Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dark YA

A reader recently complained to me about how dark some YA fiction seems to be. This reader was an adult, who reads YA because he wants to escape from reality, but he has trouble finding things he can read that aren't more upsetting than many adult books--or than real life. He asked me why YA authors want to write such dark things.

I didn't have an answer for him, because even though I write YA, I don't feel that qualifies me to speak for all YA authors. I can only speak for myself. So here's my opinion, because I'm opinionated like that...

First of all, "dark" is in the mind of the beholder. To my 17-year-old, a story about someone who is bullied and turns to drugs or self-harm is dark. To another teen the same age, that might be light and fluffy, because they've lived through much worse. There are some concepts and plots that nearly everyone would agree are dark: abuse, rape, death, etc. But even within those categories, there are many shades of darkness or light, depending on how the topic is treated and what happens within the story.

Second, "dark" sometimes sells, or at least that's wisdom I've seen around the internet lately. "Teens want to read about what they're experiencing" has been used as justification for books about drug and alcohol abuse, physical and sexual abuse, sexual promiscuity, etc. Not that there's anything wrong with those types of books; some would agree, though, that they are dark. And not all teens want to read them, but some do.

Personally, I write what I feel drawn to write. The reader was talking specifically about my novel Fresh Meat, and I could understand why he might consider that dark. Honestly, I consider it one of my darkest young adult books. The main character, Tobias, lives in a home with a father whose violent temper sometimes explodes onto Tobias or his mother; the older of his two younger sisters is autistic and the younger of the two is ignored; and his mother is constantly overwhelmed. Tobias, at 15, finds comfort with a 22-year-old man, until that man sexually assaults him, turning him into a werewolf in the process, and takes him away from his home.

I didn't set out to write a "dark" book, nor did I set out to trigger myself or any readers (though I was triggered when I wrote the scene in which Tobias is assaulted). I set out to write the backstory of a character who intrigued me in Karenna Colcroft's adult romance series Real Werewolves Don't Eat Meat, with the blessing of the author and publisher, and from that guideline I followed where the character led. It did go to dark places. But it also went to light, hopeful places: Tobias's friends Shawn and Eddie, who have problems of their own but support Tobias; Jed and Eloise Howe, the werewolf Alpha and his mate who take Tobias in and become foster parents to him after his change; and Harok, the 18-year-old boy who appoints himself Tobias's mentor in the werewolf world and becomes his closest friend. And Tobias himself, his strength and determination to live his life regardless of circumstances.

And that's my reason for writing what some might consider "dark YA". I write the stories that are brought to me by the characters I create, and I write so that readers who may be experiencing darkness in their own lives can see that there is light if they reach out for it.

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