Explicit content: is it becoming too prominent in fiction classed as “young adult”?
We don’t ask the same of adult books. Why is fiction for young adults any different, especially since “young adult” fiction is often enjoyed by actual adults? And what about writing: are writers being criticised for expressing creative freedom through the medium of fiction?
I interviewed author Meg Rosoff about this and more, and her answers have given me a lot of food for thought.
1. What is your opinion on explicit content in books? Do you think books containing swearing, sex and alcohol are too much, and how much is too much?
I don’t think anyone should ask that question of YA books any more than they would about adult books. There are plenty of explicit books for adults on all sorts of subjects, and I might choose to read or not to read them. I don’t think of teens as being delicate creatures who need protecting from bad words or ideas. It’s a bit like nudity in a film — if it’s just there for the sake of titillation, it’s probably not very good art. If it’s important to the story, by all means, put it in.
2. How do you think young adult fiction has changed in more recent years? Has it changed for the better or the worse?
To talk about YA fiction as if it’s one single entity doesn’t really make sense any more than lumping all teens or all women together into a single generalisation makes sense. There’s a big emphasis on issue fiction that seems to be getting bigger at the moment, but there are literally thousands of books for teens published each year and I wouldn’t say it has all changed in any particular direction. There will always be literary fiction, pulp fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever you like….in large quantities.
3. How do you think the emergence of more serious themes, such as race and sexuality, are affecting young adult fiction?
“Themes” are only interesting if the writer is genuinely interested in the subject. If you’ve always been interested in gender and identity, by all means tackle the subject of non-binary sexuality, but you can always tell the people who’ve just jumped on the band-wagon. Which plenty of writers and publishers do.
4. As a writer, how do you personally feel about writing sex and violence into teenage fiction? Is it necessarily appropriate for that age group?
I never think about what is appropriate for my audience. I never think of my audience, full stop. When I write, I’m writing a book for me, that interests me, that pleases me, that’s the sort of book I would like to pick up. The fact that many of my protagonists are teens means that I’m categorised as a YA writer. But really, I”m just writing for an audience of one.
5. In your opinion, when is the line drawn between young adult fiction and adult fiction, in terms of the nature of its content?
I don’t see age as a valid category for fiction. I’d say some books are better written or more challenging than others, some more universal, some more fun. The best YA novels can be read by anyone of any age with equal satisfaction. The same can be said about the best picture books. Shaun Tan’s The Arrival may be a picture book, but it makes equally good reading for a middle aged man.
Special thanks to Meg for answering these questions! You can check her out here: http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/