica book. Do I think there can be sex in YA? Yes, if done carefully. It’s a fine line to walk though.

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