Particularly self-censorship (i.e., we shall not include this book in our library collection for fear of the ruckus) and the topics that often provoke this action. Read now!
This article is the topic of much discussion amongst the YA writers I know. One writer, who has experience with her books being challenged, wondered if she should move to adult lit. Others reported that their editors stuck their oars in before publication, concerned about how certain words or topics in their books might “limit the audience.” The thing that is so insidious about self-censorship is the way it can’t be tracked. You don’t know if your books are being “limited” due to so-called objectionable content. A few choice quotes:
“one 2007 study by the University of Central Arkansas shows that less than one percent of school libraries in that conservative state have books containing gay subjects or story lines.”
“Interestingly, [David] Levithan says he intentionally wrote Boy Meets Boy as clean as possible so that if the book were ever challenged, the only logical reason would be because it features ‘happy gay characters in love.'”
My first four published novels are adult novels, and so these issues did not concern me during the writing, despite the fact that books contain many of the hot-button issues the article discusses: sex, homosexuality, religion, etc. They do enjoy a large teen audience and are often recommended for teen library collections. Given that, in my high school, we read classic works of literature dealing with rape, incest, sexual abuse, war, death, impotence, adultery, violence, racism, religious strife, murder, torture… I’m not sure exactly what teens can’t handle. The Crucible, The Magus, and The Sun Also Rises are way more intense than anything I’ve written!
Yes, there is a fear that saying that is going to cause some parent to run into a library and rip Arthur Miller off the shelf. Some dude gets tortured to death by having rocks piled on top of him in the last act of that play. I wonder if people forget sometimes that most of the classic works of literature touch upon these subjects. Romeo and Juliet weren’t playing Parcheesi that night. Neither were Calypso and Odysseus. (Penelope, of course, played Parcheesi and did her weaving. Poor girl.)
Which is not to say that I think my books are for everyone. I recently received a letter from a father who wanted to know if Secret Society Girl would be appropriate for his 13 year old. Personally, I wouldn’t give the book to middle schoolers, though I know some who read them. As I read Clan of the Cave Bear at twelve, I’m not going to freak out over that. I related to him the mature content in the book so that he could make his own decision. But it’s difficult. Asking whether a book is appropriate “for teen readers” (which he did) is a far different thing than asking if a book is appropriate “for a 13 year old” which he later clarified. I think my adult books are appropriate for older teen readers (let’s say 15-16 and up) but not for the younger, “tween” market. I recommended Ally Carter’s spy school series instead, as it has many of the same “classmate camaraderie, comedy, and zany antics” aspects as my books, but in a sweeter setting (with younger characters!) more appropriate to young teens.
But that is not self-censorship. I’m giving my recommendation to a parent. The books are adult books, not YA. (The characters are in their twenties, have been living on their own for years, and hang out in bars legally. Does the thirteen year old watch How I Met Your Mother? There’s a good litmus test.)* However, I’m not in charge of making the books available or not avialable to the reader, as well as there being no expectation that I wrote the book with that reader (middle schooler) in mind. The father is free to make his own decision. A friend of mine gave my books to her 13 year old with no problem. Parents get to make these decisions for their kids.
Of course, then you see in the SLJ article:
“Librarians need to remember that it’s not their job to impose their own ideologies on the kids they serve or to parent or protect them, Scales says. And even though schools are required to act in loco parentis—Latin for ‘in place of parent’—the doctrine only applies to school librarians when it comes to the safety and health of their students, not when it comes to censorship, she adds.”**
Now, my YA novel is written for a teen readership. It’s about teens (the main character is 16), and it’s told in a fashion that takes that sensibility into account. It does deal with mature themes, such as death, violence, and sex, though it does so in a young adult tone, for a young adult audience. Unlike the heroine of the secret society girl books, who is an adult (a young adult, struggling with the trapping of adulthood, but an adult all the same), Astrid is a teenager, who very much lives within the world of childhood and being a minor. She is subject to the will of her mother, of her guardians, or her teachers. She is not ready to face many of the things in the adult world (though she is asked to face far more in terms of life-and-death choices, than the heroine of my comedies is!).
And of course, there’s that strong abstinence message. 😉
The word “edgy” is batted around a lot in YA circles. Books like 13 Reasons Why and Living Dead Girl are pronounced “edgy,” whereas there is also the “sweeter” fare of I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You or Twilight. I was having a discussion with another author last weekend who asked if my YA book is “edgy” or “sweet”. I didn’t know what to say. There are long battle sequences in Rampant, with a fair amount of blood and injury to the main characters. There’s a body count, both human and unicorn. The storyline deals with the question of sex (though, so does Twilight), though it does come down pretty strongly on the side of chastity (they are nuns, after all). A friend told me that in the US there is more tolerance to violence in books than sex, while in the UK, it is the opposite. I wonder, then, if my book would be considered more edgy overseas.
* Interesting note: it is published as a YA novel in Brazil. As I do not speak Portuguese, I couldn’t tell you if there is any substantive editing going on.
**Hee hee. Does anyone remember that scene in A Series of Unfortunate Events where Mr. Poe (I believe?) is trying to explain to the children what “in loco parentis” means and the kids are like, “drop dead? We know!”