Shady's Edgy YA (or sex, swearing, drinking, drugs, and violence in YA)

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hmquinto

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I'm having a hard time with this exact thing. Is my book YA or adult? NA? I'm working with an agent-in-training on my query letter, and she was appalled when she found out my YA book had sex trafficking in it. She told me to take it out altogether. It's a post-apocalyptic book, and my main character (15) gets traded as a sex slave, but she never actually ever has sex or performs the "deed." She gets saved in time, but there are other characters (non-important ones) that are forced prositutes. The sex trafficking isn't a big impact on the main character really, but it is to the entire story and the setting for the times they are living in. I told her I can make it so my main character isn't a sex slave at all, but I won't take out the sex trafficking in general. I decided perhaps to make my main character 17. I can't make her any older because then her voice won't be true to an adult. She's a teen!

But then again this agent-in-training is saying that I won't get agents by having this in my story. Where is the line drawn? It's okay for a group of teens to kill one another, but the idea of sex (without there being any sex scenes) is out of the question? I read the top post and Edgy YA was mentioned, but that was back in 2007. Is that still a thing? Would an agent know what I'm talking about if I say that my book is an edgy YA dystopian? I'm having a hard time making a decision on this. Do I change the age group for it? Do I keep it as is and just not take this one person's opinion/advice? Would changing my main character's age be the answer? I'm bendable, but I will remain strong about the overall message of my story.

There are other heavy themes in it like drugs, but again, it's the protagonist witnessing this and not engaging in it herself. There is also a lot of violence, but that seems to be okay in YA nowadays, so I'm not too concerned about that. I'm just lost. My book is having an identity crisis! HA!
 

be frank

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I'm having a hard time with this exact thing. Is my book YA or adult? NA? I'm working with an agent-in-training on my query letter, and she was appalled when she found out my YA book had sex trafficking in it. She told me to take it out altogether. It's a post-apocalyptic book, and my main character (15) gets traded as a sex slave, but she never actually ever has sex or performs the "deed." She gets saved in time, but there are other characters (non-important ones) that are forced prositutes. The sex trafficking isn't a big impact on the main character really, but it is to the entire story and the setting for the times they are living in. I told her I can make it so my main character isn't a sex slave at all, but I won't take out the sex trafficking in general. I decided perhaps to make my main character 17. I can't make her any older because then her voice won't be true to an adult. She's a teen!

But then again this agent-in-training is saying that I won't get agents by having this in my story. Where is the line drawn? It's okay for a group of teens to kill one another, but the idea of sex (without there being any sex scenes) is out of the question? I read the top post and Edgy YA was mentioned, but that was back in 2007. Is that still a thing? Would an agent know what I'm talking about if I say that my book is an edgy YA dystopian? I'm having a hard time making a decision on this. Do I change the age group for it? Do I keep it as is and just not take this one person's opinion/advice? Would changing my main character's age be the answer? I'm bendable, but I will remain strong about the overall message of my story.

There are other heavy themes in it like drugs, but again, it's the protagonist witnessing this and not engaging in it herself. There is also a lot of violence, but that seems to be okay in YA nowadays, so I'm not too concerned about that. I'm just lost. My book is having an identity crisis! HA!

First off, if your MC is 15, this is in no way, shape, or form New Adult.

Secondly, does this agent-in-training actually read/deal in YA? Because there are plenty of YA books about sex trafficking. Here's a sample list.

Thirdly, welcome to AW! :welcome:
 

Sage

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The creator of this thread has a YA book about prostitute fairies published less than 3 years ago, so she'd probably say you're okay ;)
 

konstantineblacke

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And I was worried about incidental nudity in my books and an 'off camera' love scene. LOL Seems YA can mean anything really, so long as it's appropriate for the piece.
 

musicblind

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I once met a parent who wouldn't let her daughter read The Wizard of Oz because it featured witches.

I was like, "Oh yeah, I'll never forget the tragedy of losing a generation after the Potter books left us knee-deep in witches."

If you want to write something controversial, write something controversial because if you haven't offended someone somewhere, you haven't said much worth reading.
 

CWatts

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Since this thread has been resurrected... I mostly write adult historical fiction, but I have story idea that seems better suited to YA as the main characters are teens. My heroine is going to be 15 or 16. She's recently had to leave school to work and her 17-old-boyfriend is going off to war. They have sex before he leaves, she gets pregnant and has to get an illegal abortion. While she is having the abortion, there's an explosion at the factory where she works, some of her friends are killed and her best friend is severely burned. Racism and slavery are also present throughout, as I'm depicting the historical setting as the outright dystopia it was. Is this too heavy for YA despite their ages? Also, would the abortion be too controversial if she is Catholic? I also have her friend who was disfigured deciding to live as a man so she can support herself, and may have her enlist and heavily imply she will be killed - is this too problematic from a Quiltbag and disability standpoint?
 

Animad345

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I don't think that should be a problem, CWatts. Certainly, it's on the darker side, but I've read YA novels with similar subjects. I don't think that her being a Catholic and having an abortion is controversial necessarily (not to most people, I would say) - actually, it's interesting. A person struggling to reconcile a decision they have made with their faith is something that happens in the real world and I would find it fascinating to read about. I feel for your protagonist just reading about your novel! She's in a difficult situation in a terrifying world. You should definitely follow through with the story idea, I think it sounds very good. Hope this helps at all.
 

Tabitha Shelton

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I am loving this thread about controversial topics in novels. Most, if not all, of my current novels and novellas, have some level of controversies that I'm not going to shy away from. For all of high school, I didn't curse because it was a rule in my household, and I couldn't sneak any in at school because my parents were well known (In a great way, about a quarter of my school adopted my mom as their moms). From what I could tell, I was one of the very few that didn't curse, so there's no reason for a teenage MC to not curse unless it's a part of their character.
Before I end this post, I did want to bring up book bannings real quick because these controversies are often the excuse people use to make sure no one gets a great book in their hands, and more. the ALA (American librarian association) comes out with a list each year of the most banned and challenged books, some books only get challenged but get so many of them that they end up on the list. Looking for some great books that a group of people decided was "Too much", I recommend checking it out.
Here's the link if anyone's interested: https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
 
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J.A.Nielsen

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Love the ALA--good people who love books--maybe even more than writers!

And this whole discussion is fantastic-I know it started years ago, but it seems that it and the industry have evolved.

I write YA.
I have YA readers in my house--target audience YA readers. And yes, there are books my 15 year old is reading that my 12 year old is not--she's still reading mostly MG. I also teach, so my world is filled with young people--whose needs and interests and what they can or cannot handle differ widely.

But, what I strive for, and what gets me out of the worrisome content rut, is authenticity. Being real and being honest. That's hard. It means that when a character needs to use a hard core curse word, because that is absolutely the most truthful reaction for their character, then that is what happens. And do my characters sometimes make adult decisions with real consequences? Yes. I choose how much of that happens "off-screen"--or off the page, though. If it serves the story and makes it stronger, then it stays in. If it doesn't, then I don't feel any pressure to keep it for the sake of being edgy or provocative.

Honesty is provocative enough all by itself. Right?
 
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