Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's okay for YA?

I had a book release last week. A book that is heavy on profanity, violence and sexual situations. It is upper-YA, but I'm kind of amazed that it made it through all the hoops it had to with my publisher. That it is out now, not much different than it was when I drafted it. Some of you know I had some issues with my debut novel, Pretty Amy being passed-over for review by a national teen magazine because it mentioned drug use. You can read about that here.

The fact that Dear Cassie is out and people ARE NOT mentioning the language or violence or sexual situations in reviews of the book made me start to think about, what is okay in YA.
There are over 200 "Fucks" in DEAR CASSIE, A LOT, but it makes sense because it is Cassie's favorite word. Cassie has trouble expressing herself. She uses swear words and anger because she does not know what else to do. She's also in a terrible situation, a wilderness rehab program trying to deal with something that has happened to her that she can't bring herself to deal with.

Over 200 fucks, that is down from almost 400 or 500 in the original draft. I would say my editor and publisher had a pretty strong stomach for letting me keep as many as they did.

All those fucks were okay, but the one that made my editor reconsider was the one that sat at the top of the first page.

Folks who read PRETTY AMY would not be surprised that the first real word in Cassie's book was: fucking. It was in every chapter heading. My editor loved it and I loved it, but on page one, the page people read when they are glancing at your book and deciding to buy it or read it, it had the potential to turn people off.

Now, these people probably would be turned off eventually anyway, but there is something to be said for not having it happen before they even read the first line of the book.

I got this. This being my second novel, I got this in a way I didn't with my first. This book is the book where people will either say, she did it again. Or, she was a fluke.

And so, I removed it from page one. If this were an adult book could I have gotten away with having that extra fuck? How would agents/publishers have responded to queries of this book if I had to sell it to a publisher other than Entangled? I wonder.

YA is changing, but as writers/readers of YA we are always asking ourselves is this too much? The thing is when you're in high school there is no censor there making sure everything you deal with is sweetness and light.

I for one don't think there should be just sweetness & light in YA books either.

I applaud my publisher for being brave enough to publish Dear Cassie as I wrote it for the most part.

For them and for me, real life is what is okay in YA.

What are your thoughts on what crosses the line in YA?


  1. I believe YA should be authentic, real life as you say and as long as a writer is staying true to the characters and their world be it violent, profane or controversial then that's acceptable. The minute a word or scene becomes gratuitous - that's when I think the YA author has crossed the line.

  2. *Graphic* sex. Yeah. That's pretty much it. When people say that New Adult is supposed to be erotica with teen characters, I get more than a little sick to my stomach. Sex is natural, sex is good, but I don't feel sex is the same for the YA/NA crowd in general as it is for older people and that too should be reflected in the books.

  3. I would never say "there shouldn't be XX in YA" but there are certain things I'm not comfortable with. But I would never say someone else shouldn't be allowed to write it or read it.

  4. I fucking hate lines. That's what I say.ha Good for you!

  5. This is very heartening to see. My new book has a 'fuck' on the first page too (and a 'shit'. And probably over 200+ swears throughout too. If it's authentic to the character voice, I think you have to leave it in. 'Frig' or 'fundge' just don't have the same weight.

  6. Teenagers are not fluffy little angels with fuzzy bunny rabbit friends. I say if it works, go for it!

  7. Excess is excess. Age does not factor into it. What is necessary to the story must be included; what is unnecessary should not. That is all.

  8. I don't know.... I think and believe that YA should be the place where tough issues are tackles, but I know, personally, that certain books made me feel/do certain things when I was a teen that I doubt I would have done if I hadn't read them. But I think YA should hit hard issues. But... I don't know. It's a tough question. Writers need to find the balance between the two.

  9. Who doesn't like an extra fuck?
    (Sorry. I had to say it.)
    ~Just Jill

  10. Thank you for this post. I have struggled with this with my recent novel--knowing where to draw the line with violence, sex, and profanity, and still be true to my characters.

  11. It both intrigues me and baffles me how YA is changing and has changed over the last few years. When I see what's accepted now, compared to a year ago, it boggles by mind.