Monday, January 24, 2011

S-E-X And YA

So. I read this post yesterday. And I can't stop thinking about it.

It's, in essence, a rant. About YA book covers. In particular, these book covers:

      CHAIN REACTION by Simone Elkeles and INVINCIBLE SUMMER by Hannah Moskowitz

In her rant, blogger/aspiring author Vicky says she considers these book covers inappropriate. That they advertise and encourage teen sex. That she'd never buy these books for her teen, nor read them herself. That the motto "sex sells" shouldn't be linked to the young adult industry.

Here's my take: both covers are appropriate. Very much so, in fact. 


Because they portray what the characters are experiencing. 

No, these books are not about sex. They are about teens who are growing up, falling in love, and having sex. It's about their journeys. Their relationships. And that includes... wait for it... S-E-X. 

To me, an inappropriate book cover is an image that has nothing to do with the content. False advertising, as they say. For example, putting a Caucasian girl on the cover of a book whose main character is black? So inappropriate. 

If you as a parent stand against teens having sex in fiction (and in real life...), that's your business. My condolences to your teen son/daughter. But pretty please don't get things twisted--inappropriate is such a subjective word. It tells me you don't really know what writing for teens is about. You don't have to agree with them exploring their sexuality, but that's what some of them are doing. That's why these books are selling. They relate to those stories. To those covers.

My advice to all aspiring YA authors? Be real. Whether you write about teens having sex or not, please understand that it's an important part of their lives. Don't disrespect them by pretending it's not.

Now tell me: what do you think about those covers? Good? Bad? 


  1. I happen to like the covers. The second doesn't say sex to me. It's says she's lying on the sand and catching some rays.

    And with the first one. So they're having a shower together. They're wearing clothes (well, for now at least). Can't wait to read the book. :D

  2. Whoa didn't even know that was on the cover for Chain Reaction...they really shouldn't be wearing clothes in the shower. That's kind of irresponsible.

    Anywhoo, here's a comparison-- Once upon a time I decided to try my hand at Erotica (HILLARIOUS...I know), but Erotica and YA both have the same reasons for sex--it has to be purposeful. Weird, right? But if the characters are going to do it, have them be in love, have them be high, or whatever it needs to be as long as it's purposeful and not just thrown in there for an "OMG" moment-- then it's cool.

  3. I don't necessarily think that these covers portray sex. The couple are clothed in the shower. But I would have to agree with the other writer, as I probably wouldn't buy these books for my daughter.

    Yes, teens are having sex. Does sex need to be glorified and portrayed as the norm? There are consequences to sex, not just some growing up and experimentation. But here is the thing... not ALL teens are having sex. So having a teen make an appropriate choice, isn't not connecting to all teens. In saying that, you are leaving out the teens that choose to abstain. I was one of those kinds of teens.

    Unfortunately, sex is looked at casually now. And many teen books reinforce that thinking, in an attempt to "connect". My daughter had the "wonderful" pleasure of seeing the consequences of casual and experimental sex, by seeing two of her cousins get pregnant.

    And saying "my condolences" to a parent that doesn't want their child to have sex, is not appropriate. They are only protecting their teen.

  4. Oh, and abstaining didn't seem to hurt Twilight's sales.

  5. "Whether you write about teens having sex or not, please understand that it's an important part of their lives. Don't disrespect them by pretending it's not."
    Yay! I agree wholeheartedly.

    And many YA books portray teens who are abstaining too.

  6. Stina-- I know, right? Both covers are amazing! Can't wait to read them, either ;)

    Magan--*giggles* Clothes in the shower = irresponsible. Yep. I believe you've just made my day with that line :D I completely agree with you regarding purpose and sex. Nothing should be there for shock value or for the sake of having it there. Both of these amazing YA authors know that well, I think, and that's why I heart them.

    Kristal-- Totally see your point, but I respectfully disagree :D To me, these covers aren't glorifying or encouraging teen sex. Like I said in the post, they're all about portraying a character's reality, which includes having sex. You're right--not all teens are having sex (that's why I said "some" in the post...), but it is important to every single one. It's part of who they are as individuals (sexual orientation included, of course). Why would they think about abstaining if they don't think about having sex? To me, it's all connected.

    I do think parents encourage teens' decisions, though, by telling them to either use protection or abstain until marriage. My condolences weren't to the parents--it was to the teens who are being told how to behave instead of being given enough info so they can see what works best for them (whether it's abstinence or safe sex). Parents may protect their teen however they see fit, but I feel sorry for teens who are being force-fed a lifestyle just for the sake of pleasing their parents. Who want to buy CHAIN REACTION and INVINCIBLE SUMMER and other YA books, but can't.

    Who are being told not to choose for themselves.

    And Twilight... yes. Bella abstained until marriage. Against her will. But that was her story. CHAIN REACTION and INVINCIBLE SUMMER aren't about Bella Swan. Each story has its purpose. Stephenie Meyer chose to write a book about a girl who wants to have sex, but whose boyfriend doesn't. Sex is still a pretty huge deal, even in a book about a girl with an abstaining vampire boyfriend. :D

  7. Jennifer--THANKS!! There's something for everyone. It's all about not censoring either types of books ;)

  8. I agree with Kristal that sex is often treated too casually these days, and it can have dire consequences on someone's life.

    I think, however, that YA books are an incredible medium through which teens can learn what to be careful about. As far as I'm aware, YA authors aren't glorifying the sex. They're making it part of a normal growth, and treating the issue with the sensibility it deserves.

    These covers reflect what's inside the book. They are a mirror of today's reality. I don't see what's wrong with them, and in fact I love INVISIBLE SUMMER's.

  9. "I feel sorry for teens who are being force-fed a lifestyle just for the sake of pleasing their parents."

    It's not about pleasing the parents. It's about protecting the child and instilling moral judgment. And it's not force-feeding a lifestyle. It's called teaching and hoping the child makes the RIGHT decision. In my opinion, a parent who says, "Do what you want." is not a good parent. A teen is still a child in many respects, and they still need guidance, even if they don't think they do.

    I would not buy a book for my child if it didn't portray the morals I want them to have. If they bought the book themselves, or borrowed it from a friend, I would give them my opinion and let them make that choice. But I wouldn't promote it by buying it for her.

    Maybe you are just too young yet to understand.

    Oh, and yes, Edward said no. And for some reason, the women of the world love him more than any other book character out there.

  10. It's kind of like a beer advertisement, I think. Hmm, what should we put on this beer poster? I know! A beautiful woman laughing, a little tipsy, leaning into a guy. Why not? That's what beer is 'about,' right? So it's not deceptive.

    I'm a huge fan of marketing. I used to watch TV (back when there was regular TV) in part BECAUSE of the commercials. I loved to see how creative advertisers could be. But just like I thought those lawyer commercials were lame with their guy sitting behind a desk and talking about law, I also thought commercials that relied upon 'sex sells' to get the job done showed a huge lack of creativity.

    Book covers are art. If, by the grace of God, my books get published someday, and if my cover team came up with something like this, I'd be extremely disappointed. Of course teens are dealing with issues of sex. Those are powerful feelings that color almost every thought (esp if you're a guy) during high school. But that doesn't mean that's what most books are 'about.' And if the cover team didn't delve deep enough to come up with a truly artistic representation of my books, I'd have every right to be disappointed.

    To me, these covers show a lack of artistic integrity. As for the other kind of integrity? Let each person judge for herself.

  11. Firstly,

    I agree with you. Sex can be an important aspect to teens lives. Besides. Can those covers be seen as inapropriate? Really?

    Maybe that's just as well. Maybe it will prevent prudes from opening the book and trying to get it banned. Just maybe.

    Secondly, and not even remotely related to the topic, I just wanted to let you all know that I have given this blog an award.


  12. And FYI, I don't see these covers as being too risque. (Though, I don't care so much for the swimsuit.) And I wouldn't make a decision on vetoing a book by a cover alone. I would probably read a book first and see if it could generate discussion with my daughter before I made any sort of opinion.

  13. Kristal makes a great point, I think--that the decision whether to allow your teen to read a book (if that's a power you want to exercise) should not be based on the cover alone.

    Authors don't choose covers. Authors rarely have any say in covers at all.

    Oh, and I think Simone's cover is gorgeous beyond words.
    (Disclaimer: Yo I'm hannah and I wrote INVINCIBLE SUMMER. It's from a boy's POV, so, yeah, the girl is sexy and objectified intentionally. Sex isn't sunshine and roses in this book.)

  14. Just wanted to say something real quick:


    That is all.

    Carry on :D

  15. "My daughter had the "wonderful" pleasure of seeing the consequences of casual and experimental sex, by seeing two of her cousins get pregnant."

    -Casual and experimental sex don't cause pregnancies- unprotected sex does. Two completely different things.

    There is also an equally huge difference between a parent that says "do what you want" and "here is how to protect yourself."

    Writing about sex in your YA novel is NOT encouraging teens to go wild, like the post you linked suggests.

    We need to stop acting like teenagers are mindless robots who will act out what YA characters are doing. And if they ARE doing that, it's most likely because they aren't being taught morals and how to separate books/TV from their real life. That is not the author's problem.

    If a teen has unprotected sex and gets pregnant, I'm sorry but the first ones we need to look to are the parents, and the abstinence based sex education being 'taught' in schools. NOT the books, TV, movies that the teens are reading or watching.

    These 'inappropriate' covers aren't an advertisement for sex. Closer inspection (aka actually reading what the novel is about) will reveal the true nature of the story.

  16. It is a truth universally acknowledged that books are both dangerous and safe at the same time. Books are potentially dangerous  because of the themes and ideas explored, and the thoughts those ideas spark. (Knowledge is power, baby!) But books are also safe, because reading has no consequences. (Unless, of course, you read instead of doing homework... Which I of COURSE have never done.) But there's another truth. Sex is a part of life, I might even dare to say that sex is catalyst of life. Sex is something some teens abstain from, others are more willing to jump in. But neither the absence of nor existence of sex will cause sex to cancel out- we're not doing math here! Some books will have triumphing heroes and heroines who remain abstinent, others will show people not able to keep their pants on. But each type, each decision has a place in the world. 

  17. Amy--"If a teen has unprotected sex and gets pregnant, I'm sorry but the first ones we need to look to are the parents, and the abstinence based sex education being 'taught' in schools. NOT the books, TV, movies that the teens are reading or watching." *happy sigh* Thanks for being much more eloquent than me, girlie. Hugs!

    Molly--Like you, I've NEVER chosen homework over books. *giggles* And yes, my point is exactly what you said: sex is a part of human life. As YA authors, there's a responsibility to treat the audience with the respect they deserve. They're smarter than most adults give them credit for. Also, they're not kids. I don't like it when they get called kids. Or that they don't understand. :D

  18. I agree with the awesome Hannah. It is every parent's right to let their child read a book or not, but a decision shouldn't be based on the cover alone. It would be like judging someone based on their appearance. And no one likes that.

    Personally, I don't see these books as encouraging teen sex or being inappropriate. They are eye catching, but don't make me think the characters are doing it at every chance they get. Sure, i'd look at the cover, but I check out the back first before anything else. I like a blurb, I buy the book.

    At the end of the day, books are not responsible for a persons actions -- they are. If teens are going/not going to have sex, it isn't going to be because a character in a book is/isn't doing it.

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  20. As Amy said, the books wouldn't "encourage" sex in kids that were actually taught about sex instead of having abstinence education forced on them (although I always got proper sex ed; exactly how do you make a whole curriculum out of "Just say no"? Is it like Mean Girls where the coach says "Don't have sex, or you will get pregnant, and die"?).

    I'm all for supporting the belief that kids are smart all on their own, but sometimes they need to be educated in order to make the right decisions: whether that decision is to practice safe sex or to not have sex at all (or have wild, uncontrolled sex and eventually get pregnant. Which isn't a good choice but hey, getting pregnant is a lot harder for women than teen abstinence advocates seem to think).

    I lost the point of my post. Uh, go Operation Awesome!

  21. By the way, birth control is not a sure fire way to prevent things. No amount of "education" can prevent condom babies. (A gal I know had 3 condom babies). She's married, btw...well, at least after the first baby.

    I read a ton of Historical Romance when I was a teen. Lots of sex in those. Cheesy sex. And though it didn't make me have sex, it did give me unrealistic expectations of sex when that time came.

    I'm glad to see teen books address the realistic side of teen sex, like Hannah's book seems to be (kudos Hannah).

    And as far as kids having the same maturity as adults? Not true. It is physically impossible for them. They change hormonally, physically, emotionally. Though giving them some freedom, perhaps with books, and letting them make choices themselves, they aren't ready to "take on the world" so to speak. Here is a good article that explains.

  22. Sex education isn't just about protection. Sex education actually tells you about sex, how it works and how it doesn't, what you should expect from it, and if it's really good, explores the emotions and helps you determine if you're ready for it or not.

    Yes, condoms break, birth control sometimes doesn't work, but just because that happens doesn't mean you should completely rule that out. I come from a small town where kids were having sex before they even entered high school and before we were taught about birth control. They're going to do it. You may as well at least try to reduce the chances of a girl having a baby before she has her high school degree.

  23. I don't see anything wrong with these covers. Sex is everywhere. TV that kids watch. Movies that teenagers love. Sex sells. It always has. It always will.
    Having said that, I was actually surprised that the author of said blog was 19.

  24. This post is BEYOND great. I'm a school counselor for middle school students, and if they're talking to me about sex already, I can only imagine what's really going on for high schoolers.

  25. Hi. I would like to address this for everyone to see, because people, I think, are blowing this way out of proportion. I would never attack sex in teen novels. I am a writer of YA fiction (currently unpublished) and am a teen myself. I have written sex scenes, and I know what teens experience, and I know that sex needs to be talked about and teens need to be educated. I was NOT attacking the authors of these novels, and I certainly didn't mean that people should not read these novels. I admit that I only know as much as about the content of these novels as I've read about on synopses and similar places. But this was not about content. This was purely about half-naked teens and teens in the shower. No matter what anyone says, I won't be okay with that. I made a decision when I was a pre-teen to remain abstinent until marriage, and I so wish we could encourage teens to take sex seriously. And I know that some teens are smart about sex, but I know so many who aren't and who treat it so casually and then get themselves hurt or get in trouble. I just want to encourage the right things. That's all I want. I am not close-minded, and I found that I was really disappointed by the responses I got because of how rude they were. I've been in your shoes (and am now) and have stood up for what I thought was right, but I did it a little more gracefully, and I really wish everyone had done the same before attacking me. I would have to go on for ages to say everything else I want to, but I'm tired of trying to get everyone to see me as a good person when you're only going to see me the way you want to.

    I apologize for offending anyone, but I won't apologize for my beliefs and for doing what is right in my heart. I wish you all the best.

  26. Shoot. Is wearing clothes in the shower a things the kids are all doing these days? I am so out of touch.

    Also, this post and conversation inspired me to blog about YA covers generally and how I'd feel about having a cover with sexual content, were I ever in a position to have a cover at all (hey, a girl can always dream!):

  27. Fantastic post, Robin. I wrote LGBT fiction as well, and you made amazing points.

  28. Joana--GO, YOU!! But thanks for the shout-out, anyway ;)

    LS Murphy--To me, you can be 19 and be a conservative thinker. I don't think it's strange that she's that young and thinking the way she does. It happens :D

    Pam--Yep. Sex is, again, a big deal at any age. No point in denying it.

    Vicky--"But this was not about content. This was purely about half-naked teens and teens in the shower." You say in your post that you wouldn't let your teens read these books because of the covers. Doesn't that... you know... involve them facing the content? And regarding rude responses... I didn't quite catch rude responses aimed at you. Just opinions either in favor of or against what you wrote--not the same as a personal attack. Oh, and disagreeing with you is in no way making you look like a bad person. My post, and the comments supporting it, are meant to portray the argument you didn't allude to in your post. Thank you for sparking such an amazing debate!

    Robin--THANK YOU for the link. *hugs*

  29. Amparo, I never said I would not let my teens read these books. This is one place where it seems I was misinterpreted. I said that if one of my teens were to come home with the novel, I would be curious as to what they were reading, because the cover suggests that it might be more sexual than I'm comfortable with.

    As for the rudeness, because we are different people, we probably don't see the same things as being rude. I wasn't so much talking about the comments posted here as I was the comments posted on my own blog. There is a difference between people debating and people assuming that I'm shallow and close-minded and supporting censorship, which were some of the things that people accused me of (maybe not in those words). I completely support literary debate, and I appreciate it when the opposing team presents their argument, but I only wish that things were read more clearly so that my meaning might come across in its entirety.

    1. I love this book it is not that sexual

  30. With these covers you know there's going to be adult content in these books and those opposed don't have to buy them. Also I don't think the covers promote sex, I think one should read to book to see what it does or does not promote. That said, I think that makes these covers perfectly appropriate.

    Personally, I feel that most YA books are lacking in adult content which they should have. I feel like there are not enough books actually written about tough topics for people in their late teens and early twenties.

    View my blog post for more of my thoughts.

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