YA is popular right now, there’s no denying that. Most of the best-selling fiction, especially in genre, is identified as YA at the moment (well, whatever isn’t ghostwritten by someone for James Patterson or Clive Cussler, that is). You can’t ignore the popularity of Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Matched, and any number of other YA titles and series.
Even books that weren’t originally aimed at a YA audience are being marketed that way. Heck, some bloggers decided that Broken was a YA novel, owing mainly to the age of the primary protagonist. Okay, cool, we’re down with that, given the popularity of the genre and the cross-marketing possibilities. Doesn’t hurt that it’s a dystopia, too, which is also Hot Hot Hot these days.
But this popularity brings with it a lot of submissions/manuscripts. And each of those has its own take on the genre, and its own tone, and its own unique problems and highlights.
So where’s the line? How do you determine what’s appropriate for YA? Because let’s admit it, people – these ARE books for young adults, even if tons of grownups are reading them, and therefore, you need to draw a few lines and have a few limits and think carefully about what work you’re presenting for what audience.
How much swearing is too much? Is it okay to say “fuck” at all? Can that word only be used once or twice, or is it okay to have it plunked all over the text in a convincing and contextually appropriate way (that is, not simply for the sake of swearing). We all know full well that kids swear, and teens cuss like sailors when they feel like it. So is having lots and lots of cursing in a YA novel acceptable – after all, that’s how late-teens people tend to think and talk – or is it something we should avoid so as to make the novel more acceptable for a younger audience, something that parents could give their 14-year-old to get them reading?
Sex. How much is too much? How explicit can it be? How explicit can the terminology be? It’s one thing, perhaps, to hint at teens having sex; another to graphically depict them having sex; another still to graphically depict them having anything other than tentative or vanilla sex; and yet another to have them talking/thinking about sex in graphic or explicit terms, using graphic or explicit terminology. What’s okay? Where’s the line? Teens think about sex all the time, and they have as much sex as they can. It’s reality, in most cases. But should that be in a book?
One of the larger complications here is that, while a book for a YA audience might contain characters in the 16-18 range, the book’s actual readership is more likely to be 14-16 years old (with all those dedicated adults reading, too). So while the behaviour and language depicted by the characters may be perfectly in keeping with late-teens shenanigans and reality, do you want to target the book to younger readers, knowing they’ll read it and identify with it (presuming the book was written well and is identifiable-with)?
Where’s the line?
What do you think?