Maybe most of us do, but I have learned that in the world of YA literature, the natural goodwill of some authors towards their teen audiences has been shockingly skewed. I do not believe for a moment that today's YA authors are trying to hurt our youth. Not one--not even the author of the most revolting novel in the genre (and I could name a couple of likely candidates!). Writers don't get into the business to hurt people. But after immersing myself in the YA genre for some time, now, I have come to accept that many YA authors and publishers view the issue of appropriateness through a very different lens from that of parents.
Consider the words of Chris Crutcher, as quoted in the April 2013 edition of the newsletter, Chldren's Writer: "People often ask why I think I have to put that language into stories. I don't have to. I have the free speech right to do it or not. Truth is, I don't think about it at all when I'm writing the story. It doesn't even create a blip on my radar until it becomes a controversy somewhere...There are certainly YA books that get targeted because of sexual content, but again, if that content leads to the reader finding a story he or she is interested in, it's worth its weight in gold."
REALLY???? I don't know about you, but that last statement is an eye-opener to me. Does he really mean that? Nope, he is definitely not on my side.
Author Lauren Myracle says something similar on her website in regards to one of her recent novels:
"Something else I should share: This book has sex in it...So, yeah, sex is part of the mix, and I trust that you, and teen readers, can handle it. A fellow writer recently said to me, 'I would never want to write a young adult novel that I couldn’t comfortably hand to a twelve-year-old.' Well, I would. I do not ever want to underestimate my readers’ ability to take on 'content'—and good Lord, what would we do if books didn’t have content! 'Here you go, here’s a book with nothing in it. Enjoy!'"
Again, unbelievable (twelve??? ), not to mention lame--especially the last statement. Tell that to all of the YA authors who managed to create great stories without Myracle's kind of "content." Tell that to Will Hobbs of Downriver. Tell it to Wendy Mass of Every Soul a Star, Polly Shulman of The Grimm Legacy, Joan Bauer of Hope Was Here, and Heather Vogel Frederick of Home for the Holidays--among others.
The realization that some (some) of these authors (and their publishers) are not on the parents' side when they write their books has made me much less trusting than I used to be. They do not care what values I am trying to impart to my teens, even values that are as ubiquitous as "Don't sleep around." They write what they want to write, and some publishers seem give their writers free rein in regards to content in order to snag teen readers. (Think I exaggerate? Read Looking for Alaska and Gossip Girl. For starters.) This is both a business and an art, and both businessman and artist are in it for their own agendas--not to walk alongside the parents in raising their children.
Perhaps you already knew this and wonder why I am bothering to even write this post. I mean, duh. What did I expect in the world we live in today? But not all parents realize what some authors and publishers are willing to write and peddle to our impressionable youth. I didn't before I began this website. I knew from working at a major bookstore for several years that a lot of YA literature seemed trashy, but I had formed this judgment mostly from reading jacket blurbs and listening to other parents. I didn't really know.
I do now, though. After immersing myself in the world of YA literature for some time now, I have come to understand what I didn't before. There are some great YA authors. I have read some brilliant novels, some with '"content," some very clean. But when it comes to helping my teens choose novels that promote the kind of values, entertainment, and discussion points that I want for them, I cannot be trusting of the industry--neither authors, nor publishers. I cannot go by an author's or publisher's reputation, an author's award collection, the publisher's history, or even the industry's general goodwill and interest in teenagers. I cannot go by traditional cultural standards for emotional and mental readiness. I cannot even go by what teachers and librarians suggest, either, because the current trend is to assert that teens should be allowed to read whatever they want, that it only matters that they are reading.
Well, I believe that the trend is wrong. In the end, therefore, it is up to me and my husband to be at the front line of defense for our teens. And it is up to you, too.