Young adult lit grows up fast
Page 2 of 3
By Marian Wilde
No more Bobbsey Twins: Edgy YA fiction
Publishers, competing with sexy advertisements and edgy youth-oriented TV shows, are now offering racier book covers, titles and content. Many have created special imprints aimed at teens with content likely to shock many parents. For instance, Simon and Schuster has Simon Pulse and Mix and Llewellyn Publications has Flux. Even MTV, not a book publisher, has entered the game with MTV Books featuring such titles as The Scarlet Letterman and Bling Addiction.
"I think it is a widespread trend," says Danielle Marshall, GreatSchools book reviewer and a bookseller at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. "Some very adult topics are being presented to kids. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging is part of a series for children ages 11 and up. Another title in the series is On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God."
"Explicit sex is pretty much something you don't want your middle-schooler reading about. It's becoming more topical and parents are behind the times. Most YA books are written by very young authors who were just recently young adults," says Marshall.
Jill Saginaro, also a bookseller at Powell's Books and a specialist in YA, says that fast-selling "bitchy girl" series, such as Gossip Girl, The Clique and A-List, have caused publishers to search for new markets. "Publishers recognize the popularity of these books and are bringing out a similar series aimed at middle-schoolers. Middle-schoolers love Gossip Girl books, but parents hate them."
"I read The Clique," says author Feinberg. "It was about these really rich kids and about a poorer kid having to live with the rich kids. It's all about shopping and being bitchy. But the surprising thing about it was there was no moral center, no hint that this behavior was disturbing or wrong in any way."
There has also been a shift in the readership of these books. "Books that were written for middle grades are being read by third-, fourth- and fifth-graders," Marshall says.
"It seems that kids as young as 9 and 10 are being considered young adult, and there is a huge difference between that age and a 12-year-old. Much younger kids are being offered books that parents may not want them to have. They're being lumped into one big marketing group," Feinberg says.
No more Sweet Valley High: Sophisticated YA fiction
Although many books push the envelope in terms of age-appropriate content, the majority of YA is not scandalous, Collins says. "Most authors have a lot of care and responsibility for what they write. It comes from a good place in most of the published works."
"Five to 10 years ago, YA was hampered by dark stuff, but now I'm proud of the direction it's going in," according to Saginaro. She says that the literature dealing with homosexuality, for example, has come a long way in the past several years.
"This year you see more books with main and peripheral gay characters," Saginaro says. "In a new book called Hero, the main character is a superhero and he's also gay. He's not full of angst about whether to come out or not. It's treated in a much more casual way, in a more mature way."
Saginaro also cites the abundance of high-quality books for boys that have come onto the market. "Many of the old books for boys were about sports and weren't very interesting. They were shallow and perpetuated a stereotype of boys as being jocks that didn't care about anything but sex and sports. Now I'm seeing more complex characters."
Two examples of YA with complex male characters are Breathing Underwater and Tyrell. "Author Alex Flinn deals with abuse in Breathing Underwater," Collins says. "It's about a young man who hits his girlfriend. She turns away from him and gets a restraining order. It deals with the abuse from his point of view. It's about his interaction with his counselor."
Collins says Tyrell by Coe Booth is "definitely an edgy one. Tyrell is a young man whose father is in jail and his family gets evicted from their home. It's about the lengths he goes to to survive."