Edgy Young Adult Fiction

Comments: 2

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.
More on:  ,

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: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This


  1. Good post, Paul. I don't think the first responsibility of a writer for young readers, necessarily, is to enlighten or edify readers, unless that's the kind of writer you choose to be, which is fine. There is a need for those books. But whether you write clean or urban or religious or whatever, the number one job is to entertain. If you don't do that, the reader won't finish your book, and any other lessons you hoped to convey will be lost.

    I think it's a fallacy held by some in the publishing industry, though, that a book (or movie, or music, or whatever) has to contain graphic scenes to be successful.

    We have to do what works for the story. I usually write clean, but my current WIP has both violence and sex, and the female lead is not treated well, not because I want to be edgy or because I hope it will sell more with graphic scenes, but because those scenes are absolutely essential to the character development and the setting of the story (historical fiction).

    When my young woman protagonist is forced to marry a much older, very stern man, the wedding night is not pretty, and I can reveal important things about each of these characters, and create situations that push the plot, by going into some detail about the experience. Although I'm careful not to go too far, it's bound to be too far for some readers. I try to handle it sensitively, but people who are sensitive to these kinds of scenes will likely consider it gratuitous and unnecessary.

    The story also has a terrible murder that sets up the entire plot, in which the protagonist's young brothers are both killed.

    I've never written anything quite like this, and don't do it lightly. These scenes are difficult and troubling, and are meant to be.

    So this is a subject that's very much on my mind.

    The literary world is large, and content is pretty much unlimited. I think it should be that way. No book is for everybody, and many of the classics were books that were banned as being inappropriate at some point. Good art tends to push boundaries, and good books often do the same. If a reader prefers not to read those kinds of books, there are plenty of alternatives.

    Anyway, nice thoughtful addition to the discussion. Thanks for letting us know about this post.

  2. Thanks Scott. Your novel sounds fascinating, one I would definitely like to read. I think you and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to edgy literature. Let me know when your book is published. I want to read it.