Saturday, October 13, 2007

YA and Middle Grade, and Never the Tween Shall Meet

You made a comment on your blog about the content matter of one reader's middle-grade novel (sex, alcohol consumption, etc.). This got me to wondering, what would you define as appropriate topics for a tween novel? Where would you draw the line on edgy types of subjects, and do you have any good tween titles to recommend?
Pretty much any serious romance (even without any sex) puts a book in the YA section—see Twilight and A Great and Terrible Beauty.

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants didn't have serious romance or sex, but it had a girl attempting to seduce her soccer camp counsellor. Which makes it YA.

Now, we all know that some junior high schoolers are having sex and doing drugs, (and some elementary schoolers are swearing a blue streak when there are no adults around) and the fact of this exposes the rest of them to those things. So putting sex, drugs, booze, eating disorders, suicide, profanity, etc etc firmly in the YA section doesn't say a thing about the readers of these books. It says something about their parents.

Which, yes, bothers me, but that's the world we live in. Parents are naturally inclined towards overprotectiveness and its constant companion, denial.

A tween book can have flirting but not seduction; doubt but not depression.
It can have the bomb, but not the fuse.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, also, the reality is that YA is read by middle schoolers more than high schoolers, and "tween" is read by nine- and ten-year-olds. I think.

Disco Mermaids said...

-"A tween book can have flirting but not seduction; doubt but not depression.
It can have the bomb, but not the fuse."-

I've never heard it put quite so perfectly. Thank you!

-Robin

ae said...

LOL! Very funny, EA.

Anonymous said...

"Parents are naturally inclined towards overprotectiveness and its constant companion, denial."

Don't forget: The kids who aren't having sex, smoking drugs, stealing, commiting suicide, etc.. at twelve are the majority.

As a parent, I appreciate that we have a classification of novels safe from rape scenes.

Amelia said...

"Don't forget: The kids who aren't having sex, smoking drugs, stealing, commiting(sic) suicide, etc.. at twelve are the majority."

This is true, BUT the vast majority are not in the dark about these things, either. (I distinctly recall at age 11, there was at least one girl at my school who WAS having sex and drinking alcohol. All the kids knew about it; the parents and teachers had no clue.) These "adult" issues become immediate and personal for kids MUCH earlier than most parents are willing to recognize.

The problem I see with many parents is that they seem to think that preventing their children from reading/hearing about adult issues will protect them, when in fact it does the opposite. Knowing about difficult issues, seeing ways they can be addressed, and being able to discuss them frankly and without fear of disapproval from the adults in their lives, empowers kids to deal with them when and if they arise.

(Okay, now I feel like one of those PSAs: The More You Know...)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that most of the time, you're better off giving your children tools than trying to shield them.

sylvia said...

In my opinion...

There is a lot more to it than just "protection". What a kid is aware of and what he/she is interested in are two very separate things to consider.

My son is 13 and loves the Cherub series. He knows about sex and drinking and drugs and knows there are kids that are involved but overall (compared to me at that age) he seems pretty innocent/immature/uninterested/slow
or whatever you want to call it. Sex and drugs and rock and roll ? Boring.

His biggest gripe about the Cherub books was the main character getting a girlfriend (and a resulting conflict about whether or not she would sleep with him). It wasn't a question of "inappropriate" in terms of sex ed, he is too young to find that of interest and was quite simply bored by all those scenes.

I'm not faulting Cherub at all (and the main character is 15 or 16 I think? So that story line is almost certainly of great interest to the kids of that age group).

He was very clear that he loved the action but was supremely uninterested in whether the guy was going to get a new girlfriend or not. "Let's get back to the good stuff!"

So although tweens can and DO know about all this stuff, I suspect a great many of them are simply not interested. Most people don't want their fiction as a learning tool, they want it to have fun.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Even in high school, my taste in Romance ran more towards the "Sweet Dreams" series -- I really, really disliked reading sex scenes... all I wanted was some flirting and a really good kiss before the end...

So it's also good to remember that some teens also don't really do edgy... I'm really pleased because I'm seeing more and more non-edgy YA books... which is what I liked as a teen...(and I still like them now, though I also have a much higher "edgy" tolerance if the book is well written...

Little Willow said...

I am very cautious about content, and while I don't censor books, I will inform someone that Book Title Goes Here might be a little racy for her third grader. In other words, I will tell parents, teachers, or librarians about certain happenings in books if I feel they should know. Often the easiest way to relay all of that to them and to the readers without spoiling or detailing things outright is to use the movie ratings system. I'll tell them this book would be rated R if it were a film, while this book would be PG-13. Then they "get" it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the inside view, EA.

I'm wondering about drinking and drug use by adults in mid-grade novels. My WIP, set in 1970s, has a pot-smoking mother (daughter, main character, disapproves and pretends not to know.) Would that element place me in the YA category? (problematical since MC is only 13)

Anonymous said...

Personally, I read 'Looking for Mr. Goodbar' when I was 13 and that was 1974ish. I was also reading my boyfriend's father's playboy magazines.

The knowledge is out there, no matter what label is placed on the book. And saying something is YA or MG may be just a quick guide to subject matter and type size.

I think (and I might be wrong) if you write a damn good story well, you will find an audience no matter the subject matter or age of the MC. It just might take a bit longer to sell it to a publisher.

Sarah

Carly said...

Some of you have already mentioned things that are more or less to this effect, and I hardly think I need to state it, but a kid doesn't need to be depressed/sexually active/whatever to read a book with those elements in it, and enjoy the book. A kid doesn't even need to KNOW anything about those things to read a book with those elements in it. Reading a book that has some sex in it is not going to make a middle-schooler go out and buy a pack of condoms and go on the lookout for who s/he can sleep with immediately, just like reading Harry Potter hasn't resulted in a nation of young people deep into the occult (gasp!).

How many books, adult or children's or otherwise, do each of you read every year that have absolutely no bearing or reflection on your personal life or knowledge? For some it might not be many, but I'm guessing that for many it's quite a few. I just read Lolita by Nabokov and you can bet the ranch that book had nothing to do with my life, yet I will still able to enjoy reading it.

People worry too much about subject matter. It's not inconsequential, but it's the writing that counts.

Terry P. said...

Thanks so much for the clarification, EA. On the same vein, on tonight's news, I saw that a middle school in Maine is now passing out birth control pills to students without parental consent. Sigh...

bebe said...

Actually, a health center in a school in Maine is prescribing birth control pills to students who are sexually active. They need parental consent to visit the health center in the first place. Read up.

Anonymous said...

Correction: In Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, that girl actually did seduce her soccer coach. Yes, they had sex, and she was far from happy about it.

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