The dark side of YA – how much is too much?

Coming back to a topic that we’ve discussed on here before — what is appropriate content in a YA novel? This question is in regards to violence, sex, language, and adult themes, all of which are rated material in the movies. However, the publishing industry has no such ratings. Literature cannot be rated, right? It would mar the artistic value of it and limit its voice.

And yet, so many parents ask me, how do I know that a book I pick up in the teen section is appropriate for my child?

Let me tell you, there’s no easy way to answer this question. My best advice, even concerning my own books, is to have parents read the book first. But that, my friends, is a sacrifice of time.

I recently read a fantastic post titled “Darkness Too Visible” by Megan Cox Gurdon (okay, I love that a book reviewer shares part of my name!). It’s almost a year old, but it’s a wonderful essay on the subject matter.

It makes me proud that I took a stand on explicit swearing and gratuitous violence in my Teen Mobster Series. And that’s not an easy thing to do, considering the subject matter. Some might say that isn’t very brave of me, but I’ll tell you what, it’s what I’m comfortable presenting to that age bracket.


Living in a dystopian wonderland. Is futuristic discontent replacing the vampire?


Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and Blue Bloods are just a few of the many, many YA series based on the supernatural creature that have glutted the market. Publishers and agents everywhere swore off wanting to see any more Twilight-type manuscripts, and yet, it seems that these books kept popping up everywhere.

But although vampires themselves boast immortatilty, their characters may be reaching the end of their life-span as the go-to YA theme. Enter dystopia.

Hunger Games. Matched. Delirium. These are just three of the popular series that feature a dystopian society. If you don’t know what Hunger Games is about, you must have been stranded on a desert island for the past few months. As for the other two series, they both focus on a controlled society that makes decisions for the population about love and marriage. And for what it’s worth, they’re both beautifully written.

I love all three of these series (well, I’ll admit some disappointment in the Hunger Games ending, but I’m one of a few). I guess the books feel so different from all the contemporary and paranormal series out there.

The question is, do editors want more of the same? Or something else? The million dollar question is, what’s the next big thing?

I’m hoping it’s mobsters😉

Gritty, grownup, and gripping. Markus Zusak novels gives YA a punch in the gut.

I finished The Book Thief a few months ago, but I waited to chat about it until I readThe Messenger, Markus Zusak’s earlier novel.

Let me be up front here–this is heavy duty, mature material. But let me also say that this is exactly the kind of reading I’d love to see more teens take on.

There’s nothing wrong with all the fun dystopian and paranormal trilogies out there. Heck, I eat them up too. But these two books by Zusak accomplish something that is phenomenal–high entertainment coupled with imaginative writing that feels like a picture is being painted. Oh, and the books make you think too, but not until you’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.

Again–this is some grownup stuff. Both novels feature mature language, and The Messenger also talks pretty candidly about sex. But there’s something about these that make them special. Messenger is set in present day Australia; Thief takes place in WWII Germany. But Zusak’s impressionistic writing style is evident in both.

Check’em out here.

The Fame Game – Do celebrity authors deserve the buzz?

So, I just finished The Fame Game by Lauren Conrad. And I certainly try to be pretty positive on this site, featuring those books which I would recommend to fellow teen fiction enthusiasts. Here’s the thing. It’s not a bad book. In fact, it delivers exactly the story it promises. The thing is, I’ve read many beautiful, intriguing stories by talented authors, and I can’t help but wonder the following: does Miss Conrad deserve a corner of the market when so many great authors remain unpublished? People who have devoted their lives to developing their writing talent and perfecting their story–is it fair to get pushed aside for a book that sells because of a powerhouse name?

Well, the publishing industry is a business, Miss Conrad is certainly talented in many areas, and life isn’t always fair. And that’s all I have to say.

If you want a quick read, give it a go and let me know…

Lament, Ballad by Stiefvater beg the question – What language is ok in YA?

The new Books of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater were certainly novels that held me. I actually enjoyed the second one, Ballad, over the first, Lament, probably because I liked the perspective of James better than his friend, Deidre. You bet I’ll be one of the first in line for Requiem (we YA authors love doing trilogies – or maybe it’s the publishers?).

However, I did notice a huge difference between the first and second books that was interesting. Lament had a level of vulgarity that wasn’t surprising to me, especially since I came into contact with true faerie lore on a trip to Ireland in 2004. I was a little taken aback by the use of the “f” word in Stiefvater’s first installment, only because I myself like to broaden my audience, and this can be very offensive to certain gatekeepers – school librarians, teachers, and most importantly, parents. However, there’s some great discussion out there about whether vulgar language is appropriate in YA literature, and I do commit to the philosophy that an author has to make a decision based on the character, the story, and his or her level of comfort. I don’t buy the argument that just because kids hear swearing all the time that it’s okay to write it in. That’s a weak argument. But making a decision based on being true to your characters and yourself as an author certainly has merit. has a great discussion here (and another followup here).

Any thoughts from teens? Parents? Writers?

A quarter-century of intrigue drives Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus

I’m not sure how The Night Circus, made it onto my list of YA reading. It is not classified as a YA novel, and yet, I didn’t know this until I had the story well underway. That being said, I wanted to feature it here because I put the time into reading it, enjoyed most of it, and was curious what others thought.

The new, highly acclaimed novel from Erin Morgenstern (check her out) spans more than a quarter century. Without giving much away, I will say that this tale of two star-crossed magicians really gets moving in the second half of the novel. There is a great deal of description, but since the author is detailing something (an extravagant night circus) that many of us have never (and will never) see, I can understand why it was sketched so extensively. There are several stories woven into the fabric of this narrative, but don’t read this like your run-of-the-mill novel. The Night Circus forces you to expand your idea of how a novel should be organized, so jump in with an open mind!

It’s actually very tastefully written, with little foul language and a very tame sex scene. In fact, I’m thinking it’s time for a post on certain levels of vulgarity in YA novels. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the subject, check out this post by and the follow up here. I always look forward to getting opinions on controversial topics!

And thinking about the circus did make me feel like a kid again…

Falling for Oliver’s Before I Fall

Lauren Oliver is another YA author  to expound on the dystopian theme, with the popular Delirium and recently released Pandemonium. However, the first book I got my hands on was her debut novel, Before I Fall, a present day, stand-alone book.

At first I hated the characters. I’ve been racing through so many novels on my Kindle that I hadn’t exactly read the synopsis for this one. I thought it was some kind of ghost story, and in the first few pages, I felt frustrated. I wasn’t one of those girls in school. I was never an outcast, but I was nice, and most of my friends were of the nice variety as well. I wasn’t sure I could relate to Oliver’s Samantha Kingston.

But before throwing in the towel, I went back to read the book blurb. Ahhh–I didn’t realize this girl was going to get the chance to live her last day seven times. After that, I was hooked. Don’t ask me what flipped the switch in my brain–it just flipped.

I will tell you that I felt this story very powerfully. I don’t usually cry for books and movies, but this one definitely contributed to some waterworks. This author writes very artisitically for sure, but it was the journey for this bitchy high-schooler that really had me believing that Oliver has “the stuff.”

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