This Chicks Bookish Discussion: What is YA appropriate?

I started reading Young Adult books a few years ago because I wanted to try my hand at writing one. I thought that if I immersed myself in the genre that I would learn a lot about what those readers are looking for, but also how authors are tackling writing in this much discussed and kind of difficult to understand genre. Now, full disclosure, I am an adult woman. I’m talking about my age, specifically, although I’m still young in imagination and heart. As a fan of this genre, I know that the majority of YA authors are in fact mature women or men, not the age of the group they are writing about. I am generalizing because I’m unsure if there are some famous teen writers who may actually be in that age group, but the majority are not.

  1. Do our experiences as adults shape how we write a YA novel?

Of course they do! It’s not like we can shut off our life’s experiences.

I know that the teens of today are more self aware, sexually active, and politically motivated. I’ll admit, when I was a teenager I didn’t have as much on my plate. I went to school, played sports, did homework, and went out with friends. We may have had a few beers at a friends house but without today’s technology it was a pretty slow childhood in comparison with today. Cell phones and social media have aged and matured teens and created a peer pressure that endangers their self esteem. I’ll get off my technology soap box by just saying that I’m thankful I grew up in a simpler time. Now back to how this applies to teen representation in books.

I recently sped through the first three books in Erin Watt’s ‘The Royals’ series. I really enjoyed these books. They were fast paced, action packed, and really dramatic. They were also filled with a lot of sexually explicit jokes, language, and physical acts. I totally forgot at times that these were 16-18 year olds that I was reading about. I get it, I really do! Just because my childhood was pretty innocent, doesn’t mean I didn’t have friends who had sex in high school. Sure they did! Here’s my next question….

2) By writing explicit sex scenes in books that are targeting young adults, are we educating them in a healthy manner about these physical acts OR making these acts more commonplace and normal?

I want to re-iterate that I REALLY liked the Royals series and am not harping on it in particular. It’s just an example because I just read them. I’ve certainly read other ya books where there are sex scenes. But, by having them so commonplace, are we normalizing sex, violence, etc.?

I remember my parents saying, and news stories talking about how violence in movies and video games are normalizing guns. Are explicit sex scenes also normalizing behavior for our young adults?

I love the romance genre. If I look at all the books I read in a year, probably 80% of them are in the romance category. Whether those are YA, adult, romantic fantasy, romantic suspense, etc. I read romance novels as a way to escape life and fulfill my fantasies, right? We read other genre’s to pretend to solve mysteries, or save a world, or educate ourselves about a particular part of history or whatever. Teens read YA books to escape, learn, and fulfill a fantasy or two also.

3) Besides word of mouth, how does a reader know how explicit a book is (I’m talking YA specifically) before they pick it up?

I’m sure there are young adults who lean more to the innocent than the experienced side of life, right? I recently read a blog post from a teen blogger talking about how she reads books before her little sister so that she can recommend books that are appropriate. I am in no way trying to censor because, again, I like to read all types of books…

4) Should there be a remark on the cover? A key of some sort? One heart on the cover means innocent to four hearts for explicit?

Am I the only one that has ever had these thoughts? I’d love to hear the world chime in on this discussion.

Please comment in the section below if you’d like to share your own thoughts.


6 thoughts on “This Chicks Bookish Discussion: What is YA appropriate?

  1. I’ve been surprised by some content in YA novels, and I feel like the scenes were included for titillation or shock value rather than anything to do with plot or tone. It always felt superfluous. Nothing to do with the characters development or journey, but if it did have merit, why not take the responsibility to handle it with care? Young readers are looking for adventure, escapism, and testing philosophical and moral boundaries. I feel as authors creating content for young readers there should be an awareness of who your audience is, how they are still developing and learning, and structure the delivery of the words and content in such a manner. That way taboo topics and risky content can be treated in a way to enlighten or query younger readers. It doesn’t have to be turned into an educational experience, but rather handled in a responsible manner appropriate to the audience.
    It’s a big ask, because at the end of the day authors are writing the books they want to read (mostly) – and given that they are not young adults themselves any more, we end up with the leeching of bits and pieces that probably aren’t kosher, but are allowed by publishers because the YA demographic has a varying degree of maturity in it’s readers.
    It’s all so wishy-washy timey-wimey… And it takes a long time for changes to happen in the publishing industry. They’ve been struggling with grading published works like film and video games for years.
    It’s a great discussion point you’ve raised, but in the end it’s down to the discretion of the reader (or the person responsible for the readers material, i.e. parent, teacher, etc.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “handled in a responsible manner appropriate to the audience.” Is a rather perfect way of putting it and I agree completely! I don’t think younger readers want to be educated either, but get lost in a story. I had the exact thought about the two authors that make up the Erin Watt pseudonym. Elle Kennedy and Jen Frederick are both fabulous writers and very successful in their genre’s. But the only difference between these books (The Royals) and the others they’ve written is the age and maybe that they have parents in the story. All of the other content is still present. Whether it be appropriate for that age or not. I don’t know enough about publishers and how they work to be able to talk but my guess is as long as people buy them they’ll allow it to happen.

      I’m mulling over adding an explicit rating to my reviews though. Not to detract from whether the story is good but just to give people a heads up. Maybe more of the bloggers/reviewers should agree to do that? Triggers are pretty common so this could be an added line… just a thought.
      Thanks for joining the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Em

    Interesting thought points! One of my undergrad English profs once argued that Twilight had so many mom fans because – as a whole – the population is quite illiterate and these were books that were both engaging AND readable. I feel that’s one of the reasons that I like a lot of YA … I spend my days reading scientific manuscripts, and CANNOT stand the idea of returning home to read dense fiction.

    I think a lot of authors and publishes have picked-up on this post-Twilight trend … YA and NA are often read by adult-adults … so, I’m not really surprised that there’s been a shift to more … mature content, even in non-romance books.

    Plus side: YA/NA books are often far cheaper. Like, $18 vs $40 for a hardcover.

    Downside: I’ve read some books that teenaged-me would NOT have had the experience/mental capacity to actually understand – like, some pretty brutal torture scenes in fantasy novels.

    I like your idea of having a rating system … maybe rating both (1) the overall complexity of the text, and also (2) specific content, just like movie ratings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like YA books for the same reason. Most of them don’t require extra thought and I can read them pretty quickly. Sometimes I think I read them and the age appropriateness doesn’t faze me because I am a mature adult and have many experiences that make it more normal, but even I balk at some adult content in adult books, so when I see that same content in YA it jumps out as oddly inappropriate. I read a ton, but if parents don’t read this genre themselves would they think these are the same books as when they were young? That’s a misconception I worry about. When I write a review I write about the characters and plot. I may start adding a rating system for sexually explicitness. I’m still mulling it over, but I know some people would want to be warned… Thanks so much for joining the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a little late to this conversation, as I’m catching up on a backlog of posts, but I will say that one thing that makes me uncomfortable with this topic isn’t so much the explicit scenes themselves (although they aren’t really my thing) but that an ADULT author is out there *writing* explicit sex scenes *about* underage teens. I don’t like that it’s becoming acceptable/commonplace for adults to look at teens in a sexual way, which they kind of have to do in order to write about it, if that makes sense.

    On another note, I recently came across a publisher called Clean Teen Publishing. They basically use a rating system to let readers know about potentially sensitive content – each book has separate ratings for language, violence, sex, etc. I really like the way they do it, clearly stating that they aren’t there to censor, but to allow readers to know about content ahead of time so that individuals can read within their own personal boundaries. I wish more publishers would think about such a system – I think I would like it even on the “adult” books I read!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now that you point that out I do think it’s a little creepy! For some authors I know it’s an extension of what they write in a more adult genre, but it needs to be toned down for kids. This opens up a whole other topic though, doesn’t it? Is it ok for adults to write explicit sex scenes about kids? I need to think about this because just saying that feels wrong.

      I am going to have to look up Clean Teen Publishing. I haven’t heard about them! I don’t know if I agree that adult books need a rating system but I do think that some teens would benefit from it on their YA novels. Thanks for the tip!

      It’s never too late to join in the discussion! Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.