Is There "Too Far" in YA Fiction? Part I

The following comments were originally posted at Once Upon a Bookcase in response to Joanne Stapely’s question, How Far is Too Far in YA Novels?

Young Adult (YA) fiction, like all fiction, is genre specific. Real YA fiction will, by definition, deal with contraversial topics (they call them 'problem novels' after all) like sexuality, independence, violence, and more. Most reading is done with escapism in mind, and often realistic YA fiction allows readers to “try on” a persona for a while, in the privacy of the purely individual reading world. I often feel when reading articles like this one about Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, that the real fear for parents (I am one myself) is that children will be exposed to things we, as parents, would rather not expose them to, such as rape and death.

To quote the article, “the truth is that when children are exposed to deeply disturbing scenarios in teenage fiction, they are made painfully aware that the world contains cruelty beyond their experience and their imagination.” First of all, “children” and “teenage” are two different age groups in my opinion. But beyond that, don’t children and teenagers need to know the world contains cruelty? Do we just not allow them to read about the Holocaust because it was gruesome and terrible? Might as well throw The Book Thief by Markus Zusak on that fire then. Wait a second… How many awards has that book won? And the narrator is Death! But I digress… Both The Book Thief and Tender Morsels are Printz Honor books. The ultimate irony here is that Tender Morsels is about exactly this issue, the loss of innocence.

Topics are only controversial because parents have different ideas than their children about what is appropriate for them to read about. Since when do children and their parents agree on anything? I think it is the publishing industry’s responsibility to provide the full range of topics and subject matter, and the readership to decide (by buying the book, or not buying it) what is appropriate.

Here is an excellent interview from Margo Lanagan on Tender Morsels at Clarkesworld Magazine by Jeff Vandermeer