I write edgy young adult novels. There I’ve said it. On September 16, 2014, when Evidence of Things Not Seen is published, I will join peers like Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Levithan and Coe Booth to name but a few who push the envelope in contemporary realistic fiction.
My goal is not to write edgy YA. My goal is not to titillate readers or incite controversy. My goal is to write honest and true characters. My goal is to show how those characters grapple with tough moments. My goal is to write a book for teens that is cleared eyed and doesn’t wrap life up in a bow. My goal is to write books that hold grit and dirt right next to faith and mystery.
Recently at the Texas Library Association, I got to hear Laurie Halse Anderson. She noted that it has been 15 years since SPEAK was published and she continues to write challenging books. Why? Because she learned from her minister father that Jesus was a storyteller and the reason he was a storyteller was because stories helped people learn, understand and prepare them for the world. She thinks that it’s important for kids to read books that allow them to tackle tough subjects safely. She thinks we do a disservice to kids if we protect them so much they are vulnerable when they go out in the world.
In a May 6 Publisher Weekly article about the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival, Krystyna Poray Goddu reported about the panel, On the Edge. Moderated by Viking editor Sharyn November, panelists British novelist Sarwat Chadda, Canadian writer Niki Walker, author and photographer Susan Kuklin, and writer Robie Harris discussed sex and violence in children’s literature
While all the panelists were against censorship, they respected parents who chose not to buy their books. Robie Harris said, “There’s a difference between saying ‘I don’t want my child to read this,’ and saying ‘I don’t want any child to read this.’ I have had librarians tell me they would never have my books in their home, but that it’s their job to have them in the library. Those librarians are heroes, in my view.”
Panelists agreed that the concern about children reading inappropriate material for their age can be unjustified because young readers self-censor. “Kids who can’t handle something in a book don’t read it,” said Harris. “November added, “Often you read so you don’t have to experience. Parents need to trust their own child-raising skills and their own children more.”
In my view, what’s lovely about books is the time readers can take to reflect and reread. As much as I love movies, they can be a bit of a barrage. Books, though, give the reader time to revel, contemplate, even think about what they might have done in a similar situation.
So yes, I write edgy YA. Because I think teens want to look over the edge but they don’t necessarily want to jump.