Saturday, November 20, 2010

YA Novels & Sex, Violence, & Death

As I am attempting the Nanowrimo challenge with my creative writing students, I'm at the 43,000 word mark of my attempt at a Young Adult novel.  This question comes up for though: at what point is a YA novel no longer YA and leaps into something else?  Is it coarse language?  Sex?  Explicit coarse language and explicit sex?  For example, the YA novel Sold is about female prostitution.  Was the line crossed there?  Actually, I don't think so.  Yet, where is the line?  What is the difference between a YA novel and an adult novel? 

The lines are becoming increasingly blurred as access to sex and violence and death is unchecked everyplace else.

Is the line how an author handles any of these topics?  Is the difference simply that a YA book has a YA protagonist?  If this is true, is Romeo and Juliet a YA play?  Is The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds YA or adult? 

Sex and violence and death have always been around.  They always sell.

It is the access to them which has changed.  We've come a long way from my reading the Hardy Boys mysteries and my cousin Mary Beth loaning me The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams when I was 11.  Those are what I had access to...and the occasional pages of a Playgirl or Hustler magazine, or nastier, left behind in an alley in Philadelphia.

The last  two YA adults which I've read dealt with death in two very distinctive ways.  Yet, there were moments in each where I had to pause and reconsider how heavy the situation grew.  It is astonishing in some ways that kids are able to handle the topics.  I don't know that I as a 11 or 12 or 13 year old would have been able to handle it.  Maybe I would have.

The first novel which made me cry real tears, so much so that I sobbed, was Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.  I absolutely lost on the rug in the family room of my parents house when the baby strangled to death on the umbilical cord and then Catherine hemorrhages and dies as well.  I was 16.

I ask these questions because as I write my novel about growing up in the inner city I revisit some fairly gritty situations.  Where is the line?  I want to keep it honest, and in the YA genre, but where is the line?

1 comment:

  1. Brian, a thoughtful posting. I came across your blog while doing a blog search, by the way. I encountered a parallel situation recently while writing my first novel. It is targeted at young readers, boys primarily, but girls will find it of interest as well.

    You are searching for the line between YA and adult; I was looking for the line between young readers and YA. For the latter, I have come to believe it is a matter of innocence, a precious quality that we all lose sooner or later (and regarding your work in progress, perhaps much too soon for some children).

    For the boundary between YA and adult, I truly cannot see one where it concerns violence, sex, horror, etc. I grew up with the Hardy Boys too, along with many other series' in that genre. At the risk of sounding old (albeit I'm 50), it seems to me that a lot highschool-aged kids (spanning the young readers to YA range) are more comfortable with exposure to issues of violence, drugs, sex, horror (in movies, books, pop culture) than many adults a generation older. I don't think this helps you except to say that the "line" appears so blurry to me that I cannot even see it. I think the fact that you are pondering the matter means that your gut is telling you that you are close to it (from your perspective).

    Good luck with your work, and have enjoyed this initial look at your site.

    Ian Wilson
    Orillia, Ontario, Canada