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These are my writing posts from my former blog, spanning 2009-2012. To see new writing posts, click on the blog tab above. To see these archived post organized by topic, click "For Writers" above.

Entries in teens (4)


Face Off Friday: YA Lit and Sex


As most of you know, young adult books are all the rage right now. Many are calling it a YA renaissance. I know that many of you who read this blog both write (and read) YA, as I do. So hopefully this is a relevant topic for you guys.
When I was writing my YA, I had the constant worry about where to draw the line on the controversial things, particularly sex and cursing. In my teen years, YA lit was very different. Most of the books were pretty clean. There were the exceptions that many of the libraries banned (Judy Blume's Forever and the book Go Ask Alice come to mind), but for the most part books were "wholesome". So, in theory, when reading YA we were protected from the "adult" things. Right?
Well, this theory didn't hold true for me because by fourteen, I was bored with YA and had moved on to adult novels. As I mentioned in a previous post, I started V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic series my freshman year of high school. Looking back, these books would probably be considered YA now. The protagonist was a teen. However, the books had sex, so at that time, they were marketed as adult fiction. And as for cursing, well I had a thing for Stephen King books in high school too, so...
In today's YA market, the books run the gamut--from the squeaky clean to the shocking. So when writing, I had to make the decision of where I would fall on this issue. People on each side of this debate feel very strongly about their opinions. I'll give you the argument, then I'll tell you what I ultimately decided worked for me.
Wholesome vs. Edgy

For love of the wholesome:
  • Books with cursing, sex, and drugs normalize these behaviors and encourage teens to participate in them
  • These books are pornographic and are selling sex to kids
  • They teach teens (girls especially) that their worth is tied into their ability to please a boy
  • The situations in these books expose children to adult situations that they aren't prepared to handle or interpret correctly

In defense of edgy:
  • These books, although it is unfortunate, reflect reality: many teens are in fact having sex, some are exposed to drugs, and the majority are cursing.
  • Teens are programmed to think about sex so we're not giving them any ideas with the books
  • There is safety in fantasy. Perhaps teens can explore the topic through a book instead of in real life. For instance, in Forever, the sex is there but so are the emotional consequences that can happen in a sexual relationship.
  • Most YA authors, although I'm sure there are exceptions, do not put sex in for gratuitous purposes, but for plot purposes.
  • Has anyone watched TV lately or seen a movie or listened to the radio? Teens see a lot more sex outside of books than they see inside them.
  • Teens can connect with a character who is struggling with the difficult issues and not feel as alone.
  • Teen readers won't believe you if all your characters are squeaky clean
  • If it's kept out of YA, the kids (like me) will just move to adult books, which may paint sex in a much more gratuitous and tempting light (sans consequences).
Both arguments have good points. So what did I do? I ended up trusting my characters. If in real life, I felt the character would curse, then I let him (where it would have the most impact.) I also put in some sexual situations and dialogue, but nothing beyond making out actually happens.
Why? Because of plot reasons. If I had felt my character was ready to have sex, then I probably would have let her. But the story didn't lead me that way. So I guess I fall on the liberal side in this debate. Perhaps I'm jaded from working with troubled teens in my past. They always trusted me more in therapy when I didn't balk at or preach about the things they were experiencing. I just let them talk through their feelings and offered some insight to try to lead them in a better direction.
So where do you fall in the debate? How did you make the decisions in your own YA? If you're a parent of a teen, how do you feel about what your child reads?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Don't Tell Me" - Avril Lavigne
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Skeletons in the Attic

I confess. I'm a sentimental packrat. I have the most difficult time getting rid of things that have a good memory attached to them. This is why I don't supply all that much to the local used bookstore. To part with a book I loved reading pains me. I have school papers and birthday cards and little mementos packed into every closet. This drives my husband crazy. He has the opposite problem, he throws away things then asks questions later, often getting rid of things that are truly important.

However, this weekend I discovered that my husband should just blame my mother. I called her on Saturday, and she was spending her morning organizing her attic--a brave task in Louisiana summer heat, let me tell you. She started listing all the things she had for me and asking me if I wanted her to keep them or not. (Of course, being her daughter, I wanted her to hold on to most it.) But as she made her list, it got me to thinking. The things in her attic said a lot about me.

We all think that as we get older, we grow and mature and change. We move past our crazy teen years and become responsible adults. However, beyond the obvious, do we really change that much? Are the dreams of our childhood and teen years so different from the core of who we are now?

Case in point, here are some of the items my mother found:

Cabbage Patch dolls, Pound Puppies, and a Strawberry Shortcake doll collection--okay, this doesn't prove much except that I was a child of the 80s.

A box of New Kids on the Block memorabilia--Point and laugh if you will, I still love them anyway. Guess that hasn't changed.

High school term papers I did well on--yes I'm a nerd, still

A whole box of vampire books--Proving that, yes, I loved vampires WAY before Twilight.

Boxes and boxes of other books--definitely hasn't changed

The first novel I ever wrote--I was so excited about this. I wrote it at 15 and the only remnant I had was a floppy disc that is password locked. I, of course, can't remember the password. I've tried including all the names of my high school crushes, movie stars I loved, the pets names, everything. Apparently, I wanted to be so secretive about it I came up with a really excellent password. So my mom finding a hard copy was like finding treasure. I can't wait to take a look at it and get insight into my teen brain. I'm sure it will be laugh out loud horrible writing, but I'm so curious.

So looking at all this makes me realize that maybe as teens we know more about ourselves than we think. After college and degrees and trying out different careers, I've landed right back where I started--writing and reading (and going to New Kids concerts). I don't regret going the career direction I did. I love that field too and had great experiences, but part of me thinks I should have trusted myself more when I went to college and pursued the English route. Sometimes I can be too practical.

So how about you? Do you think the core of who you are has changed dramatically since you were younger? If your mother were a packrat like mine, what would you find in her attic?

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Book Covers and Race

Okay, so this just totally shocked me. Author Justine Larbalestier blogged about book covers and protagonists of color. Apparently, her book Liar has a black protagonist, but the publisher insisted on this cover (supposedly for marketing purposes) in the U.S., which clearly features a white girl. (The cover behind it is the Australian version.)

Seriously? I really have my mouth hanging open. What were they thinking? First of all, let me just say that I'm not a fan of faces on covers anyway. I hate when the cover tries to force me into an image of what the character looks like. I'd rather create my own image in my head. However, I'd be super pissed if I picked up a book and the cover image was completely unrelated to the book. It's a betrayal to the author, to the character, and to the reader. Plus, there are so few YA books with protagonists of color to begin with, shouldn't they promoting that this is one? Craziness.


My Top YA Picks from the last 6 months

My plan is to review one book per post so that I can give each book proper attention. However, as I work through finishing the first book I plan to officially review, I thought I would touch on my favorites from my past six months. Because there were some great ones. I'll tackle my YA picks first and cover the "grown-up" genres another day. These are the ones that stood out amongst the pile (i.e. garnered a 4 or 5 star rating on the groupie scale):

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Back cover: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list.

Okay, so for a girl who loves a happy ending, this didn't have one. BUT you know that this novel is about suicide upfront, so you're prepared for it, which makes all the difference. This story drew me in immediately and never let me go. Having worked with teens who were considering suicide, this novel was especially poignant for me. It reminded me how a few little missteps, comments from peers, turns in the wrong direction, and misunderstandings can sent a vulnerable teen spiraling downward. Great read for adults and teens. ★★★★★

and Fade (Wake, Book 2) by Lisa McMann

Back cover:
Not all dreams are sweet.

For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people's dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie's seen enough fantasy booty to last her a lifetime.

She can't tell anybody about what she does -- they'd never believe her, or worse, they'd think she's a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn't want and can't control.

Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else's twisted psyche. She is a participant....

As a reader (and writer) I'm not a huge fan of long, drawn out descriptions. I don't need to know every detail of the room. Only tell me about the curtains if they're going to be used later to wrap up a body or something. I find myself skimming those passages in many novels. But, I also want to get a sense of place in a story. So, I often find myself struggling in my own writing on how much descriptive detail to provide. This is why I am so impressed with Lisa McMann's novels. The book is chunked into small time dated passages that contain hardly any detailed descriptions, but somehow she provides exactly what you need. I have a crystal clear picture of the action in my head and the action is constantly moving forward. No stopping to smell the roses. Prepare to read these in a single sitting. They are hard to put down. ★★★★★

by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Product Description (
The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampyres have always existed. In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change. Not all of those who are chosen do. It’s tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers. When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends.

I love this series. It's bestselling and on every Target shelf, so I won't go into a long review. Just know that if you like fun, sexy, dark, vampy books, you won't be disappointed with these. ★★★★★

Back cover: Maggie Quinn, Girl reporter. Honors student, newspaper staffer, yearbook photographer. Six weeks from graduation and all she wants to do is get out of Avalon High in one piece. Fate seems to have different plans for her.

High school may be a natural breeding ground for evil, but the scent of fire and brimstone is still a little out of the ordinary. It's the distinct smell of sulfur that makes Maggie suspect that something's a bit off. And when realTwilight Zone stuff starts happening to the school's ruling clique—the athletic elite and the head cheerleader and her minions, all of whom happen to be named Jessica—Maggie realizes it's up to her to get in touch with her inner Nancy Drew and ferret out who unleashed the ancient evil before all hell breaks loose.

Maggie has always suspected that prom is the work of the devil, but it looks like her attendance will be mandatory. Sometimes a girl's got to do some pretty undesirable things if she wants to save her town from soul-crushing demons from hell and the cheerleading squad.

Maggie Quinn is the girl I'd want to be if I were ever forced to attend high school again--the girl who always has the best sarcastic remark for the moment. The writing is laugh out loud funny and fast-paced. There's even a little dash of romance (which further develops in book two Hell Week) for those of us who like that kind of thing. :) Added bonus: the monsters/demons are actually bad, not the love interest! Imagine that. ★★★★

Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) by Scott Westerfeld

Back Cover: Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. Not for her license -- for turning pretty. In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty. She'd rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world -- and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

Westerfeld creates a dystopian world that seems on many levels frighteningly possible--a
world where everyone is surgically changed to be "pretty" when they turn sixteen so that all are
equal. This series has a little bit of everything: sci-fi, adventure, romance, and warnings about
the direction our current society is headed in. Although, for me, the series dragged a little in the
middle with a bit too much hoverboarding descriptions for my tastes, the journey was well
worth it. ★★★★

That's my list. What's yours? I would love to hear some of your recommendations or
opinions on my choices. Drop a comment and let me know.