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“Young Adult” is my favourite genre to read, as well as what I like to write. I think of it not so much a genre as a style- normally fast paced, a bit angsty, with characters of a teenage range who are dealing with changing from a child to an adult. Young Adult spans many sub-genres, like fantasy, chick-lit, romance, sci-fi, mystery, etc, and is generally considered to be written for the ages of 12-18 (but myself and many others a lot older love reading it anyway!).
In terms of content, YA books vary greatly. Some are good, clean, wholesome, whimsical fun. Some are as dark as can be, dealing with drug use, abuse, torture, suicide, politics, sex, death, incest, you name it. While book descriptions sometimes will note “For older teens”, I’ve never seen any real content warnings. Personally, I like it this way. You can generally tell from a book cover and blurb if a book is going to be light or dark, and believe both ends of the spectrum and all greys in between have their place. I’ve never been one for censorship, nor did I grow up being censored (Thanks Mum and Dad!). I didn’t grow up desensitised to violence. I don’t swear. I didn’t have an accidental teenage pregnancy or eating disorder and I’ve never done drugs. Yet these are all the things that those who want to censor YA books say will happen if children and teens are exposed to these darker issues in their reading. Just look at THIS Wall Street Journal article, an article which sparked off a massive campaign on twitter by readers and writers of YA books defending the darkness in them (Look up #YASaves), where people shared stories of how reading about the darker parts of life in YA books helped them survive the dark moments in their own lives. I watched YASaves happen on twitter. It was so moving I spent most of the day crying and still tear up thinking about it. YA does save, and for that, I don’t think it should be censored.
YA can be dark and depraved, but I’ve never seen it be so gratuitously. It’s probably why I read it compared to Adult books, which are happy to be gratuitous with swearing, violence and sex. All have their place, but should be there for a reason, not just for shock value. In YA, good YA, nothing happens without a reason, and characters learn, grow and lessons are taught by these sometimes horrible elements.
I also believe children and teenagers will read what they want. If a parent tries to stop them, it will no doubt only make them want to read it more. Lots of teenagers admit to sneakily reading things their parents don’t want them to. Some people argue that it’s a wonderful thing that teenagers WANT to read so badly, does it matter what they are reading? Others argue that it should be a parent’s choice in how their child is raised.
All that being said, this rant is about me censoring Memory’s Wake.
You see, Memory’s Wake contained the F-word. Even up to and after it’s release. My character Memory is the type of teenager who would swear, a lot. I kept it out of the story mostly, because it wasn’t necessary, there was no reason to be spelling it out beyond saying that “Memory swore”. But at a couple of extreme moments, the words came out in Memory’s dialogue. They were there because it was true to what Memory would have said in those high emotions.
I’ve read a lot of books from major publishers in the YA genre which contain the F-word. While I was looking for traditional publishing, I figured an editor or publisher would have final say in whether the word got through, based on their own companies policies. Then I self published and just left it in. But I started thinking about it more and more. Even to the extent of almost feeling guilty about this one single four letter word amongst 80,000 other words.
The reason why? I might not care about swearing, but other people do. A word is a word to me, but to some people, the F-word is to be avoided at all costs. I don’t want to make those people angry, or dislike my book, just for one single word. If I felt the word was absolutely crucial to my story I would have left it in, but I don’t think it suffers from it’s removal. It’s not like I have Memory running around saying “Oh my goodness”, or “Gosh!” or “Leaping lizards batman!”. She still speaks and reacts true to her character, which is the most important part for me.
So, I went through and edited out the F-word from my novel. Those who bought the novel during release, well, you’ve got a collectors item now, the first, short edition which contains the controversial few letters. Some paperback stock I’m selling still has it since it was all printed before the change, and I’m working on changing the hardcover, but ebook versions are now F-word free.
It was a decision that gave me a little peace of mind, but what was right for my novel isn’t right for every novel. I still don’t believe in censorship.
What do you think? Should books for Young Adults be censored? Should they at least have content warnings, like there are on computer games, so that parents can decide what their kids see in books? If you’re between the 12-18 age range, what’s your opinion?
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