The Telegraph recently did an interesting, if slightly fluffy, piece that talked about “New Adult” and threw in some discussion of sex in books meant for younger readers. Now, my problem here is that these are really separate topics: what is “New Adult”? Is this a useful categorization? is a separate issue from what sexuality or depiction of sexuality is appropriate for what target age group?
But hey, mass-market journalism. Conflate for the audience!
I’m quite interested in this topic, naturally, because of my personal feelings on depictions of sex, sexuality, gender, etc. in fiction meant for younger readers. By now, we all know that a lot of grownups read YA, and that a lot of younger people are reading books “meant” for adult audiences. That’s nothing new. But there’s still always a storm around frank depictions of sexuality – with no horrible mind-rending bad consequences – in literature meant for younger readers, and that’s what the Telegraph article gets at. There’s a lot of sweet love triangles and flirting and romantic tension in YA reads, but rarely any “yep, okay, sex happens and can be good or can be bad and it’s all relative, folks” frankness, even this long after Forever. And then teens find a copy of Fifty Shades and…yeah. Oy vey.
I’ve heard complaints about how little LGBTQ YA there is out there, but at the same time, there’s a resistance to realism in YA – pull back on the sex! Pull back on the swearing! Whitewashing out people of colour or LGBTQ kids is horrible, but it’s not much better to bowdlerize out what teens are actually thinking about – sex and swearing. Make your YA actually represent what people look like, think like, how they feel…and while they might still be fighting zombie unicorns, the characters will be more real, more engaging.
What do you think? Are depictions of sex, rather than merely flirting, okay in YA or “New Adult” fiction? Should sex only be used as a moral lesson in youth-oriented fiction, or can it be portrayed as a fact of life?