Recently I have been discussing the question of self-censorship practiced by writers of YA fiction: how, if at all should sex and violence be tackled. This issue is a real can of worms, complex and controversial, in fact it is so complex and controversial that it needs taking piece by piece.
First, there is the question of what YA really means. There is the world of the child, an uncomplicated place because it has safe boundaries protected by the home and family, where the nasties always lose, magic is always just around the corner, and there is always a safe haven however adventurous the story gets.
There is the world of the adult, with worries and responsibilities, where you have to count on yourself, and others count on you. Anything can happen, but there is no safe haven. An adult is no longer protected from the unpleasant aspects of life, an adult has to make decisions, have values, get hurt and find love.
Then there is the world of those who are leaving childhood and entering the adult world with its turmoil of emotions and harsh realities. It’s one of those tides in the affairs of men, it’s a necessary part of growing up. For me, this is the young adult stage. You are not a young adult at the age of twelve. Many are not young adults until they are seventeen or eighteen. But when a human being starts to question, to have opinions, and to take responsibility for their actions, then it seems to me that they have entered the world of the adult.
Children’s literature is a comfortable world of extraordinary, magical possibilities, but there is always a home base, a comforter, a protector. And that’s how a child’s world should be, even if tragically it isn’t like that for every child. But the world isn’t full of pink unicorns and talking teddy bears. Growing up is about taking that in your stride.
Young adult literature, as I see it is addressed to children who are striving to become adults, or put another way, adults who were children not so long ago. They don’t have husbands or wives, children of their own. They won’t want to read about work, marital strife or income tax returns. But their emotions, their values and their intellectual capacities are the same. To feed them sugar-coated stories is to deny their maturity. The world is as it is, and to pretend otherwise is like asking an eighteen-year-old to believe in Father Christmas.