I think it’s about time I officially weigh in on the great YA debate. In case you missed this post, The Perfect 10, my teen panel weighed in on this topic a while back and I figured if they can discuss this honestly and openly, I should be able to do the same.
First off, I have to mention that this post was inspired by a GQ article and a recent conversation I had with a Mom of two avid YA readers. Her girls are age 11 and 12 (a 6th and 7thgrader).
Just so you know, this wasn’t an argument or me trying to insert my author intelligence, it was a civilized, engaging discussion that both parties fully enjoyed. It started with Mom telling me her girls looove YA books and me saying, “oh…it just so happens that I’m the author of a YA novel.”
She was very excited to hear this and after I told her a little bit about the plot she then asked the dreaded question, “So…is it okay for them to read? I don’t want them to read about sex or anything…”
Normally, I mention early on that the book is for 13 or 14 and up, but I left that out because she already told me that they looove reading YA. So, I said, “Well…it’s not about sex, but yeah, the characters have sex…it’s minimally described and a very small aspect of the novel.”
I could see her disappointment and just so you know, I’m normally an author who does not believe in book censorship and I’m committed to always doing what I think the characters should and would do and keeping it real. Therefore, realistically speaking, I truly believe that my 18/19 year old main characters currently in a relationship would be having sex. I’m not saying EVERY 18/19 year old main characters would choose to have sex, but the ones I created would and do choose this path.
But instead of arguing with Concerned Mom or defending my book, I started to feel a tad bit guilty because I didn’t have a book that these YA book loving girls could read and I really wanted to help with this and make sure that I did the right thing with my book. I also was insanely curious to find out what exactly it was about sex in a book that concerned her? I don’t mean that there isn’t reason to be concerned but to just say no sex might imply that you want kids to read books that don’t acknowledge the existence of sex. Her children exist because of sex. Surely they know that by 6th and 7th grade. So, I knew there had to be more specific content concerns than that.
I asked her, “Well…what are they reading? I know you said YA books, but which ones?”
Concerned Mom said, “They love those Twilight looks…they’ve probably read them five or six times…I’ve read them all too.”
My eyebrows went up a little. “They’ve read all the Twilight books? Even the fourth one?”
“Oh yes. I had to take if from them a couple times or they would have stayed up all night trying to finish.”
“But there’s sex in Breaking Dawn?”
Concerned Mom nodded. She knew this already. “Yeah, we talked about that together…I just thought it was really good that Edward and Bella waited.”
My author brain was reeling at that point. “Waited for what? The fourth book?”
Concerned Mom laughed. I think she might have assumed at this point that I hadn’t read the books. “They waited for marriage.”
Not much room to argue with her there. They did wait and therefore secured their spot in heaven. But since I am a YA author I know for a fact that putting weddings in every other YA book is not gonna fly with editors and publishers. So where does that leave us in the mission to please concerned parents?
“Well that’s cool,” I said. “But just out of curiosity…do you want your daughters to wait for marriage to have sex?”
“Of course. There’s consequences to having sex with someone that you aren’t going to marry.”
“Like if they pregnant or get an STD?”
Concerned Mom started to look a tad uncomfortable at the mention of teen pregnancy and STDs but I can’t blame her, it makes me uncomfortable too. “I just mean there’s emotional repercussions to going that far with someone and then breaking up.”
“What if they did get married at…let’s say 18 like Bella Swan…then quickly learn they’re clearly with the wrong person. So not only have they had sex with this person, they’ve also got a legally binding contract we like to call marriage, a joint checking account, shared apartment, only one couch, one bed, one set of silverware.” And yes, this statement was coming from someone (me) who did, in fact, meet her soul mate at age 18. But I’m also a product of divorced, remarried, and remarried again parents.
Concerned Mom did not like this scenario. “Oh no. I’ve told my girls over and over again to go to college, figure out their career, make their own money and have some time to be independent before settling down to get married.”
No problems there. Raising independent young women. I’m fully supportive of this. But…I felt obligated to point something out to her, “So you’re not just telling them to wait for marriage to have sex, you’re telling them to wait until they’re…maybe 23 or 24? Do you know many 24 year old virgins?”
I wasn’t being snarky about that last part. I really wasn’t. I was honestly curious. Concerned Mom just laughed and had no answer. So, I ended the conversation with a compromise, “Well…if you think they might like Tempest and they tell you they want to have sex before marriage because Jackson and Holly do, just tell them that in 7 or 8 years when they turn 19, you can discuss the waiting thing again.”
Even though the conversation ended, my own internal Mom vs Author debate continued in my head. Why did I write sex in my book? Someone could have been Catholic. They could have waited or maybe they wanted to do it and I could have just kept writing people coming in to interrupt them. But the more I thought about it, the more clear it became to me that Concerned Mom isn’t stupid, in fact she’s pretty smart. And her kids are smart and advanced readers. She’s smart enough to know that statistically most people have intercourse for the first time long before age 24.
According to this site, 7 in 10 Female and Male teens have had intercourse by their 19th birthday.
Keep in mind, I’m not approving of this or supporting teens having sex at all. I’m just giving the facts as they are. And the facts themselves are not an excuse for people to give up their ability to make their own decision on this matter. People defy the odds all the time.
Back to Concerned Mom…why is she creating this life plan for her pre-teens that she realistically knows is improbable? Perfect college, perfect career, strong independent women, then Mom gets to plan the beautiful weddings she’s always wanted to plan.
I’m a mom too. I’ve had similar daydreams about my children turning out perfect and living happily ever after. We’re moms. Of course we want the best for our kids. But we also need to be realistic. Just like Edward and Bella’s relationship in Twilight,it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating these idealistic expectations that are almost always impossible to meet.
Since Concerned Mom has censored some of the more realistic YA books that contain realistic romance and sexual experiences from her girls and only provided them with Twilight, I’ve been seriously debating writing the Twilight fan fiction story where, six months after Breaking Dawn closes, Bella and Edward are having a hard time. Edward is sick of having to spend every Holiday at Charlie’s and he’s also tired of toys being all over the house and the kid keeps walking in on them when things are finally getting a little heated. Meanwhile, Bella hasn’t been “in the mood” lately because she a bit obsessed with 50 Shades Of Grey…there’s something familiar about that book and she can’t quite put her finger on it… So she keeps reading and re-reading. Bella is beginning to wonder if getting married at 18 was a bad idea. She’s wondering it so much that she’s already been to a lawyer and asked what she needs to do to prepare divorce papers.
This type of story, showing multiple sides of relationships, portraying them realistically and not idealized, is something I believe young people need to be exposed to. Not just because I’m worried that they’ll expect unrealistic love, but also because hearing about the characters’ internal relationship struggles, their screw ups, their selfish moments, can help us feel more human and less afraid to venture out and talk to someone new or say yes to going to homecoming with the nice boy in Algebra and accepting his acne, occasional BO following gym class and the fact that it takes him three tries to say something nice that actually sounds nice.
Is it wrong for a parent to decide that their 11 and 12 year old just isn’t mature enough to read Tempest? Of course not! The only reason I’m a bit shocked/surprised by Concerned Mom’s censorship is because she let her girls read a YA book where 17/18 year olds have sex but did not want them to read a novel where 18/19 year old characters have sex because in the latter, those characters were not married. And she does NOT support getting married at any of those ages.
On another chance meeting I was able to talk to Concerned Mom a second time and I went a little further and explained my position. And she said, “What exactly do you mean by idealistic romance?”
Let me answer that question here (again, I have no issues with Twilight, it’s just the moral implications of that series compared to the immoral implications of my series and other YA books), using specific examples from the book.
“I could never for a second forget that I was holding someone more angel than man in my arms.” –Breaking Dawn, p. 23
“I’ve been waiting a century to marry you, Miss Swan.” –Breaking Dawn, p. 28
“I looked into Edward’s shining, triumphant eyes and knew that I was winning, too. Because nothing else mattered but that I could stay with him.” –Breaking Dawn, p. 28
And when I set out to write this blog post, I figured I’d be on the opposing side of Concerned Mom, but now, I just don’t know. I mean, I sort of do get where she’s coming from and I always try to tell parents that Tempest is recommended for 13-14 and up but often they mistake that age for reading level. After I’m told what an amazingly advanced reader their child is, I will then clarify by asking them what else they’ve read and if they tell me they’ve read every book in the House Of Night series or Forever by Judy Blume is their favorite book then I stop worrying about my book morally corrupting another mom’s child. If it’s Hunger Games or Divergent that’s mentioned, I will usually suggest that mom check it out first or ask about TV shows…if they watch Gossip Girl or GLEE religiously then we’re fine.
So what are your thoughts about Concerned Mom and her choice to sensor and not sensor at the same time?
Also, just to show my enthusiasm for encouraging these young people to dip into the YA genre, I’ve made a list of some of the books that are milder in content regarding language and sex. Not Disney Channel material but mild for sure.
Just to be clear…
The Julie Cross Definition of Mild Content in a YA Novel:Characters don’t have sex or discuss it in a descriptive manner, might include kissing but no major make-out scenes that involve removing clothing and lying down (Katniss stripping Peeta down to save his life and then making out with him to get life saving medicine does not count). Probably no f-bombs but if there is one or two they are not used to reference sex (example: “Oh fu*k the world is going to be destroyed and my superpowers have failed).
**as a side note I’d just like to say that I’m intending this list to be for those advanced readers maybe age 9-12 or 13. Limiting yourself to this YA list only will keep you or your kid from reading some AMAZING books (and no, I’m not talking about Tempest…well not just Tempest anyway).
CLEAN (Yet awesome!) TEEN BOOKS FOR YOUNGER YA READERS
Gallagher Series by Ally Carter
Heist Society Series by Ally Carter
Enclave by Ann Aguirre
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Maze Runner by James Dashner
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Matched by Ally Condie
I’m struggling to find any realistic/contemporary YA that’s meeting my mild definition. Maybe it’s just that I love the edgier stuff. It seems more real to me and I tend to choose that to read over others. Please add recommendations in the comments.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]