Thursday, September 24, 2009

Young Adult Taboos

Apparently, there are very, very few.

This question came up for me because yesterday I was in the middle of writing a scene in my young adult novel that's fraught with sexual tension. Something funny (and vampiric) happens which causes our heroine to flee from a make-out session with the hottie Witch boy. He thinks she's off to go, you know, find some condoms. She, meanwhile, is trying to put her fangs back in the box, as it were. Hilarity ensues.

I wrote this thinking, "ha! Great scene! Good job, me!" Then, I paused. When I was a teen (back before written record) this sort of thing would have been completely taboo. It would have caused parents, schools, the media, the Congress of the United States... to freak out.

So, like any modern writer seeking answers to such things, I got on the Internet. I posted a question about it on Facebook. I asked a group of SF/F writers (some of which are writing young adult books). I said, "Can I mention condoms in YA? Is it taboo?"

To a person, they scoffed at me. No, no, I was told. Hardly anything is taboo these days. Mentioning condoms is _so_ not taboo that if the possibility of sex between teens is on scene then the RESPONSIBLE thing is to mention condoms!

Someone also pointed me to this great site: Ally's Diary. Ally is Ally Carter a teen author of teen books. She's the insider's insider being both a YA author and an ACTUAL TEEN. Specifically, she's got a great post about this (and a few other things) called, "Wrong Questions... Which I now pass on to you as a great resource for this kind of wrong question... which us forty-somethings trying to write for the modern teen audience seem to always have.

I mean, that's the thing, isn't it? My own experience of being a teenager was long before cell phones, texting, yes, even computers. (Not just the Internet, kids, but computers themselves.) What was taboo for me and my generation seems, well, like child's play to this.

Plus, I don't remember even having a catagory called YA when I was a teen. There was the children's section of the library and the adult section. It seems, in a lot of ways, it's still the same... only with better marketing.


Naomi said...

You had teen books (I know this because I had teen books, and while you're older than me, a bunch of my teen books had been around for YEARS) ... but they were easy to miss. My library had a small section of cheap paperbacks on revolving racks; probably 25% were crappy teen romance, a bunch were horror-lite, and the remainder were "problem books," books that were written by grownups to speak to the concerns of Today's Teen. I think they were edgy by the standards of 1982 -- a typical book involved a girl going through a pregnancy scare. Chapter one starts with her period being late, and she spends chapter upon chapter anguishing about what on EARTH she's going to do if she's pregnant (abort? adopt? keep the baby?) but not actually, you know, getting a goddamn pregnancy test and using it. The book ends with her period showing up (a full month late, which meant this idiot spent A MONTH freaking out but NOT TAKING A PREGNANCY TEST) (this annoyed me horribly even as a teen).

Also, eating disorders. Eating disorder books were so hot my school library kept them behind the counter because people kept stealing them.

I do not remember there being a single teen novel around that mentioned AIDS as something anyone needed to worry about, even though by the time I was a teen (I turned 13 in 1986), it was well embedded in the public consciousness as a BIG DEAL.

I do actually remember ONE teen novel about lesbians -- "Annie on my Mind." It was a SERIOUSLY transgressive book at the time and is still on the Most Frequently Banned list. I think I found it at Room of One's Own but it is within the realm of possibility I got it at the library.

Anyway, YA has come a loooooooong way.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I remember the HUGE furor over Judy Blume's book, Forever. Can you believe that my high school libabry wouldn't carry it? It seems so tame right now.