Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Darkness in YA: A Different Perspective

Now, before I go on much further, I want to state that our little OA group is quite diverse in our beliefs. Two of us are Mormons. One is Catholic. One is very liberal in her world views. A couple of the others are pretty moderately centered. I am a Christian. I think it is a great mix of viewpoints and thoughts. And because of this, I though it might be useful to represent my views on the topic shared yesterday on the blog about the article in Wall Street Journal.

I remember the day it came out. I'm not an avid Twitter user, but I couldn't help but notice the uproar in the writing community. All the tweets about #YAsaves. So, out of curiosity, I checked it out myself. Now being a Christian, I wasn't too surprised to find that I agreed with a good portion of the article. I have an almost 13 year old daughter and can understand the writer's concern.

Now, before everyone jumps down my throat, I don't think that Dark YA books should be banned or anything. But it is a growing trend to be "edgy".  And to the traditional publishing market, they label edgy as "real".

But the problem is... that type of writing is NOT real to my daughter. So where are the books for her? 

My daughter isn't dating.
My daughter isn't having sex.
My daughter doesn't cut herself or do drugs. Neither do her friends.
My daughter doesn't cuss. (And no, not even behind my back.)
She is a straight A student.
Gives no problems in class.
Well adjusted. Well liked by classmates. Wonderful relationship with her parents and siblings.
She has a well-defined moral grounding of what is right and wrong.
We talk openly, about ALL topics. She is not sheltered to what is going on in the world.

So why should my daughter's head be filled with dark images and topics? Especially when SHE HAS NO DESIRE TO DO SO.

Now, before you tell her to just go read Christian fiction, the Christian market for that age is small to non-existent. So why shouldn't YA have options that are relevant to gals, like her. At this point, she is still reading MG, because she is not given a lot of other choices.

We read Twilight together. I really appreciated the abstinence until marriage aspect of those books.

So I was wondering if you readers had any good suggestions of YA books with good moral undertones, and without all the dark and graphic topics so prevalent in the YA market.


erica and christy said...

We both wholeheartedly agree with your views presented today. Including the one that we'd like to find more of these. (and with the Christian market - I'm also Christian, but I don't seek out the genre) Sarah Dessen has a nice variety of books featuring some mc's I think a lot of girls can relate to. Good luck and good job!

Katy Upperman said...

I was going to recommend Sarah Dessen as well. Also, I recently read TANGLED by Carolyn Mackler and it was a nice, clean story about "normal" kids with "normal" problems. There was no sex or violence, yet the characters and plot were completely compelling. Recommend. :)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I'm a fan of Kiersten White's work. Her sequel to PARANORMALCY, called SUPERNATURALLY, comes out this month! It's YA that's appropriate for MG readers. I also enjoyed Elana Johnson's POSSESSION and think it's got a great, young voice. I knew a lot of sarcastic teens a lot like Vi (main character), too, so it rang real but not edgy to me. And Anne Riley's THE CLEARING is one of my favorite reads of the year (she just got a new cover done for it, too).

These kinds of conversations are great in my opinion. I always read customer reviews when I'm buying furniture or electronics, and can't help but hear them when I'm thinking of which movie to see. I think people understand these reviews are subjective and don't amount to a suggestion of book-banning. At least I hope people understand that. I'd hate to think we're losing the free speech to say, "That book was too dark for my son/daughter."

Josin L. McQuein said...

Ally Carter's books aren't dark by any stretch of the imagination.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Josin, I LOVED Ally Carter's books! Great recommendation!

Anonymous said...

Our favorite authors are: Ally Carter, Janette Rallison, Jessica Day George, Rick Riordan, Jenny Nimmo, James Dashner, J Scott Savage. I'm pretty sure I missed some. We also like some of the classics. Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Wrinkle in Time, and Anne of Green Gables. My 12 year old son and I loved The Roar by Emma Clayton. The next book is coming out this year!

Michelle McLean said...

Just as a writer, I know that I get a little tired of my rejections saying, "I loved the story, I just want it a bit edgier."

Maybe I don't want to write edgy ;-) There are days I do, and I have darker stories, sure, but not all of them are and I do get concerned that they won't find a home because of this trend.

Great suggestions for reading! :)

Amparo Ortiz said...

100% agree with you, Katrina! These discussions are healthy and helpful. And I agree with all the suggestions from everyone, too--there's a great list of YA out there without sex/drugs/swearing/mental health topics. Something for everyone :)

My only concern is the definition of "real" in your argument, Kristal. While I do think it's true that edgy is often labeled as "real", I also think that doesn't mean it's everyone's reality, and I believe the publishing world is aware of it. It's real in the sense that it exists, that it happens and it shouldn't be ignored, not that everyone can relate to it. I'm sure girls like your daughter know cutting/swearing/sex/violence are real, and they're open to discuss it with adults, especially if they have great relationships with their parents like the one you share with your daughter. Communication is key, after all.

In my case, being Catholic doesn't mean I won't read something I want to read. It means I'm Catholic. And to be honest, I cannot for the life in me relate to the "real" stuff in "dark" YA books, but I enjoy them. I just want other readers to have that right, too.

And I wholeheartedly agree that book banning is not the answer :)

Kristal Shaff said...


"Real" is what is in my daughter's world. What I am concerned about, is that the market is so busy pursuing the edgy real, that they tend to push aside topics that the normal, everyday girl like mine deals with.

What I get upset is the fact that people think that steering my daughter away from this edgy writing, is something bad. That my rights as a parent are wrong. Knowing about sensitive topics, and submerging in a book that contains it, are two separate things. My daughter doesn't need to read it graphically to understand the issues.

And my faith does dictate what I stick in my head. It is my responsibility to direct my daughter in the directions I feel is right and good.

And thanks for all the great suggestions everyone.

Tere Kirkland said...

Some books wished I had when I was 13:

-Like Mandarin, Kirsten Hubbard (mc is 14)
-Uglies, Scott Westerfeld (his Leviathan series is fun, but your daughter might feel she's too old for it)
-Avalon High, Meg Cabot (basically any of MC's YA books, except Airhead might be a little old)
-Wings, Aprilynne Pike
-Liar Society, L&L Roecker
-Coraline, Neil Gaiman (technically MG, but fun)
-Shrinking Violet, Danielle Joseph

Sorry so many are para/fantasy if that's not her thing, but I'm not as well-versed in contemporary YA.

And what you allow your child to read is your own business. I think there's a big difference between books most 13 year olds are ready to read, and books 16 year olds are ready to read.

I went straight to adult books at 13, mostly stuff by John Irving and Robert Heinlen, so I wish there'd been more than Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle books for me to read as a teen. I would have really appreciated Uglies and later, The Hunger Games.

Kimberlee Turley said...

Jessica Day George, Heather Dixon, Ally Condie, Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley... My favorite "clean" novels tend to be fairytale related or prince and princess stories.

The fairytale aspect or historical setting just makes it easier for the author to keep out swearing or suggestive themes out of the novel.

(And most of the authors on the above list have some ties to Utah.)

Lindsay said...

Authors like Louise Rennison, Shannon Hale, Ally Carter, and Sarah Dessen might be good starts for her.

Heather Zundel said...

Joan Bauer is right up your alley. I don't think there is even cursing in her books, great characters and fun plots. Hope Was Here even won a Newbery Honor.

Jessica Day George is completely clean and upbeat as well. Princess of the Midnight Ball was my favorite of hers.

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell (historical retelling of King Arthur from the young lady of Shallot's perspective)

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (only mild swearing and a great adventure story)

DIANA WYNNE JONES. Period. (Howl's Moving Castle is a fantastic place to start)

Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith - completely clean (no swearing either, I don't believe)

Little Sister and The Heavenward Path by Kara Dalkey (Japanese historical fantasy - simply wonderful)

Leaving the Bellweathers series by Kristin Clark Venuti

Brian Jacques Redwall world if she is into talking animals at all. :)

Dragonfly by Julia Golding

Crogan's Vengeance by Chris Schweizer (comic book series. The style to me was off-putting, but I sunk into it immediately. I don't recall any swearing. About a man drafted into being a pirate and trying to be good) :)

The Queen's Thief series, starting with the Newberry honor The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (mild-ish swearing, about the level of Percy Jackson) - fantastic

Wishing Moon by Michael Tunnel (retelling of the story of Aladdin)

Bamboo People Mitali Perkins is completely clean (I don't remember any swearing even), but it does deal with the real topic of children soldiers in Bruma. However, it has powerful and uplifiting moral tones and is one of the best books I've read in the last year. I love the characters and there is a lot of hope in this one.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

The Legend of the Wandering Prince (I can't remember the author's name...)

See? There are a ton of upbeat, clean YA out there :) (and I think your daughter would absolutely adore Ally Carter if she doesn't know of her already)

Tell me if you need more. :)

Anonymous said...

Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan (male MC). This is a nine book series he wrote for his son, who was being bullied at the time, to show undersized kids could be heroes. Every book has themes of honor, courage, friendship, and loyalty - also really awesome plots!

Patricia Wrede - Enchanted Forest Chronicles (five books, female MC) and Mairelon the Magician and Magician's Ward (female MC). These are older but you wouldn't know it by reading them.

Being of Two Minds by Pamela F. Service (female MC). Also older but still really good.

Dreamhouse Kings by Robert Liparulo (six books I believe, alternating male MCs). These actually have an outright Christian message that appears in the final book.