Monday, 1 December 2008

Censorship of Teen Fiction Anne Cassidy

No sex please – we’re teenagers.

Writing for teens is like walking an eggshell laden tightrope. I write first and foremost for my readers; twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year olds. However I always have to have an eye on the adults involved; the editors, the librarians, teachers, the parents of those who I write for. If they don’t think my books are good then the teens who I’m trying to reach will never get to know about them.

This is why the characters in my books are seventeen.

I’ve never written a book about the sex life of a teen. Memories of my own teenage years tell me that a book of that sort would be very short and scrappy and infused with embarrassment. Apart from that it would be dull. Where’s the suspense, the mystery, the intrigue?

The books that I write are primarily crime stories. The teenagers in them have lives apart from these crime plots and these lives involve friendships and family relationships and love. Sex finds its way into my books. I wouldn’t be portraying realistic characters if it didn’t. My teens struggle with sex just as I struggled with it as a teen.

Is it all right to have sex? Will my parents find out? What will it be like? How will I protect myself? Will he still love me afterwards? Will everyone think I’m easy? Will I get pregnant? Will he still love me afterwards? Will it be painful? Will it be messy?
Most of all will he still love me afterwards?My new book JUST JEALOUS has a girl who loves a boy. He loves someone else though. She longs for this boy and tries to break up his relationship. It ends badly.

Her name is Elly. She is hungry for him but she can’t have him. When I was writing it I planned to make her unavailable, keeping herself for him. But as I wrote it the character seemed to emerge as someone with a sexual appetite. If she can’t have him then she’ll have others and also – she’ll enjoy having them.

As I wrote it I wondered how this would sit with the adult readers. Will it offend them? I heard the sound of cracking eggshells. Would my sexually hungry teen book be tucked behind the librarian’s desk? Only for certain readers? Only for year nine upwards?

Or might it be reviewed on a USA website with a warning; Some touching on top of clothes (as was my book Looking for JJ )

In the end I had to go for what worked for the story. Elly is hungry for Carl. She fulfils that hunger with other lads. This is what the story is about, her hunger and the tragedy that comes out of it.


adele said...

Yup! This is a knotty problem. I try and have everyone over the age of consent and then just follow the dictates of the story. You just do the best you can. I don't mind books having 'Unsuitable for younger readers' on the back. If you're writing about Antiquity you can somehow get away with more I think. A case of "distance lending enchantment to the view" perhaps!!

Brian Keaney said...

I think it's fair enough to write about sex in a book for teenagers but also fair enough for reviewers to highlight the fact. In either case, it depends how it's done.

Asakiyume said...

I remember your writing earlier about this book; I'm intrigued and can't wait to read it.

I don't quite know why people go into such tremors over sex in general and young people's sex in particular. It's part of human experience... what is the problem? I understand that some people think it's wrong for young people to be having sex--but it's also wrong for young people to steal, to torment others, to take drugs, etc., and yet we have stories featuring these things.... it's strange!

Nick Green said...

Not just strange, Asakiyume - I think it's sick, deeply sick, that sex is evidently considered to be worse than all but the worst kinds of violence and nastiness that we can dream up. If that sounds like exaggeration, one only need to look at the facts. You can write a book for 12-year-olds full of blood and gore (Darren Shan springs to mind) but it's sex that gets picked up on. Seriously, it's a puzzle and a worry. We must be a deeply troubled society, in this area at least.

Charlie Butler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wilwarin said...

I'm glad you make your characters older at 17.I hate to read a book about a 13 or 14 year old doing totally unrealistic and slightly shocking things. Being a teen at that age is already hard enough, with the new things coming and tempers are up and down. When i was that age i always felt very uncomfortable if i did chance across a book like that, where the characters were my age and I imagine that some problems of the teen girls and guys growing up too quickly contributes to the fact that they read about others who are perfectly content to do so.

I haven't read any of your books so please do not be insulted or feel this was aimed at you. I am long passed my early teens now but I still feel uncomfortable reading about the sexual relationships between teenagers. i spose i like to feel that they are still innocent about the world even though they obviously are not. and believe me, i know what you are saying about the charactors leading themselves! but mine usually end up dying or moving to Peru, which frankly, i would rather they stayed and finished the story!

Anonymous said...

A writing friend of mine is currently working on his YA novel for both a US and a UK editor. the US editor is always asking for more sex less violence please! the UK editor asks for more violence, less sex ... or was that the other way around?

Jo Kenrick said...

Anne, you may remember my book Screwed which came out in April. It's got 'explicit content' on the cover and I approve of that. However, the characters are fifteen, which makes many people uncomfortable. I make no apologies for this - the UK as we all know has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Europe, and you can't get pregnant without having sex, so that means a LOT of people underage are having sex.
I do know exactly what you mean about keeping one eye on the parents/teachers/librarians, but I have found them mostly to be terrifically supportive of the book and several have written to say they will use it as a discussion point with certain kids they know. If you are true to the characters then I think adults will respect that, even if they feel uncomfortable with the idea that young people engage in sexual relationships so early.

I should add that I was a very innocent teenager!