Current listen: "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" courtesy of Coldplay
ong from one of my favorite groups.
My blog today is on a serious note and comes from a personal level. In other words, my opinion only. I'm certainly not railing against any of my fellow authors, because if one of us gets ensnared in censorship, we all do. I also want to credit my thought wave to a blogpost I read today written by Alethea Kontis [AltheaKontis.com], another young adult author who alerted our writing group to an article in the Wall Street Journal, attacking young adult authors. Below is the link, if you're interested. When I read it, I found myself wearing two hats. One, as a parent, and another, as an author in the young adult genre. Interesting twist in that the article borders on suggesting censorship which would take away my freedom to write what I want, but a journalist can write what they want? Hmm. We're both authors, are we not?
If it doesn't connect, try Control + clicking or go to website www.wsj.com and do a search.
In March, I posted a blog about story characters' morals not always matching the author's. The article above talks about the "subject material" of today's young adult literature. This loosely links with my earlier post in that some may find my stories to be inappropriate. I will admit, my books will not be on the shelves of religious bookstores. My characters aren't sugar-coated nor are the conflicts they face and how they handle their lives. But dark? Not really, but conservative critics may say otherwise. I write romance...the happy ending...and although there is a "dark moment" (necessary to any story), I write "hope" or light at the end of the dark tunnel. But I do not soften the dark moment.
Here's the dilemma that plaques young adult authors. When is too much detail "too much?" The article lists several books dealing with dark subjects, surprisingly adding a few fantasy based novels into the mix. According to the Wall Street Journal, Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy is rated as one of the top ten most violent books for young readers. I've read all three books and recommend them to any young readers. Violent is not a word I'd use to describe her writing. Yes, there are attacking mutants, and the protagonist is thrust into the middle of a game of survival played out in real life instead of on reality TV, and the stories show how she survives and wins. It also shows what happens to her on a psychological level. Something very real in the fantasy. But, it is a fantasy. Now, who knows what will happen in the future, especially after an apocalyptic event, but to say that Suzanne Collins is responsible for planting violent thoughts inside young minds isn't fair. She simply created an imaginary world with imaginary characters doing imaginary things, but feeling very real, acting real, and the emotional aftermath real.
That's what readers, in particular young adult readers, identify with. The feelings and emotions of the characters. They find a piece of the character that relates to them, what they're feeling or whatever hell they may be going through (and with teens "hell" has many connotations depending on the day) and how that character made it through, showing the reader how to trudge through their own real life situation.
But, is it fair to put the responsibility solely on an author as to what thoughts are inside a young mind? The article sides with parents blaming young adult authors for planting dark or inappropriate thoughts inside impressionable minds. Are we authors the "gatekeepers?" If our characters drop the "f-bomb" does that mean sweet Jimmy will now use it in his dialogue? Or if a character has sex with a boy before marriage, or at least before college age, and innocent Sally reads about their forbidden love, will she suddenly decide to surrender her virginity? No. If Jimmy swears or Sally has sex, it's their choice. Believe it or not, our youth have minds of their own (although a few times I questioned if my teens' heads were actually empty).
I will not deny that there are some dark stories in the young adult genre, nor will I deny I enjoyed reading some of them. I tend to like edgier stuff. It's more realistic to me, and I assume, the same holds true for a teen reader.
This world is different from even ten years ago, and bad things happen to good kids. Dark crap surrounds them. Again, their choices are their own to make as are the consequences they suffer, but sadly, they can become the innocent victim for someone else's bad choice. That's what these stories deal with. Reality. The reason they sell isn't because a teenager is looking for a "how-to" book on rape, hazing, or using drugs. They know other teens, friends, or they themselves have been the victims of some type of abuse, and they want to identify with someone else, even a fictional character, who has experienced the same thing. How did that character handle it? Did their thoughts mirror the ones running through the reader's mind? And, what happened after? What coping skills were used, what choices were made that brought the character's story to an end...good or bad?
The dark moment in Riley's Pond deals with "date rape." Not a comfortable subject to write, but a very real happening in our teen's world. My story deals more with the characters coming to terms with what happened and working through it, than the act itself, but that's the level I write from. Designer Genes is all about the sexual tension between the teenage characters, set in a futuristic time when the government decides everything, including with whom and when they are allowed intimate relations, in order to keep the gene pool pure.
A book about a girl who cuts herself to alleviate the emotional pain she suffers from the real pain of being abused, or the gay high school boy who suffers a horrendous hazing at his classmates hands, almost taking his life, are extremely dark, but real. Fake characters, but characters that are relatable to young readers, with lives mirroring theirs or someone they know.
Should parents just let their kids read anything and everything then? Certainly not, but don't blame the authors who write reality. What's not right for your child, may be exactly what another one needs. If your teen is reading something you are uncomfortable with, talk. Don't just "forbid." Maybe you'll both learn something.
Before I close my rant, I want to recommend three"dark" books I found invaluable and wished were printed when my daughter was in her teens. Sarah Dessen's Dreamland is unforgettable and an eye opener into abusive boyfriends. Parents should read as well. Teens are famous for hiding things from parents, especially if "love" plays a factor. Sarah Dessen's Just Listen and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak deal with the importance of "telling" about abuse. One character does, the other doesn't, and although the consequence of choices is polar opposite, the emotional hell both characters go through is the same, as well as the final outcome. The difference, without telling, someone innocent gets hurt. Great books.
Like I said earlier, I like the edgier reads in young adult and most adult genre, too. Again, thanks to author Alethia Kontis for my inspiration. Oh...and a personal thank-you goes out to author Judy Blume!
Here's to life! Make it your own, but make it your best. Thanks for dropping by.