Friday, February 4, 2011

X-rated scenes in young adult books. What do you think?

So I was just browsing the internet, taking a break from the serious textbook editing mode to disappear back into a world I love infinitely more: YA fiction. I was trying to do some research as to why YA books geared for teen girls don't generally have boys on the front cover.  Honestly, if I were a teen, I'd be much more drawn to the covers with boys on the front (along with the heroine). Those covers are making a promise: yes there are boys within these pages, just open it up and take a peek. As YA readers, what do you think about that?

As I was in the midst of my research, I found this article. It talks about the sex scenes that appear in the YA books geared for 5th-8th graders and some older YA fiction. Here are some quotes taken from the article (article written by Naomi Wolff of The New York Times; excerpts from Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar and A-List by Zoey Dean):

...Sex saturates the "Gossip Girl" books, by Cecily von Ziegesar, which are about 17- and 18-year-old private school girls in Manhattan. This is not the frank sexual exploration found in a Judy Blume novel, but teenage sexuality via Juicy Couture, blasé and entirely commodified. In "Nothing Can Keep Us Together," Nate has sex with Serena in a Bergdorf's dressing room: "Nate was practically bursting as he followed Serena. . . . He grabbed her camisole and yanked it away from her body, ripping it entirely in half. . . . 'Remember when we were in the tub at my house, the summer before 10th grade?' . . . 'Yes!' 'Oh, yes!' . . . Nate began to cry as soon as it was over. The Viagra had worn off just in time."

The "A-List" novels, by Zoey Dean (a pseudonym for a married writing team hired by the media packager 17th Street Productions, which created all three series and sold them to Little, Brown), are spinoffs of the "Gossip Girl" series. Now we're on the West Coast, among a group of seniors from Beverly Hills High. Here is Anna, in Las Vegas for the weekend with her posse: "Was there any bliss quite like the first five minutes in a hot tub? Well, yes, actually. Ben. Sex with Ben had been that kind of bliss. . . . Would sex with Scott offer that kind of bliss?" Her best friend, Cyn, also has feelings for Scott: "She'd shed a lot of her usual wild-child ways as soon as they'd hooked up. No more stealing guys with wedding rings away from their wives just because she could. . . . No more getting wasted at parties and dirty dancing with handsome waiters . . . . No more taking E," or ecstasy, at nightclubs.
These are called young adult books, but I have a feeling they are marketed toward a much younger audience (5-8 grade?). I have never read them, but I worked with 5th and 6th graders (teaching science) and saw them reading these books all the time. ???What??? Of course, I have heard of the Gossip Girl TV show, but I've never watched it. (Yeah, I'm so behind the times.) And it looks like a show adults would like. After all, the characters aren't really teens. They're like 20-30 year old actors pretending to be teens (weird).

The last line of Wolff's article pretty sums up my opinion of what's happening in many YA novels:

"The great reads of adolescence have classically been critiques of the corrupt or banal adult world. It's sad if the point of reading for many girls now is no longer to take the adult world apart but to squeeze into it all the more compliantly. Sex and shopping take their places on a barren stage, as though, even for teenagers, these are the only dramas left."

So what do you think about all of this? Does it bother you that these books are marketed toward girls much too young to be reading that stuff (in my opinion)? What aren't they reading Judy Blume? Am I crazy to be so irritated by this? You tell me.

And I'm also curious what you think about the YA book covers with only girls on the front cover. Does it make a difference to you? What would you prefer to see?