UK vs.US: is any subject taboo in YA literature?
An Evening with Tanya Byrne, Lauren Kate
This week I was able to go along to the YA event at Waterstones Piccadilly, where they had guest speakers Tanya Byrne (author of Heart-shaped Bruise and Follow Me Down) and Lauren Kate (author of the new book Teardrop) discussing whether they think there are any taboo subjects in YA literature?
Once everyone had settle down, first up was the ultimate question: Is anything off limits in YA fiction?
Both authors immediately said no - nothing should be off limits. Lauren Kate commented why should it? It is all about how your writing is handling the subject. If the content is overly dark or overly sexual etc, then as long as it is natural to the plot and the character earns it then it shouldn't be off limits.
Similarly, Tanya Byrne agreed, commenting that it is not what you say but how you say it. And I completely agree. One of the points that came up was about The Hunger Games if you really stopped and thought indepth about the plot - would anyone want to read it? But how the characters deal with it that makes it important and doing what is best for the character. Tanya mentioned that she never set out to make Follow Me Down into a date-rape plot, but it was something that came along when writing and it followed the story. Sometimes these unintentional plot lines can become the most crucial and relatable parts!
Also, people read what they want to in a book - many can read The Hunger Games and see the violence and propaganda, but others read it and the main thing they see is a love triangle. Each person's perception of a book differs.
These are everyday topics for teens so we shouldn't try and pretend they're not by covering them up. One of the biggest arguments for publishing all types of topics, in my opinion, is that these kind of books can help people to get through what they're going through - it can make them realise what's going on and that it's possible to resolve. Even if it helps just 1 person, it means it's worth it.
Another question asked was Are YA topics getting too dark and more shocking? - Is there a trend in this?
Tanya brought up the good point that YA isn't necessarily getting darker, it is just YA as a genre is growing! YA never really used to be a definitive genre 20+ years ago, there was a fine line between children's books and adult books and many of our best-read classics, the likes of Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice would probably fall under the YA category these days.
With the growth in YA, it gives people more of an opportunity to tell their stories, and so comes a proportion of darker topics - these seem bigger as a whole as they get the most paper coverage.
Is UK YA grittier and ruder than the US equivalent?
Tanya commented that she thinks UK is grittier than US YA, we're more open to receiving stories from the US but so many UK YA isn't reciprocated. In America, things are alot more glossed I think, High school is a bigger deal with cliches and rites of passage whereas in the UK it is alot more down to earth and straight to the point.
Interestingly, as someone mentioned - we're all different, every culture is different in YA literature, it is just there is more recognised English and American.
Another interesting debate that was brought up is the question of whether books out to have ratings/explicit warnings? What do you think of that?
Both authors answered that they didn't think books should have ratings as every reader is different - different ages, different cultures and home towns, everyone is exposed to different things that you can't limit them under one age group umbrella.
In Tanya's opinion, why is it wrong for kids to stumble upon books? If they're not ready for it they're not going to want to finish it/understand it.
Reading is a journey and so they shouldn't be dictated by age. Also, books should affect us - whether in a good way or a bad way, as long as the character gets through the other side in one way or another that's okay. The job of an author isn't about saying what's right or wrong, but offering a way the characters can get through it.
Additionally, another thing that was brought up that I found interesting, was that 'books are the weakest form of media' - you close it and it's gone, it won't come back and get you. And just because you're reading the topics in the book doesn't mean you're going to go out and do them yourselves! If your kid is reading 14 books on self-harm, it's not the books that are a problem, or even necessarily the kid, it just means there needs to be a conversation between the parent and kid as to what is going on, it could just be that they're interested in that kind of subject.
It is an interesting debate, and one that I don't think will ever cease - but what are your opinions? Do you agree with Tanya and Lauren or do you think there are other issues here? Share them below!
(All answers from authors have been paraphrased)