There was an article recently in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper (which by the way is not high-brow journalism at its finest AT ALL) but still I wanted to talk about it a little here. Here’s the link for that if you want to read it Daily Mail and here’s a link to a rebuttal from the Guardian online Basically what the author said was that he has noticed a trend towards taboo subjects in YA lit recently. He listed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars as one example of these ‘sick’ books which address teenage sex, alcohol, drugs, death/suicide, depression, intolerance, hatred, bullying, and other hot topics.
Of course there is some titillation factor, the same one that makes some of us slow down for a car accident but that’s not the author’s motivation for writing these books. I am almost completely sure that that is a fact. Writers write about what interests them, the ideas that burrow under their skin and keep them up at night. And teenagers read to escape their lives or to explore their feelings or maybe even find answers to questions that seem too big or complicated or frightening or nebulous to ask someone else about.
That’s what I found in books when I was ready to go looking. And I think it gave me experience and insight into lives I might never have been aware of. It gave me a far bigger perspective and knowledge from the safety of my armchair.
I firmly believe that kids read books when they are ready for them. If they are bored or uninterested, they put the book down and may never pick it up again. But for that kid who is searching and feeling lost, a book may well show them that they are not alone after all.
I have a personal interest in this subject. Recently I have realized that my books are getting darker. It’s not by any plan, it just keeps happening.Conflict. Pressure. Having my characters make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances- I guess that’s what it all boils down to.
Since Ashes, Ashes I’ve written a punk rock coming of age, a neo-gothic horror, a psychological thriller and my current WIP is another coming of age, though for the first time my protagonist is a teenage boy (yay!). There is some scary stuff in all of them but that’s not the main plot.
Horror/adventure/thriller/whatever- those are just vehicles which drive the story but the stories are about the teens at the centre of them and the choices they make and the changes they face, and I don’t think these books are titillating, I think they are empowering.
But what do YOU think? Is any subject too ‘sick’ to write about?
Are there lines that should not be crossed in YA lit?