PG-13: Violence, Sex, and Teen Readers
Darlene Marshall (moderator)
Fonda Lee (Buy Zeroboxer!)
- Young Adult. What is it?
- FL: YA has burgeoned in the last decade. Books that have had younger protagonists and appealed to younger readers have always existed. The book was not different in the content or subject matter, but in the viewpoint of the character, and whether you are talking about something that is related at that time in life.
- AE: I start by thinking: YA is about a teenager going through teen experiences. But then I think that my protagonist is really advanced, and dealing with stuff that teens don’t normally deal with. If a book merely has a teen protagonist, that doesn’t make it YA.
- JR: middle-grade is targeted towards 8-12, and it’s a subject of children. YA is targeted for 13 and above, and it is really a subset of adult. The majority of YA readers are adults.
- WC: A 1e-year old experience is vastly different than just a 19-year-old’s experience. You can’t just say “teen” and group it all together.
- DM: it spans pre-pubescant to mature, sexually active adults.
- What is the purpose of the marketing? Is it for the parent? For the teen?
- WC: Kids at 10 know all about sex.
- FL: all sorts of violence are acceptable, but sex is not in a YA novel.
- Got pushback from editor: couldn’t do YA because the male’s love interest was an older woman.
- There is a line, but it’s really fuzzy.
- With respect to sex: that lines is drawn in a more conservative way.
- If the sexual experience is by two teenagers, then it can be a YA book.
- JR: We’ve had all sorts of sexually things in a YA book, but they can’t just be a backdrop…the way sexual violence is in Game of Thrones. They have to be in the foreground and dealt with.
- AE: My publisher pushed back more on my handling of violence. I had more explicit torture scenes, and then publisher wanted me to pull back and have those things off screen.
- If there’s sex or violence in YA, it can’t be gratuitous, it has to advance the characters and the story.
- WC: That should be true of all writing, not just YA.
- Do you approach YA differently then adult fiction?
- FL: No, I just write it. And if there is pushback later, I’ll deal with it.
- “Okay, give me the list: how many fucks and shits do I get to use?”
- FL: Kids reach up. An advanced MG reader is reading into YA. They aren’t going to get and/or be ready for everything in YA.
- More women writing YA, more women reading YA. But men winning more awards in YA, even though they are minority of writers and readers.
- School librarians
- Can be awesome, because they can get books into the hands of kids that wouldn’t otherwise get there.
- But sometimes strange rules:
- One library system: sex and torture is okay, but cussing of any kind is not allowed.
- Another system: any amount of violence is okay, but no swearing or sex.
- WC: I think you can tell any story without any fights, any sex, or any swearing, and still tell the same story. (I love fights scenes, but they aren’t necessary.)
- JR: A good fight scene should still illuminate character.
- FL: If you’re going to have violence, or sex, or swearing, it better serve the story, and you should put in just enough to do that.
- People who do teenage sex handled well in YA: Carrie Misrobian, Christina Ireland, Rae Carson.
- Q: How do you handle different reading levels? You can have a teenager who is mature and ready to deal with advanced topics, but not with adult reading level.
- FL: I don’t. I just write what I write. But there is an organization out there who helps filter YA books by all of these criteria.
- DM: Lexile rating helps categorize books for readers of certain abilities.