by Clint Spivey
YA gives writers an interesting opportunity. While ten thousand authors are all chasing the same nickel in a world where readers dwindle due to distractions, YA flourishes. It seems parents, who may not even read themselves, see the value in encouraging it in their children, and with good cause. But what does this mean to writers? Do we strive to please parents, the ones likely buying the fiction? Or do we seek to try and give an accurate picture of the world to our ultimate goal, the dear reader.
I ask this because, through work-shopping a recent story, set in a high school world of monsters, robots, angels, and inter-dimensional beings, I found myself being criticized for language and themes that were too mature for the story’s teenage characters. While I appreciated all of the advice I received, and ultimately followed it since it helped get the story published, I found myself conflicted.
My own high school experience, completed some seventeen years ago, was full of drugs, drinks, sex, curse words, and crime. This isn't to say I engaged in these acts, sex almost never, but these things were all around my fellow students and myself. Drugs from pot to meth and even LSD were available on campus if one knew the right person. Knives were visible, probably guns, though I never saw any. I know many people who were having sex regularly. Our on site day care for teen mothers attests to that. This wasn't some school in a terrible place, either. But the very school where the guy who first wrote, ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…’ attended.
I don’t believe YA fiction for high school students ought be filled with sex, drugs, and gangs. But do we do our readers of this group a disservice by treating them with kid gloves? While reading, surrounded by reality replete with the dangers mentioned above, do they smell a phony only trying to get their parents to make a purchase? I admit I’m not well read in YA, but after writing the aforementioned story, I figured this was an interesting discussion to begin.