More About Edgy YA Novels

Comments: 9

The problem arises, as I see it, when what is called edgy becomes something that appeals more to kid's prurient interests than as a learning experience.

For example, I once started reading a novel by Judy Blum. Yes, the same Judy Blum who wrote all those cute childrens books. It was touted to be a young adult novel, so as a writer of young adult novels, and the book having been written by a famous author like Judy Blum, I thought it would be a good read. About a quarter of the way through it, I had to take it back to the library. I could not read it any further. It was filled with graphic sex, describing the act in great detail. I suppose it was supposed to have some kind of lesson about a girl losing her virginity and the consequences that follow, but to me it was nothing more than child pornography. It made me sick to think our children are reading that kind of filth.

I don't have a problem with an author writing about sex, even events leading up to a sexual encounter, but to describe the act in detail is pornography in my mind.

I like an edgy book now and then, if it's done without appealing to our children's baser and prurient interests. And I could go off on another tangent and say edgy does NOT need to have the infamous "F" word, or many of its synonyms. But that is something for another discussion.
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About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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There has been quite a lot of talk recently on the utahchildrenswriters email forum about what constitutes edgy young adult fiction. There have been a lot of great comments, some pro and others con.

So, what is it, and is it good for our youth to read?

Well, I think a lot of people have differing ideas about what constitutes "edgy" fiction. I may be wrong (wouldn't be the first time) but to me, edgy does not have to have graphic sex, violence, or use the infamous "F" word on every other paragraph - or at all for that matter (and that's a subject I've covered before).

I think edgy is more a function of subject matter. If a novel touches on serious issues, such as rape, hatred, prejudice, bullying, unwed pregnancy, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, etc., it's edgy - at least in my mind - without all the graphics.

In my first novel, I tried to be as edgy as I could get without crossing the line into what I consider unacceptable. In the first chapter, I have described a horrific scene where a family is killed in a fiery automobile crash. Only two survive by being thrown clear of the accident (this was before seat belts). I may have pushed the limits of acceptable violence a bit, but I don't think it's out of line. The story is about forgiveness and judging, and throughout the story the main character is subjected to acts of violence as he tries to find who caused the accident that killed his family. He makes some rash judgments and eventually has to face his fears and the person he believes killed his family. In the end, their feud finds them on opposite ends of a gun – and Mark’s next move could be the biggest mistake of his life.

Still, with all this going on, I don't feel my novel crosses over the edge of what I consider acceptable.

Our youth today are deluged with graphic sex and violence and hear the "F" word constantly in school and other places. I think we, as adults, need to raise the bar of what constitutes good literature for young, impressionable minds.
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The other day, a fellow writer asked to see my first novel, you know, the one I began writing nearly 25 years ago, and after having gone through several critique groups, I thought it was as good as it could get??? Well, this writer wrote me a note, suggesting I read it aloud. Well, actually, I have never done that, at least not all the way through, but despite everyone saying how beneficial that usually is, I didn't think it would help. After all, my novel has been through the critique mill. It's gotta be near perfect. At least I thought so until I took up the challenge. Today, I read the first two chapters aloud, from a printout, not on the computer screen.

GASP! and GADS! What a horrible mess!!! I never dreamed it was so bad. I found typo after typo, extraneous words, noun-verb disagreements, and dialog that sounded stilted.

Now, I'm totally embarrassed that I actually sent it out to a couple of agents. They must think I'm something to think it was good enough for their consideration.

What now? Give up? NEVER!!!

Just let this be a lesson to me, and to all of you, my faithful readers (all 1 or 2 of you). Never think your writing is good enough. Read it aloud from a printout, not on screen. You'll be surprised as the goofs and gaffs you will find.

I certainly am.
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Recently, a writer friend commented that it seemed most middle grade novels begin with a "child of destiny" being attacked by a bully, then the bully disappears while the main character goes on to do whatever it is the book is really about.

I wish my novel I'm calling GERTA! were finished. It's about a horribly ugly, smelly, and fat girl who nobody likes - at first. She's not a child of destiny, far from it. She's also a slow learner, does poorly in school, but she's a genius mechanic. The boys in the class tease and ridicule her until the MC (POV character) eventually learns to love her as a child of God.

Yes, there are bullies, but they run through the entire novel, not just at the beginning.

I just wish it were close to being finished. I think there would be a big market for it.
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