All Because of Chickens

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings: Oct 3 2015 - Misunderstood genre

Happy Saturday!

The day of either mass chaos or sleeping in, depending on your life's schedule. I used to look forward to a day of cartoons and monster movies, now I'm looking forward to hearing from our MG/Tween/YA/New YA authors.

Silly as that sounds, I have to admit I didn't give this genre as much thought as I am now.

Which is why our Musers are musing on:

Most misunderstood element to this genre?

Hmm. This is a tough one. I would have to say, for middle grade, some people believe you can dumb stuff down and slap together anything and the kids will love it. My answer to that: HA! Kids are smart. Don't underestimate their tastes. My sister was reading Jane Austen in her teens and Louisa May Alcott earlier than that. In truth, I was mostly reading Hank the Cow Dog books, and while they may have been simpler reading, the prose did not talk down to me.

As for time travel: I think some people might think we can get away with neglecting research and just make up history. That would be a very, very sad mistake.

After meeting several teens and raising my own daughters, I think the one thing YA writers sometimes don’t take into account is the scope of the reading choices of this age group. At this age many teens crave to read something with substance. That doesn’t mean they want to read complex stories, but they want the story to make sense and the characters to have a satisfying ending. That said, they are pretty much open to any story as long as it holds their interest. They know what they don’t want to read by this age and they don’t want anything that screams message. They do want to read about kids who are going through some of the problems with which they deal or they want to completely escape to another world. Most important is the writing needs to speak to them. They want to find a character with whom they can identify or at least feel something for without being completely turned off. That’s why dialogue for this age is so important and needs to be as real as possible.

Overlapping the last Musing, I will also add that teens will read anything even with sex as long as it isn’t too explicit. As I mentioned in my last Musing, kids know when a book is not for them and that is why a parent should not worry if a child is reading a book that is above their age level. If the child is comfortable reading it then it’s all right. As a YA author, age level is important, because for instance my first book, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, is for ten and up. A nine year old may be able to read it and probably could read it if they were comfortable doing so. But a ten year old has the maturity to read it and may or may not need help in understanding the issues and some of the words. Age is relative in YA and as I learned, many older adults enjoy YA a lot.

One thing I've been seeing lately is how some adults are latching onto YA thinking it's 'cleaner' than regular fiction and then get 'upset' if the books have so-called questionable material like swearing, violence, and heaven forbid, sex.

I hate to say this but YA is written for teens, not for adults. 

I hate when some go off and say that YA should have a message or shouldn't be.... **The list can go on and one here.

YA shouldn't be limited to what an adult 'thinks' should be addressed.  Teens want books that speak to them.  They want books that help them if they're afraid of coming out(one reason why GLBT is important), books that mirror who they are(one reason why diversity is very important), books that let them know they aren't to blame( one HUGE reason why books that address subjects like mental illness, drugs, homelessness are important), and other subjects that teens struggle with.

This is not to say that cleaner YAs shouldn't be out there.  There are teens that love those too.  I'm just saying that there should be more selections out there for teens. 

Just my two cents worth and my observations as a reviewer, YA author, and mom.

In some ways I agree with Kim, but having seen how kids will read anything that appeals to them I have to say that if you write it they will read it. Kids do want books that speak to them. They want to read about characters who can control their own lives and triumph. Above all they want books that make them want to read more. I don’t think it matters if the book has things like swearing or violence if it fits into the story and is limited. It all depends on the story and the author who writes this story. If it is written in a way that will engage teens and it is age appropriate rather than as we discussed in a recent panel on this same subject, written with adults in mind, then it is fine. But the kinds of YA books where the author has written explicit sex scenes from an adult point of view are not what teens want to read. In fact, kids know what books they want to read and they are very savvy about what they will read and not read. I had an example of this when I tried to sell my book which is really for 10 and up to a girl who was 9. She read the back blurb and looked at it and decided she was not ready for it. I found this extremely enlightening to see how a 9 year old chose her book to read. Older kids also don’t want to read some things that are not appropriate for them. One of the members of the panel was talking about reading a new YA book because her child was reading it and she came to a scene that really floored her. As she read she realized the author was writing it from an adult point of view and she waited to see what her child would do when they got to that part. Sure enough when they got to that part they suddenly stopped reading the book. When the mother asked why the teen said they just lost interest.

Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a sex scene in a YA book, but it has to be age appropriate and go along with the story. It depends on the author and the story if you want to do this. I have never felt the need to put in a real sex scene, but I have had my characters kiss and be romantic. I feel at this age they need to know there is still romance out there. Let’s try not to let kids grow up too fast. And on the other hand, kids don’t want to do it either.

See, I’ve been on a few panels (one last year at Kidlitcon on diversity in YA and why It’s important), went to numerous ones, been a judge for the Cybils (this will be my 10th year!), and attended SCBWI and RWA conferences.

The whole thing is that teens HATE when adults tell them what they should read/like.  I still remember sitting in son’s charter school study hall where there were more than a few high school kids and asked them about ebooks and how some said teens would never like them.  Omg, on the response which was loud and vocal.  **I ended up live tweeting the discussion which got some interesting response from those so-called naysayers back East!  One told me, “What do they know about us?  We love anything electronic.”  To prove that point, almost all of them showed me ebooks they had on their electronic devices.  Even the teacher in student hall was surprised!

I’ve also been to a Ellen Hopkin’s book reading and listened to more than a few teens thank her for showing them characters that they could relate with.  Ellen’s books are raw, honest.  I had to share my own story and how thankful I was that she was courageous to write about a Mormon teen that was abused.  Boy, did she get tons of criticism on writing that story from those that said that she had no right to write about it since she wasn’t of that faith to it having too much s*x and other questionable subjects.  I thanked her though and told her how I wished a story like this had been around when I was a teen.  Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone and at fault then.

It is up to a parent on whether or not a book is too much for their child.  But don’t put your values and restrictions on what my child and others can or can’t read.  I actually knew of one woman who tried to ban WINN DIXIE from the 4th grade reading list due to ‘questionable’ material.  She told me that she didn’t want her child singled out for not reading it but that the book shouldn’t be on that list at all.

I also had the experience of going to a nearby library and asking for a popular YA which just happened to have a GLBT theme.  The librarian sshed me and told me not to mention that word (GLBT) out loud.  I was shocked, then angry.  Why?  Just a few months previous, another librarian thanked me for donating some YAs with GLBT themes.  She told me that teens asked for these books but were afraid of the same reaction I got later on.  It made me beyond sad that these teens would be made to feel as if something was wrong with them.

I’ve written numerous blog pieces that address the importance of diversity in YA(one for a group in Washington DC), mental illness in YA(boy, you can’t believe how many naysayers there are on this topic), and also why it’s important to address sensitive subjects in YA.  I know that some of the subjects make adults squirm but I don’t feel these books shouldn’t be written just because of that.  Sure, kids grow up fast but let them decide what and when they want to read.  I also feel it’s very important to have those books available.

I think a lot of people believe if a book is YA, there is no swearing or sex in it. And, while that may be the case with many books in the genre, it isn't true for all of them.

Characters should swear if it is in their nature to do so and realistic for the scene being played out. Can the author use made up words or partial words to get the point across? Of course, but use the real thing if it's in keeping with the character.

Sex can be a part of a YA book, and it can be tastefully done. Jennifer Armentrout did a great job including sex in her LUX series. But, as with swearing, forcing in a sex scene for the sake of having it doesn't work well. It would be like swearing just for the sake of swearing, and has the potential to turn off readers.

As with our choices of words (including swear words) choosing the level of intimacy shown on the page is just as important. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes it needs to be there.

I think it's common for parents to assume that only people in a narrow age range or gender will read a type of book. If I have a thirteen-year-old female protagonist, people younger than 13 will read it, people older than 13 will read it, boys, girls, etc will read it. Yet, their parents might not want to buy it. I've encountered parents who take this to an extreme- "a female main character- sounds like boys would hate it". Not true. The main character doesn't have to be identical to your kid for them to like it. 

I think some people assume the genre is easy to write because it's not written for adults. If anything it's more difficult. You have to stay in tune with the age group you're writing about. Kids are savvy. Never insult them by dumbing things down. You have to draw on your own childhood. If you can't remember what if feels like to be their age, you can't write about it.

Keep reading and dreaming. If there’s anything you’re curious about just drop me a note:

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