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When Do YA Novels Go Too Far, If Ever?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

YA novels often feature some very strong subjects, ranging from war (as discussed in today’s feature story), to drug and sexual abuse, to self-mutillation and suicide — not to mention bucket loads of profanity. It is a reflection of these society in which we live. Yet at least one academic researcher, Sarah Coyne, lead researcher of the study and a professor in Brigham Young University’s department of family life, is calling for a ratings system for YA novels, akin to that which is used to label records. As a US News and World Report article from earlier this year explained: “Coyne thinks a ratings system on book jackets would help parents decide what’s appropriate for their kids to read,” but added, “It’s a subject many are afraid to touch.”

While a rating system might put spark another round of controversy, much the same way that greeted the ratings system for albums and video games, do you believe that YA novels can go too far? For example, with masses of adults snapping up Fifty Shades‘ BDSM-light erotica this summer, how soon will it be before some enterprising YA publishers flirts with that line? Perhaps some already have.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Interesting idea. As a bookseller, I cringe every time a customer asks me if I have read “50 Shades of Grey” and/or what is it about. I think those books should have some kind of labels…

    As a (primarily) kid’s and teen bookseller, the parents who actually care what their kids read seem to be (mostly) savvy and able to tell by the title and cover what the content will be. It’s pretty clear what Ellen Hopkins book “Crank” is about. And, while they may not realize the extent of the drinking, drugs and off the page sex in the Gossip Girl books, the covers clue them in well enough. I think that publishers and “ratings boards” (a dubious endeavor to begin with) should not step in and do the job that parents should be doing. There are plenty of internet resources like Common Sense Media to inform them if they are concerned about what their kids are reading. Finally, if a kid wants to read a book that is off limits, s/he is going to read that book, especially in this age of reading eBooks on digital devices.

  2. Posted July 27, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Buying books for young adults is an interesting exercise. I’m an English teacher, used to having access to the full range of novels in the book room: comic, sci-fi, historical, classics, and a contemporary bucket load of what we called the angst novels. English teachers can teach anything that is well written, including social awareness through literature.
    But, when I put on my aunt hat and went to buy a YA novel for my bright 14 year old niece, what really struck me was shelf after shelf of issues books: drugs, suicide, sexual abuse. Assorted angst novels. I’ll teach them, but I wanted a different text for a present. Something really well written and uplifting; gutsy, contemporary, maybe quirky, and definitely not laden with teenage angst. I was unsuccessful. Why do publishers and writers think kids want to be immersed in that confrontational angst with every text?

  3. Jean L Gorman
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    I remember my young daughter enjoyed V C Andrews books, ‘Flowers in the Attic,’ etc. I was horrified the other day, when I browsed through one. I had no idea until then how dark (and explicit) they were. It’s a bit late now to worry, she’s now in her thirties! Perhaps a parental warning scale is long overdue.

  4. Sanjay joshi
    Posted August 5, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Is there a publisher who is seriously interested in an interesting yet wholesome novel for YA? I would love to hear from such publisher.

  5. heather
    Posted August 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    They are really going to damn far, and if parents think that all thier kids are reading about is eating disorders, cutting, teenage sex, drinking and drugging you are all dead wrong. I am an avid reader who by my etimation reads about a good 2 books a week, I have read a lot of YA books and yes I am 27 years of age. The books are getting way out of hand and the books need a rateing and a warning for parents to at the very least to look at the book and deam it appropriate or not for thier child. So many parents i see in the book store let thier kids pick up almost anything and get it for them cause it is “Young Adult” and somehow that equals safe and good to read for a 12 to 18 year old kid…. I came across a book one time by the cover looked intresting in the YA section…”Forbidden” was the big bold title with razor wire…”ohh intresting….” well not quite…the book was about a group of children faceing abandonment by thier mother and only parent….and the book slowley started to morph into…..BROTHER AND SISTER INCEST! skimming through the last pages there is a full on described sex scene between the two! nedless to say I did not buy it myself and can not fathom how or why that it would be labled YA and in what universe it would be ok for a 12 year old child to read….people look into these books and decide what is ok for your child before they get into these things.

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