What Crosses The Line In YA Fiction?

I recently read a couple of on-line articles about the darker turn in YA fiction. While both acknowledged fun and cute aren’t entirely off the shelves, they’re not as common. Remember the First Harry Potter? The Last? Big difference. I loved them all. I do admit I miss some of the light-heartedness in the first book. It was such fun! Who didn’t wish they could be a kid at Hogwarts? Rowling did an outstanding job with that.

But today, it’s the darker the better, or so it seems. I have to say, some are darker than others. Some even made me question if parents might think a line has been crossed and the work too graphic, too dark. While I’m not ready to say THE EXORCIST is YA by today’s standard’s, I think it’s getting closer all the time. And yeah, I read The Exorcist when I was in the earliest of my teen years along with King, Barker, and Koontz. My parents never said a word. Well, except with The Exorcist. I had the heebie-jeebies for months.

The topics I’ve read over the year? Well, murder isn’t new. Neither are tattoos, drug use, underage drinking, fighting, and sex. In the past, sex was sort of implied and lightly glossed over, but now it’s becoming slightly more explicit. Suicide, rape, and disfigurement are more topics becoming more common. Swearing is almost commonplace. It’s like the lines are blurred between adult and young adult fiction these days. The only difference in some is simply the age of the protagonist.

Happily ever after days are long gone. Everything seems to have a distinct dystopian feel to it, some a lot more than others. Endings are more ‘somewhat happily ever after’ or downright dismal.

I’d like to know your thoughts. Are there still topics which you feel shouldn’t cross into YA? For sex, murder, and suicide, how graphic is too much? Do you prefer darker or lighter fiction? Happy endings or dystopian endings? A totally apocalyptic world or more modern day?

I’ve got a light and humorous YA out with a few agents right now. It’s pure fun and story. I’m also editing a very dark YA that makes me wonder if I’m pushing ‘edgy’ right off the cliff straight from page one. While I love them both and certainly hope they make it onto bookshelves on day, I have to wonder what everyone else is reading, and what they’d like to read that they don’t feel is marketed enough.


5 thoughts on “What Crosses The Line In YA Fiction?

  1. I don’t normally read YA fiction. My grandsons read Harry Potter and some of Stephen King when they were in their very early teens. They were allowed to read whatever their parents read. The biggest problem at the moment is not WHAT they read, but the fact that they seldom read anything except the daily newspaper. i hope that will change. In any event, what they did read, which was sometimes violent and sometimes had sexual content, has not warped them, as far as I can tell.

    So, if the overall quality of the book is good …

  2. I think part of the problem with whats available these days is what they already have access to, you go to a cafe or in numerous houses and you can find newspapers that contain murder, court cases, drug use and other worries.

    What is a rarity statistically is being used as commonplace events that make it more common, ending programmes like Crimewatch with “Don’t have nightmares” which make it seem even worse.

    What is and isn’t suitable for a reader I think is dependent upon the parent. I remember feeling very grown up when I was lent my Dad’s books, yet I always know that he’d read them first. These days however I tend to lend him an absolute ton of books, so he’s essentially the kid as I make sure it that he gets tales that suit his needs.

    Yet a number of adults don’t seem to be passing on a love of books. My own love of them was nearly destroyed by my own Mum making me read “the classics” which I really had a hard time with so it took me a while to get back into it, I think that whilst there should be some selection and careful presentation of titles for the YA I think that perhaps a parent should find out what their kids enjoy and help them make informed choices until they’re old enough to pick thier own.

  3. I have a hard time answering that because I went straight from thin kids books to adult novels in the space of a few months in the third grade. I didn’t actually start reading much young adult until the last couple of years. (I’m 27). I have a hard time answering it both because of what I read as a kid and that I skipped the YA books until now.

    As a parent (this is hypothetical. No kids for me), if my kids were like me, I’d pretty much let them read whatever they wanted. Maybe not openly let them read bodice rippers but otherwise.

    I do however think your average parent would want to see some moderation in the adult content. Not explicit sex, not explicit rape or some of the more disturbing aspects that show up in adult fiction.

  4. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised when you consider the movies all of these teenagers are seeing on a regular basis. Tons of violence and plenty of sex, even if it’s not out there on the screen.

    But I agree with Michelle, there’s a distinctly dystopian mood in the literature teens are reading today. sBut is it because the adults WRITING it feel that way, or because the kids READING it feel that way? Initially, it had to come from the writers, but the readers are buying it and asking for more and darker themes.

    The question is, if that sort of stuff had been available when I was a young teen would I have been interested? And I think the answer is definitely YES. In my case, anyway. So maybe the difference isn’t in the teens, but in the literature adults are willing to offer them. Teens have always had that dystopian view, the feeling that life is s#it, but society always tried to cheer them up. Now, we all feel that way, so we’re willing to feed the monster.


  5. As an author of YA Paranormal fiction, I have to add my two cents. I was researching the very topic wondering if my debut novel was too racy. Some of my fans are very excited about it and can’t wait to read it. Others asked, “why does there have to be sex in it?” Simply, it’s part of the protagonist development. As she struggles with some things, she yearns for others. After so much grief, she wants something that gives her hope and comfort. While it is only one scene and not explicit, rather implied, I still received a lot of push back. There are plenty of YA fiction written in the past ten years that have plenty of sex. It is something happening with our teens, not just in the US, and they need somewhere to connect their experience to.

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