Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Dark Forest

While poking around the internet this morning, I stumbled upon a writer named Gail Giles. Unfortunately, I haven't read any of Gail's work, but I intend to do so as soon as this semester is over. Not only is Ms. Giles extremely funny on her page and her blog, but in a speech contained on the site, she makes a great case for why teens need the edgy YA fiction that both Gail and I write.

In this speech, she discusses the inability for teens to see the consequences of their actions before acting. She states that she writes edgy YA fiction because she wants to " our readers the dark woods in hope that they won’t venture into them." I don't think anyone could have put it any better. Too often those who take issue with edgy YA mistakenly think our novels are advocating for the sex, drugs, abuse, murder, etc. that takes place within them. This couldn't be further from the truth.

The reality is, like any good parent--most edgy YA novelists I've stumbled across are parents, too--we are trying to protect those teens, not lead them down a path of destruction. Teens realize that. These books also give parents a golden opportunity. First, they can read the books, too, and use them as a jumping off point for discussing the tough issues they should be talking to their teens about anyway. Secondly, by doing so, teens learn that their parents value reading and education, making it more likely that those teens will as well.

So, my final advice to parents--thank edgy YA writers for diving into cans of fat, juicy worms that you, yourselves, would never want to open. Use that edgy fiction to keep your child out of edgy reality. And, in the end, realize that depictions of edgy teen behavior, 99% of the time, are not advocating for your teen to participate in that edgy behavior. While we can't keep our kids in a bubble that prevents them from entering the dark woods, we sure can provide them with fictional experiences to show them the consequences of such exploration.

Thanks, Gail for that analogy.You can read Gail Giles's speech here Why Teens Need Edgy Fiction and link to her blog on my blog roll to the right.


  1. I was struck by the contradictions in Giles's piece. She doesn't think ya should be moralistic, doesn't want to write cautionary tales, but she describes her purpose as helping young readers to see what could happen in the dark woods. For me, "what if...?" is enough of a reason to explore life's possibility through a story. Then again, there's controversy in children's books -- which includes ya -- because the ending is generally required to be uplifting, positive, character-driven, for kids. Books that aren't frequently find themselves kicked out of ya and designated adult fiction. Some of the controversy surrounding Lois Lowry's ground-breaking The Giver centered on the possibility that the ending could be interpreted as a negative.

  2. And if you're supposed to be showing them the consequences of going into those woods, wouldn't a happy ending be contrary to that goal? I like to show teens that they can come out okay in the end despite what's happened to them. In my first manuscript, Scout's Honor, it was about a kid who made the wrong decision and regrets it, yet did his best to make it right. I think anyone who reads it will feel it's not a happy ending or a sad ending, but a real ending. The same with the manuscript I'm writing now, The House on Bittersweet Trail, the kid's been wronged so much, he doesn't know what it's like not be crapped on. In the end, he survives. That's maybe the best you can ask for. Certainly not a tragic ending, but less than uplifting for sure.