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Old 01-28-2013, 06:42 PM   #1
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The Forbidden Topic: Rape in YA PNR

This paranormal/supernatural story idea slithered into my head last night and now I am absolutely obsessed with it. However, the story involves abduction, murder, rape, and maybe a sprinkling of incest. The story wouldn't be for the faint of heart and it is more-so for older young adult (16+). It's a morbid retelling of Persephone and Hades. Rape is something that no one should be comfortable with. However, will it ever be appropriate to explore in YA PNR? I've read a few rape-themed YA novels, but all of them were realistic. Is there any novels out there in the PNR general with a rape element?

Or should I just remove this element?
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:45 PM   #2
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IIRC Tender Morsels includes a rape scene by a bear. (Actually a guy in bear form, but still...) That tidbit is one of many reasons I can't make myself read that one.
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:53 PM   #3
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I'm not a big fan of rape in literature. It's just such a provocative and sensitive issue. I'm very wary of female characters who have been the victim of sexual abuse and this being added to make them more 'vulnerable'.

But it is something that happens everyday all over the world and it's not something you can just ignore.

If you decide to do it you might want to consider how it affects the character and story-line. Sketch out believable scenarios. Do some research.

If you stick to YA it can't graphic. I'd consider not even describing the rape, just the events before and after.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:27 PM   #4
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A friend has written a rape-revenge horror novel. It's one of the best YAs I've ever read. It's paranormal but not a romance. We have the same agent, and rape is one of those topics where our agent has advised to tread carefully. It has got to be done exactly right or not at all, meaning it has to serve a greater purpose than giving the girl depth or vulnerability and has to portray the emotions surrounding rape as genuine rather than something horrible happening to the girl and having her easily brush it aside. Because it just doesn't work that way in life. It's not that rape is taboo, but that the treatment of it has got to be honest.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:02 PM   #5
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If you stick to YA it can't graphic. I'd consider not even describing the rape, just the events before and after.
Not true. Tender Morsels.

For the OP, also check that novel out--it's fantasy that's heavily based around rape, incest, etc. Very grim stuff.

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It's not that rape is taboo, but that the treatment of it has got to be honest.
This.

If the rape is a shortcut to character development, plot advancement, or whatever other disingenuous or superficial reason, expect to be called out on it.

That said, the myth of Persephone is well-known, and I'd love to see a grim take on it. There are a few YA retellings of it, but none of them depict a literal rape, from what I know.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:05 PM   #6
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IIRC Tender Morsels includes a rape scene by a bear. (Actually a guy in bear form, but still...) That tidbit is one of many reasons I can't make myself read that one.
It is a wonderful book, and Lanagan's treatment of these issues is rather remarkable. If you do feel up to it at some point, I highly recommend it (and indeed her latest, The Brides of Rollrock Island.)
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:42 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Missus Akasha View Post
However, will it ever be appropriate to explore in YA PNR? I've read a few rape-themed YA novels, but all of them were realistic. Is there any novels out there in the PNR general with a rape element?

Or should I just remove this element?
*raises hand* My idea would be to get away from paranormal romance tropes and try to work the story in a more dark fantasy/magical realism (can that work with a Persephone retelling?) direction. If you try to deliver a proper PNR story but do so with a rape involved... I don't know. I think that might be a challenge. But love your idea btw. The Persephone/Greek myth stuff that's already come out are... well... bleh.

And you're right about most rape-themed books being realistic. I've been scratching my head trying to think of one, but I'm not sure if Deerskin, a fantasy, is even YA and my two favorites (The House Tibet, When She Hollers) are contemporaries.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:52 PM   #8
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Well, I've recently started editing a book of mine that has rape in it. I interviewed survivors, I considered the reason why I was including it - not just the character reason of collapse and having to rebuild - but also the social and historical reasons...

To be honest, in the situation of the book, it made sense. Gangs - even gangs with magic and who are in a fantasy world - use rape as a method to control and intimidate others, because rape can be used as a terrible weapon of war if you're fucking evil.

So far, no one of my beta-readers have complained about it being unrealistic or badly portrayed...

But I still worry INTENSELY. Because I hate rape and I hate rape culture and I would hate hate HATE to fuck this up.

So...

Basically, what I'm saying is you need to go into this with a few concerns and things on your brainpan. The first is that you need to handle what you are doing with EXTREME CARE. Too many real people will have been through what you are trying to handle and you will NEED to remember those people and not treat their experiences as a cheap trope.

Secondly, you will need to ditch an idea that just because your story has magic and explosions and laser-gun fights in the depths of ancient spaceships or whales that live on the surface of the sun or any other thing that you might deem "unrealistic"...that the EMOTIONAL CORE can be unrealistic.

No matter what, the FEELINGS OF YOUR CHARACTERS needs to be realistic.

Because if the characters are real, then the world will have more weight than the most hard nosed, super realistic novel ever written that has flat characters.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:05 PM   #9
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It is a wonderful book, and Lanagan's treatment of these issues is rather remarkable. If you do feel up to it at some point, I highly recommend it (and indeed her latest, The Brides of Rollrock Island.)

That's what people keep telling me, but I haven't quite gotten past my squick factor, yet.
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:49 PM   #10
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Have you thought about writing it as adult? Or NA?

All of those elements in a YA PNR would be a pretty tough sell imo, especially when one considers the R stands for romance.

And I think Tender Morsels is a great book, but it also borders on literary for me. Notice you're more likely to find rape, incest, and 'heavy' topics in the more 'serious' YA genres: contemporary and literary. Not that they don't appear in others, but I think people fear trivialization by proxy when selling to a younger audience so the tone is going to be important too.
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Old 01-29-2013, 12:08 AM   #11
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This thread reminds me of a recent blog post by Maggie Stiefvater about rape in books. It might be of interest to you.
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Old 01-29-2013, 10:13 AM   #12
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IIRC Tender Morsels includes a rape scene by a bear. (Actually a guy in bear form, but still...) That tidbit is one of many reasons I can't make myself read that one.
Spoilers for TENDER MORSELS regarding the scenes with sexual assault:

TENDER MORSELS contains incest rape (father/daughter, daughter is impregnated with multiple children and forced to miscarry all but one), gang rape (same girl, who is impregnated with her second child), bestiality assault (not rape; the bear-who-is-actually-a-transformed-man takes out a girl's breast and licks it), and gang rape again (magical avatars who rape the men who raped the protagonist).

It's really a pretty rapey book, but shockingly well done. It's not comfortable, and is in fact very horrifying, but I've rarely seen so much rape done with such a balanced hand. Still, the assault scenes are likely triggering and should be avoided if you'd be sensitive to any of the aforementioned themes. I mean, I am an assault survivor who is triggered by certain things, and it was difficult for me to read, but I got through it okay. And I *hate* gratuitous rape in novels. It depends on what you're personally comfortable with.

I am extremely picky about rape portrayals in fiction. They have to be done with such a careful hand for me to feel right about it. I think it was Marissa Marr who came by sometime last year to mention that you can almost always tell when the author is a survivor and when they aren't, and generally I find that to be true. It's usually in the way the experience is framed.

I think it's absolutely possible to do sexual assault well in speculative fiction. I just also think it's very difficult to do well. I have a serious aversion to rape as a method of "breaking" the protagonist, or being the "worst" thing that could possibly happen to them (see Maggie's post, which someone mentioned above). I also tend to balk at the rapist always being some sadistic creep. That certainly happens, but the thing that's so insidious about rape is that many rapists don't do it because they like being rapists. They do it because of rape culture and entitlement to the bodies of others. They don't even think of what they're doing as rape, they just think of it as something they're owed. And that's scarier to me.
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Old 01-29-2013, 10:29 AM   #13
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^I think that's why SPEAK did it so well. It represented the most common assault scenario, which is that the rapist is someone the victim knows. So if you're doing research, Speak would be a good one to check out.

I'd also recommend FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen as a way to just not use rape to define and defile a character. Godjesusargh I hate his treatment of women. I just can't with that. Not YA, but it is a good example of how to do it wrong.
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Old 01-29-2013, 10:40 AM   #14
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I never even considered that this would not be an acceptable topic. Rape and/or abuse tend to find their way into most of my novels and short stories for YA and above. Definitely handle it honestly though. And definitely make it have a point other than a "gimmick."
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Old 01-29-2013, 05:05 PM   #15
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I wrote a YA this summer with a guy/guy rape scene. The bully went over the edge and started to rape the guy he was picking on. The bully's friend lost it and got violent with the bully and threw him off their victim. Bully broke his neck.

The backstory was that the bully was sexually assaulted growing up.

I am currently re-writing that whole thing out of it. I realized I was going too far, but that's where it went when I wrote it. Looking back, it obviously is too far. I believe there SHOULD be YA books with these issues in them, because they really do happen...but unless it's done right, I would stay away from it. It's hard to do it right. Really hard. SCARS by Cheryl Rainfield may be a good example of it. For me, I'm sticking to not covering the topic for now.

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Old 01-29-2013, 05:52 PM   #16
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Like everyone has already said, I think if you're putting rape in a book, you have to just do it right. I wouldn't want to say I *enjoy* reading things like that, but I do like seeing characters overcome challenges.

Keep it if it has purpose/meaning/what have you. Ditch it if it doesn't.
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Old 01-29-2013, 07:21 PM   #17
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It might just be me getting confused, but the rapist (Hades, I assume, bit foggy on Greek myths) isn't the actual romantic lead, is he? Like, you don't plan to go all Hush, Hush with this? Because I do not agree with that at all. Too many girls are getting the wrong idea about men and how stalkerish, abusive behaviour is a-ok from certain books.

If not, then ignore me. I think it could work, as others have said, rape isn't an automatic no, if it's handled sensitively and doesn't get used as a way of making the heroine 'stronger'.

TARGET by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson handles the thorny issue of (male) rape really well, and it's worth a read, if you want something on the subject.
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Old 01-29-2013, 11:12 PM   #18
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Thank you for all of these replies! I do agree that rape in a story is something that should be handled carefully. I am not a rape victim, but I am a victim of molestation. I don't think they are no where near close but I was going to draw from my troubled experiences to help write those scenes in regards to my character's emotions about the events.

The rapist isn't the love interest by any means. The main character isn't the one who gets raped. It's actually the main character's older sister who was raped and murdered years prior to the start of the story and she is one of three victims. During the start of the story, one of her ex-best friends gets raped and murdered as well. There is no long, explicit scenes detailing the rape. Most likely only the murder. The rape detail is only mentioned to the reader both times when the main character is narrating.
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Old 01-30-2013, 08:10 PM   #19
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Thank you for all of these replies! I do agree that rape in a story is something that should be handled carefully. I am not a rape victim, but I am a victim of molestation. I don't think they are no where near close but I was going to draw from my troubled experiences to help write those scenes in regards to my character's emotions about the events.

The rapist isn't the love interest by any means. The main character isn't the one who gets raped. It's actually the main character's older sister who was raped and murdered years prior to the start of the story and she is one of three victims. During the start of the story, one of her ex-best friends gets raped and murdered as well. There is no long, explicit scenes detailing the rape. Most likely only the murder. The rape detail is only mentioned to the reader both times when the main character is narrating.
Alarm bells are going off for me. Rape/sexual assault is difficult to do well in YA fantasy/spec-fic etc. but it can be done. Also, not to be too insensitive but I think it can be interesting and complex because of all the different "rules" of these separate universes.

This, on the other hand, sounds like fridging women + shock value. It's like - it's not enough of a trauma for them to just be murdered, they have to be raped too? Why? I'm aware that rape is a serious but senseless act but I don't see the point. Also, it makes me uncomfortable that this is viewed just through the MC's lens. Makes me feel like, on another level, you're just adding it in to ramp up the MC's angst level*

* not saying you exactly are doing any of this. Just saying that it's what springs to mind from the description.
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Old 01-30-2013, 10:20 PM   #20
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Am I the only one who's kinda relieved that someone finally acknowledged the "rape" aspect of the Hades and Persephone myth? (Unlike certain already published YA adaptations of that story *cough*The Goddess Test*cough*
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Old 01-31-2013, 03:52 AM   #21
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Am I the only one who's kinda relieved that someone finally acknowledged the "rape" aspect of the Hades and Persephone myth? (Unlike certain already published YA adaptations of that story *cough*The Goddess Test*cough*
Judging by Missus' brief description above, I do wonder how closely it will resemble the myth in the end. Spoilers, I guess, but Persephone ends up being Hades' wife and becomes Queen of the Underworld - she is eventually liberated, but spends three months of the year with him, during which time it is Winter on Earth.


Anyway, as to the original question: I think it would be a real challenge to incorporate rape and incest in a paranormal YA. This subject makes me a cringe a little because all I can think of are the authors who make incest pretty or excuse rapey behaviour because the person doing it is a One True Love or some other nonsense.

I don't doubt rape and incest can be introduced in a manner that isn't a total misrepresentation of how repulsive and damaging they are, but I agree with an earlier comment that it might be more of an NA or older audience story.
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Old 01-31-2013, 07:26 AM   #22
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I just want to chime in to say that I am thrilled, heartened, and relieved that we talk about this and take it seriously. I think that changes in our rape culture will trickle down from the way it's approached in media, including literature. (Now if we could just get film and television on board!) But especially in writing for teenagers, the life stage wherein strong associations are developed about sex and its connotations, we're doing a very good thing by having this discussion. I'm seeing these discussions pop up all over the Internet lately, but few of them are as balanced and troll-less as those on AW. Few of them contain such an awareness of responsibility and participation in the culture. This is so awesome.

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Old 01-31-2013, 07:24 PM   #23
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My novel although perhaps more for a high school audience has a pretty violent rape scene in it.
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Old 01-31-2013, 07:37 PM   #24
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Am I the only one who's kinda relieved that someone finally acknowledged the "rape" aspect of the Hades and Persephone myth? (Unlike certain already published YA adaptations of that story *cough*The Goddess Test*cough*
(emphasis mine)

Uh...finally?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_of_Persephone

http://www.wga.hu/html_m/b/bernini/g.../proserpi.html
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Old 01-31-2013, 07:53 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buzhidao View Post

Seriously. The Greek gods were pretty much known for being capricious rapists, one and all.
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