Recently, there have been discussions popping up every now and then about what YA should and shouldn’t be, what it should and shouldn’t have, whether it should have sex, trauma, mental health or any other “heavy” topics, and ironically…most of them have been led by adults, whereas the targeted demography is teenagers. And yes, believe me I do see the second irony here, I am an adult too, so why am I talking about this? I will be speaking from my perspective and experience when I was a teen, which wasn’t that long ago considering that I’m twenty two.
Anyway, back to our point. Every time this topic arises I see people screaming at the top of their (virtual) lungs that these things are bad and that they shouldn’t exist in YA, that they’re “inappropriate” and kids shouldn’t be reading about them. No sex or sex talk in YA (don’t get me started on queer sex), no mental illnesses, no sexual assault, no abuse, no…nothing. Basically, please write these kids utopias. I know I’m hyperboling (?), mostly, right now but that’s just because of how much this topic and approach to books frustrates me and let me tell you why.
If you’be been following my blog for any longer than a year, you know that my life has been far from trauma-less, some of it I shared on here (on this post and this one), some of it I’m not ready to share and don’t know if I ever will be. Most of it I went through in my childhood or teenage years. And by most I mean 90%. So tell me again how kids should be shielded? How they shouldn’t be exposed to these things because they’re too harsh, too heavy. Tell me again how kids should be protected from books when the system fails to protect them in real life? And you know what helped me cope? Books. And if you ask around you’ll find that so many people just like me, who’ve found solace in books.
And not any books. “Heavy” books. Hard hitting books that gut you and make you face the reality we live in. Books that might make you uncomfortable but only do so because they talk about things people would rather avert their eyes to. But the thing is these books are important. A book is what first made me see my PTSD, a book is what made me come to term with my queerness, and every book after that that has dealt with one topic or another has helped in some way. The point is these books HELP the kids who need them most. They make them feel seen and less alone in times when they might not have anyone else to turn to, or times where they might not be ready to turn to anyone.
YA readers are not shielded in real life and erasing their struggles in literature could and WOULD alienate them. Fiction shapes its readers so imagine kids who’ve been through hell and back reading about people their age having perfect lives, whose struggles NEVER mirror theirs, whose only worries are frivolous, or mundane. And I was that kid, I internalized my struggles thinking I was alone in them, thinking there must be something wrong with me that I wasn’t okay and that other people didn’t go through what I went through, or that I couldn’t just “get over them”. I would have needed these books growing up and I’m glad I got them in my late teens/early twenties and I’m even more glad, teens today, have them. And if we only listened to them instead of speaking over them, we’d hear them say they WANT these books.
If not for their own experiences, then it’s to read about ALL kinds of experiences, whether they’re theirs or other teens’. Teens are so goddamn smart, smarter than us. Braver. And stronger. And they want to know these things, they don’t shy away from these topics, they confront them head on and make us confront them. They start discussions, fight for their rights, fight for what’s right and want to make their voices heard. And WE. SHOULD. LISTEN.
And believe me when I say I know where these adults, albeit misguided, who don’t want these topics, are coming from. I have a fourteen year old sister that I hope will forever live in a bubble and never come to harm. But if we want to protect them, let’s start from being better, from making our society better, that they wouldn’t NEED these books. But we’re so far from that and censoring their books isn’t the way to go about it. We give them what they want to read not what we think they should read. And if you talk to a teen, really talk to them instead of talk at them, you’ll learn so much from them.
The one area where you can have some leeway, in my opinion, is the way these book address these topics. Just like Adult and YA books can discuss the same topics in vastly different way, a YA book written for a 13 year old and a YA book written for a 18 year old might also differ in the way they address these heavy topics. They might not use the same words, the same imagery or the same level of graphic-ness, but these topics should be out there in books for them to find if/when they need/want them. And even then, these kids level of maturity might not match their age so it’s honestly all subjective, a case to case type of thing, which is exactly why these books should exist.
Them existing doesn’t mean every single teen has to read them, or that they’re meant for every single teen, but they’re meant for a lot of teens and that’s good enough.
This doesn’t mean, all books should be heavy books, FAR from that. Teens need light fluffy book to escape to as much as they need heavy books to engage with. They need a balance of both and most of all they need to be given the CHOICE as to what kind of literature they want to engage with. If a teen only wants fluffy books then they should have a wide variety of those to reach for, but that also goes for books with heavier topics, if they want to read those then they should have just as wide of a variety of books in EVERY topic to reach for.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.