I’ve read the recent discussions on violence in books and whether there are taboos in writing young adult with a ton of interest because this is something I’ve thought a lot about, though that doesn’t mean I’ve come to any conclusions (sorry!).
One of the things that’s been a little fascinating to me as a YA author is how differently the industry (readers, writers, parents, librarians, editors, etc) seems to treat sex and violence in YA novels. While there are always exceptions (and boy is that a topic for another post) generally I’ve found that violence is tolerated much much more in YA novels than sex is.
The example I always think about is from Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular Twilight series (which is well known for being somewhat chaste). In Breaking Dawn, a married Bella and Edward have a wedding night that occurs off camera. Later in the book, Bella is pregnant with a half-vampire baby the birth of which is very violent and bloody (it involves the baby chewing its way out of her womb or someone chewing their way in — I’m not clear on the details). Very rarely did I see people saying “this womb-chewing is too violent” but there were lots of people who felt like their teens couldn’t read Breaking Dawn because of the consensual, married, off-camera sex.
Quite honestly, this astounds me. In my own YA, my editor had no problem with me tossing a zombaby out a second story window, but having the hero and heroine kiss on the bed afterward wasn’t okay (so I changed it to cuddling which was apparently still a little iffy and I was asked if they could just cuddle on the floor because that was less sexual).
I can totally understand how publishers, readers, librarians, teachers, parents, etc., can be hesitant when it comes to sex in YA novels but it seems to go beyond that. I’ve had author friends asked to tone down passion (the heroine shouldn’t have such desire) when nothing is said about the level of violence.
Like I said, I haven’t figured anything out about this like what it says about the industry or society — I’ve just noticed that this disparity exists. I’ve had friends asked to take cuss words out of their book with no mention of the bloody maiming that takes place in the same scene (Michael Grant, author of the Gone series had a great comment about how odd it is to expect a character to say “oh darn” after getting an eyeball plucked out).
Why is it that we’re okay with the violence, but not the passion and sex?
As for my own opinion on sex in YA novels… I tend to believe that if a story requires sex, then the story should have sex — you have to be true to the story and telling it the best that you can. And the reality is that there are just some stories that will require sex and there are some that don’t require sex but perhaps are made more complex with the addition of it and some that don’t need sex at all. I think the issue is the grey areas between those distinctions… where an author thinks that sex is necessary and a reader thinks that it isn’t. In that case, I think every author has to make an informed choice and realize that there are just some YA readers and buyers who won’t read/buy a book with sex in it, even if the author thinks the sex is necessary. In the end, I think this is a decision each author has to make on their own: compromise the story by taking out sex and toning down passion or face the possibility of fewer sales?
But the violence, for right now it seems to be okay just the way it is. *shrug*