QUICK NOTE: This post was written in July, 2007. The market is not the same as it was then. "Edgy" is not the buzzword it once was. But there are always new writers coming in asking what they can do in YA, so this is still relevant.
All right, I'm writing this on request, and I'm generally awful at writing long posts, so stick with me here.
Edgy YA is defined, for the purposes of this post, as a young adult book that your average adult would not want their child to read.
Consider how this has changed through the years. In 1951, people were shocked by the language in Catcher in the Rye. Even today, there is controversy between parents and schools when Catcher is taught as part of the school year. (And, in my opinion, not nearly enough of this backlash is about the book's being, well, crap. It's about the semantics--the language, the rebellion, the anti-establishment atmosphere.)
1967--My absolute hero, sixteen-year-old S.E. Hinton, is sick of reading the mid-century equivalent of Gossip Girls (in her words, books like "Mary Jane Goes to The Prom") and writes a little novel called The Outsiders. This book was written by a teenager, and yet parents still protested that this was something teenagers should not be reading. Murder, gang warfare, cigarette and alcohol use...and people freaked out.
But it was real. It was Miss Hinton's life. She watched a friend of hers get jumped by the rich kids at her school, and she wrote about it. And the parents in her town insisted that The Outsiders was inappropriate for their children.
Are you sensing the irony?
If you listen to nothing else that I say, listen to this: If you are trying to write true, honest, controversial young adult books, it's good to read Catcher in the Rye. It's good to read The Outsiders.
But you have to read Smack.
Smack is the modern edgy YA. Smack is heroin, alcohol, sex, rape, abortion, prostitution, racism, vandalism, idealism.
Smack is the scariest and most controversial book I've ever read.
But it's out there. And it's sold fantasticly.
And for every Smack, there's a Martyn Pig, or a Sins of the Fathers, or a Be More Chill, or a The Road of the Dead, or Under the Wolf, Under the Dog, or Doing It, or Little Chicago, or Go Ask Alice, or Rainbow Boys, or every single other book I've hidden from my parents on the walk between the shelves and the cash register, because I knew if they saw those covers, or read those jacket flap, I'd be faced with a "HELL, no."
I'm sixteen. I know what teenagers want, and I know what adults don't want.
So this is why I get confused when I see these threads full of people worrying that their books are too controversial to sell because they're not pretty-girl-trips-to-the-mall. And I get confused when I read that there are no good YA books out there, that they're all shallow and formulaic.
Are you kidding?
Where are you looking?
Look for Chris Lynch. Look for Francesca Lia Block. Look for S.E. Hinton. Look for Adam Rapp. Look for Marvin Burgess. Look for any book with an interesting title or an interesting cover. Look for anything published by PUSH.
I can't give you a list of agents or publishers looking for edgy YA. My only book that's been accepted is relatively tame, to be honest. But, look, those books are out there. Those writers aren't burned at the stake. They're winning awards. They're winning readers.
This isn't all bullshit. And YA books aren't all bullshit, either.