Friday, March 31, 2017

MATURE CONTENT

Students are to post reactions (minimum 350 words each) to the assigned reading/listening linked below. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

"Writing Bridges: How Writers Scaffold Mature Content in YA Literature" by Amy Bright: "Young adult literature frequently challenges its young readers. Its ability to connect compelling plot and characters with experimental and literary technique offers readers a unique reading experience that provokes and engages them. Three recent novels—Margo Lanagan's Tender  Morsels (2008), Libba Bray's Going Bovine (2009), and Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens (2010)—characterize this distinctive environment. Lanagan's medieval portrayal of a damaged young woman who retreats into a fantasy world, Bray's protagonist Cameron, a teen suffering from Mad Cow Disease who sets off on a hallucinogenic adventure, and Smith's transportation of his protagonist to an ultra-violent fantasy world when he puts on a pair of glasses all contribute to broadening the category of young adult literature." Click heading (and scroll down) to read article. 

Click HERE (then click "Look Inside," then "First Pages") to read and excerpt from Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Click HERE to read an excerpt from Passenger, the sequel to Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith.

Click HERE to read an excerpt from Going Bovine by Libby Bray. Click HERE to read the NY Times review of Going Bovine.

27 comments:

Marina Martinez said...

Writing Bridges: How Writers Scaffold Mature Content in YA Literature by Amy Bright talks about the delicate balance a writer must make to have a book still be considered YA with mature content. She draws on three examples to go into further detail about this. In Tender Morsels Bright talks about a miscarriage that the very young character has, but the way that the author Lanagan writes about this event makes it difficult for a reader to decipher if they are not mature enough to understand what is going on. It is also very shocking and appalling that the child was impregnated by her father. From there the story line just keeps getting more intense and the content is harder to read. Language plays a huge role in making the subject matter of the story feel less harsh. There is also some mystical and fairytale elements to the story that make it feel a bit easier to read. Bright also discusses the book Going Bavine by Libby Bray. The stories references to pop culture and overall relatability make it feel YA. The last story Bright looks at is The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. It is YA because it deals with navigating adulthood but is also quite horrifying when it comes to the fantasy world, which makes the real world seem less scary.

The excerpt of Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan was very different from most stories I’ve read. It had a style of writing that made the story feel less dark. Overall, I thought it was very interesting and original.

The excerpt from Passengers by Andrew Smith had an alternative universe or fantasy world which made me think of YA because of all the world building that occurs. The sassiness of the characters also felt geared towards a younger audience.

The excerpt from Going Bovine by Libby Bray featuring the annoying boss felt very relatable for a younger audience just starting to work. It is also clear that the main character isn’t well from his muscle spasms and hallucination, but the author manages to make this humorous and more light hearted. The New York Times article highlights the authors balance between morbidity and hilarity throughout this story.

Dan O'Connor said...

Handling mature content within YA literature seems to be a difficult task for critics. I think I understand why. Writing for younger audiences requires a certain amount of skill which I had not previously thought about. I don't mean basic prose writing, but manipulating and displaying emotions or emotionally heavy topics. A writer's ambition for a work needs to be tempered by expectations of the reader I think. Writing then a novel about sexual assault or death or any of the possible topics in between requires a deal of skill and appreciation for this material might mean to a younger audience.
For the curators of this body of work the people who shelve it, review it and dispense it, they probably find themselves feeling the need to insure the proper material finds the proper audience. For the excerpts that were presented here I understand why some people might want to take these things cautiously with younger readers, but I believe some of that danger is necessary. For as much as a respectable effort it is to protect those younger than yourself there comes a time when protection may only be a hindrance. I think danger in writing and therefore dangerous reading is formative not only for advancing a reader from one category type to another, but for developing someone's personal understanding of their own life.

jaclyn liccone said...

Before I took this class, I didn’t fully grasp the concept of YA meaning I didn't realize the restrictions that came along with writing something that falls under that category. But now I understand the main character has to be within a certain age bracket and not any scene can be featured throughout which I can see being tricky for an author. You want the book to be interesting enough for the audience, but not too much to where it’s questioned if it’s YA or adult. I don’t think the readers have too much of a problem if it’s right on the line, but the critics/ parents are the ones who would have something to say about it. Authors like to challenge their young adult readers by providing them with mature content that could be borderline in the YA scope such as being able to give off emotions on a dramatic topic or scene. If there is violence, death, or anything too sexual that takes place in a YA book, critics, parents or anyone else reviewing or displaying the book in public might question how it is considered a YA book. I feel like people are constantly trying to shelter young readers from reading anything inappropriate which could be understandable depending on the readers age and the content they are reading, but I would say for the most part, it is good for the young mind to explore and expand their knowledge and understanding on something that they may be unfamiliar with. That is the only way that young adult’s minds can mature and grow and attach to bigger and better concepts and ideas that will help them through life.

Ryan Allen said...

I'm trying to think about this as if I were a parent. If I had a kid, I would want to make sure they were growing intellectually, that their conception of the world was being challenged along with their ideas. When I was younger, after a short time I lost my interest in reading because the books I was being told to read by teachers, lists, and children's sections all started to stagnate in their safety. The kids in these stories were boring. Their idea of crazy or intense was pretty far from mine, even when the characters were older than me. Now that's just one person's personal experience and it's not to say that different kids shouldn't have different levels of exposure at particular ages. That being said, reading as a child is arguably the most important phase of reading, because to an extent, it can determine the way you'll read (or not read) for the rest of your life. I'd much rather have my child have the occasional intense reading experience instead of having a few boring ones turn them off reading altogether. Especially now, when compared with 5 or 10 years ago, the ubiquitous inescapability of violence and sexual imagery is all the more reason to have kids try more envelope-pushing reading material. Because if it's not happening on a page, it most certainly is on the screen in their pocket.

Michael Mintz said...

The idea of sneaking mature content into Young Adult books can often be used well by a good author. However it is often used as a gimmick to lure teenagers and others. The fact of the mature is that mature content should only be used if it truly fits in the story and not to base the story on the fact that it is mature. Gore for example is alright if your depicting the scene of a violent murder not when someone scratches their finger. Though the finger would be funny if placed in a book sarcastically. Sex also shouldn’t really be truly described not because I believe sex shouldn’t be in books Young adults could read. The reason I don’t think sex should be inside books is quite simple it completely takes someone outside of your novel if you suddenly have a sex scene in your otherwise different story. You may insert some detail about sex as to show the culmination of a romance or something close, however too much detail cause the books to completely change from a fantasy or sci-fi novel to porn. Of course habits like smoking and drinking in my opinion wouldn’t consider too mature only someone being badly addicted to a drug would I be consider mature. Also if you use this idea of addiction it has to inlay into the character’s main personality and background which sometimes completely takes over a plot. This is not completely bad and may help some authors in thinking of ideas however it forces the author to always somehow show the character being affected by the drugs. Mature content in anyway can be used well or could be used as a crutch for stories unable to do anything without that content. Where they force their characters through this content to become more grittier or real. Of course Mature content could also be easily turned into something immature for example treating guns or death as unimportant. Like in Star Wars where thousands of faceless people die but it is taken with a grain of salt. Or their guns are treated as toys since they are laser guns and not actual guns

Maggie Lu said...

Young adult literature challenges its readers with the ability to connect a captivating plot and characters with a wide range of techniques. Young adult literature is characterized in very distinctive environments. Mature content only works if it fits into the story. I feel like mature content is what keeps readers interested since books are a good and safe way for younger readers to get a glimpse of more complex and sensitive topics. These issues can even allow parents to have the opportunity to help their children/teens understand these sensitive topics. They may be harder to understand on a daily basis or it may be uncomfortable topic to bring up or start a conversation about, but having the issue intertwined in the plot of the book makes it ok. This content will help to frame, support, and guide readers through difficult or mature material. Mature content in books may even be the source where young adults learn and explore these topics. Popular reads, including Twilight or Harry Potter, have such big influences on adolescents because of the fact that readers are exposed to a wide array of topics. Sometimes it is hard to branch out and find books that are interesting to a reader. Maybe it is because from so early on in our childhood days, our elementary schools and libraries created lists of books for us that they thought fit well into our age and maturity range that was suggested to read. There were specific book titles and authors for each grade level. However, this may restrict readers from broadening out or only give them a limited view of what was appropriate for them at the time. As Amy Bright states, “the young adult reader is the ideal consumer of content, style, and form,” which is why it is important to provide readers with the ability to grow and expand. On the other hand, critics disregard stylistic contributions of literature and solely focus on what is considered inappropriate content in order to steer away from extremely dark themes.

Leah Usefara said...

It honestly makes me mad whenever people say certain things aren't suitable for teens to read, things that are too dark and edgy. Most teens are just as desensitized to things as adults and aren't completely stupid. They already know about or should know about things like abuse, rape, violence, and drugs. They shouldn't be sheltered from the world and let them make their own decision on what they like to read or not. Novels shouldn't follow one formula and be forever vanilla. Tender Morsels, Going Bovine, and Marbury Lens talk about very real emotions, feelings, and even events that happen to teens. These extreme circumstances allow people to take a peek into and relate to being unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, mental illness, trauma and how to cope with it. Although novels with dark content isn't my cup of tea, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be okay to read. I remember in high school there was a girl who wanted to petition the school to take Beloved off the English course reading list. I admire my school to some extent because all our books on our English class reading lists, from 7th to 12th grade, were banned books. Beloved is full of rape, racism, and beastiality and may not be okay for children to read, but teens at least should be aware that the world's not clean.

Crystal Lam said...

There is always a fear, I believe, that when writing, the author is afraid of how the audience may think. As writers, we write so that people will read what we write. While I have not always believed this, it becomes increasingly true. Some people write to analyze how they feel about a certain subject but more times than not, they show someone what they have written. When writing about mature content in YA Fiction, readers do not yet have the freedom to fully read what they want. There are parents to contend with and gatekeepers. If these books do not get through the first line of defense, they will never reach their intended audience. In this way, authors must write so that violent scenes are not overly explicit in ways that would horrify an adult to the point of forbidding the reading of the novel. The mature content can be specific and descriptive but perhaps not graphic. In "Passenger" by Andrew Smith, blood and dead bodies are described again and again. This shows that violence can definitely be portrayed but it has to be in a certain manner. The bleeding of the main character is described as something wet dripping from his head. Without reading between the lines, a reader could miss the fact that he is actually gushing blood.

I agree with Dan's point that writing about mature content for young adults is more difficult than it actually seems. There is definitely a certain amount of skill needed to tactfully address these hard issues while not being afraid to say it like it is. When handling themes like violence and abuse, authors are dancing on a very thin line between what should and should not be revealed to an audience on the cusp of adulthood. Many young adult readers are on a wide spectrum, some very young and others more mature. YA Literature is no longer just dealing with reading levels, it must consider the maturity of its audience and what they may be ready for. In the excerpts, the authors carefully navigate these difficult topics by presenting them but in ways that are cloaked by language and the speaker's voice. In "Tender Morsels" by Margo Lanagan, the protagonist herself is a young figure who does not fully understand what her body goes through every month. For many teenagers, especially girls, they may recognize the signs of her monthly cycles as they read. An experienced audience will immediately connect the blood with the lack of a baby but even then may take some time to piece together that the father is sexually abusing his daughter. In some ways, Lanagan blends this issue with fairy-tale like language, making a strange reality that only slowly reveals small details to the reader.

Melissa Cecchini said...

The rule I've always tried to follow was everything in moderation and never without a purpose. I absolutely think that mature content should be in YA novels. Because mature content is just real world events. As much as parents and teachers don't want to admit it, this stuff is life. This stuff happens. And I think for teens, getting as much relatable experience without being in that situation can be a good thing. Teen girls need to recognize the ins and outs of their own bodies and also need to understand that sometimes people's intentions are less than ideal. Learning that from a fantasy book is worlds better than learning from experience. And chances are, parents aren't going to want to talk about these issues with their kids. So books are a middle ground between having that difficult conversation and leaving your child in the dark. They're a good starting point for that conversation that will prepare them for when they have to confront difficult situations.

That being said, inundating novels with this kind of content can make books hard to read. Especially if there's no purpose to them. If the events are just happening to happen and to make people uncomfortable, I think that's the line where maybe it's not a YA book anymore. But if the mature content serves as a lesson, then I think it's really important to teach that lesson to teens who are old enough to understand it but still young enough to really get something out of it.

Susan Lee said...

Young adult is a genre that is unclear at many times. At what point do we consider this too mature? One thing that everyone can agree on is that it is a technique that allows readers to escape reality and explore a world that is completely different from their own. Amy Bright discusses this balance that writers face with the genre of YA literature. For instance in Tender Morsels Bright, they discuss miscarriage which is typically a very intense subject. Not only that but because this impregnation was caused by her own father it just kept on dealing with very difficult matters that might be inappropriate for young adults to read. The interesting part of this was that the way it was written was wildly different from the matter itself. It is cases like this that make people wonder whether or not they should make the rules and guidelines mores explicit. I personally believe that there is not much subject matter that is too ‘mature’ but I also think it is crucial to not bee too cruel or explicit with the writing itself.

No one can control what kind of events they go through and I think YA literature is most loved for allowing people to go out of their reality and experience different things is very important. I think books like Passengers by Andrew Smith is a very good example of this since of the setting of an alternative world with baselines of fantasy. This is an example of how people can come out of their comfort zones to explore a world they have never seen and will probably never see.

The third excerpt from Libby Bray, was a prime example of a YA literature that is not based on a fantasy world that is based on imagination. The boss that is so aggravating exists in real life as well so that could be something that readers can relate to.

Samantha G said...

A novel is a safe place to visit these challenging and mature content. It's not like a movie where you can keep watching, but young adults put books down and then pick them back up again-- very rarely are they meant to be read all the way through. I totally think young adults are mature enough to read heavy material.

Amy Bright's article discusses the fact that three recent novels: Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels (2008), Libba Bray's Going Bovine (2009), and Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens (2010) have been in the news in a negative light, recently, rather than being praised for its writing. Bright argues that these book "scaffold content with literary technique". In other words, the content is what grabs the reader, but they are actually reading really bright/hard to understand literary techniques. For example, all three novels go between different worlds and use different narrative language. The reader has to do a lot of the heavy-reading-lifting him/herself. These authors also use allusions to allude to canonical texts and pop culture. In order to understand what's going on, the reader needs to tune in and focus.


Out of all three books, the one I am most inclined to read is Going Bovine. It's probably because I am taking care of a cow right now and am constantly paranoid that I am going get sick from her. The book sounds like a mixture of The Fault in our Stars and Lord of the Rings (disclaimer: I know hardly anything about Lord of the Rings, but I know there's a gnome in it, I think). I probably wouldn't read Passanger as a young adult, because the two main characters were young boys. But I would probably open Tender Morsels, if I had to read it in school, as part of a "banned books unit". That book reminded me a little bit of Lolita - same creepiness vibe. Maybe students could read both books side-by-side in school to make those cannonical books more appealing!

Sam A said...

It seems to me that YA causes a lot of trouble. I've written about the delineation between YA and fiction in other posts, and this article really hones in on how should YA be treated.

Personally, I always loved when my books challenged topics that were sort of taboo. If I was reading a book as a teenager, I wanted it to explore topics, situations, and experiences that I hadn't had. Now, that doesn't mean I was out just picking up any book that wrote about extremely esoteric or mature topics, but it means that the books that I found to be transformative or impactful all confronted a topic I was curious about. Whether it was reading about relationships/sex, drugs, abuse, illness, race, etc. I wanted to know more.

I think that purposefully leaving those topics untouched because they seem unfit for a teenager to be reading about it is not the way to address the real problem. It is overly simplistic logic to ban a book because the topic seems unfit for a child. The idea that something contains mature topics so it will be removed from the library in order to prevent it being seen is not the best tactic. I feel like that is fairly obvious, but I suppose banning the book is also the easiest option, and perhaps why it is so often the chosen course of action.

But, back to the point that I am glad to hear that YA authors are using mature subjects in their books. On top of that, I found the article's analysis of how the structuring of their books sets up a scaffold for that content. Using the distinction between reality and fantasy to present mature content in a more palatable way is a key tool used by any writer, YA or not. Think of all the fiction books that emulate real-world problems, issues, and situations into the world where magic rules. The fact that even those running around Middle Earth or Narnia or Hogwarts still have to deal with mature topics like death, relationships, desires, vices, addiction, evil etc is a great way to introduce someone to those topics without it running rampant in a life-life story. The tale of a wood elf being addicted to dark magic is easily understandable and digestible. It is also a lot less "real" than a book about a meth addict. So, these books teach complex topics through other means and I think that's valuable to developing your reader.

I personally believe that YA, in general, could be more mature, and it is good others are presenting those topics in their YA pieces.

Rachel Westerbeke said...


In “Writing Bridges: How Writers Scaffold Mature Content in YA Literature,” Amy Bright discusses several tactics that are implemented in YA writing in order to suppress the severity of mature content. Bright notes that YA novels that contain dangerous and mature themes tend to be both those that are more important in teaching and those that often face criticism and sometimes become banned. Novels that win the Michael L. Printz award also tend to be those that are criticized for mature content and are often banned. Because YA novels often deal with difficult topics, it becomes a challenge to include these topics while staying within the bounds of what is appropriate for teenage and young adult readers. There aren’t many limitations on what topics are inappropriate, but the details and the way they are presented may be too mature for this age group. Thus, methods in presenting difficult issues in ways that are geared toward young audiences is important.
Using Tender Morsels, Going Bovine, and The Marbury Lens as examples, Bright shows that each work uses the fantasy of other alternate worlds to lessen the realism of the more explicit parts. The fantasy world somehow connects with the problems faced by the protagonists in a way that leads readers to believe that the fantastical parts are what make the real and dark parts plausible.
In the exert of Tender Morsels, Margi Lanagan gives the reader enough information to understand what is going on in each scene and what the relationship between Liga and her father really is, but does not go into enough detail describing each scene to make the topic too mature for young adults/teens. This allows really mature content to be introduced in YA without including the details that could make it inappropriate for younger audiences.
Though the exerts of these works don’t explicitly describe the issues that they are presenting, they give enough information to know what is going on and what is important to know about the characters. By avoiding explicit images and explanations, they don’t lose the quality of the message they are trying to portray.

Becky Clark said...



I have always disliked the idea that books should be censored, especially with YA books. I think a lot of adults make the mistake of underestimating kids and what they can handle. Kids want to read dark and mature books. Not only that, but books with content like Tender Morsels can help those who struggle with these problems in their own lives. We don’t like to think that things like teen pregnancy or gang rape can happen, but unfortunately it does and books may give these kids a way to relate and understand. I agree with Bright that the mature language and the bridges between fantasy and reality are what make dark YA novels work. I remember really enjoying The Hunger Games when I was in middle school. Even though it was a dark novel filled with the killing of children, the fantasy aspect made the piece enjoyable. The language in mature pieces also allows only readers who are ready for the content to read and understand pieces.

There were a lot of parts I liked from the Going Bovine excerpt, the first being the voice. Cameron’s voice is strongly heard throughout the piece, starting with the first sentence “I'm through the doors of Buddha Burger seven minutes past my shift start time, which, if you ask me, is within the realm of acceptable.” Cameron is a jerk, but I like how as a reader, I still find him likeable. He reminds me of the kid that is kind of weird and hardly has any friends but turns out to be a cool person. I even felt bad for him when he spilled the smoothies all over the girls. Between the excerpt and reading what Bright had to say about it, I want to continue to read Going Bovine. I thought that it was a lot less dark than the Passenger excerpt and felt more relatable being set in a diner. Passenger had shorter sentences which reflected the emotional state of the characters. The language was also more complex than Going Bovine, which is probably because the story is darker. I wasn’t a fan of Passengers, but I liked how the characters emotions were portrayed.

Katie Steely-Brown said...

I personally believe that it should not only be allowable for young adult literature to discuss mature themes or topics, but that authors should make more of an effort to include such themes in their writing so people get used to the idea of young adults reading them and stop trying to prevent these books from being published, or trying to get such books banned.
One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell from when I was a child was how she bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for herself, shortly after she gave birth to my little brother, who was sickly and needed nebulizer treatments every couple hours in addition to the normal constant needs of an infant. She was intending to read it to keep herself busy while caring for him. I was four years old and left mostly to my own devices around the house during the day as my mother holed up in her bedroom with my brother, eating whatever food my mother had put out for me to eat for breakfast and lunch, and generally taking care of myself. Apparently, I picked up my mother’s copy of Sorcerer’s Stone (she never got a chance to read it as she was so exhausted by my brother) and entertained myself by reading it. This was how my parents found out I knew how to read chapter books, much less read at all— I started telling them about the plot at family dinner. My mother talks about how long they spent deliberating on whether they should let me read chapter books, and if they should let me read the other Harry Potter books— they thought at first the themes of teenage sexuality, death, orphans, good vs evil, religion, magic, ect. were too much for me to understand. Their ultimate decision was that they were already expecting me to grow up a bit faster than normal because they didn’t have the time to focus an equal amount of their attention on me because of my brother, and that they would just ask me occasionally if I understood and could explain to them the more mature themes, and tell me that I could always come to them and ask them questions if I had any.
Childhood and young adulthood is all about preparing to be an adult. Children and young adults understand far much more than adults often think they do. Overly sheltering a child leaves them unprepared for growing up. It is infinitely better for a child/pre-teen/teen to learn about subjects like sex, death, crime, pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, and more from an safe place like a book, something a young reader can take at their own pace and ask questions about as they go along. Then they are prepared and understand such problems better in the future when it will — and such mature themes will 100%, inevitably become a part of a child’s life by high school, if not in middle school— and can handle them better mentally. Otherwise, when such things become a part of their life it may be the first time they are encountering such things other than a brief, strongly edited and glossed over explanation from their school or parents, and they might not be able to handle it as well.
Young adults should not be leaving home and going into college and be expected to suddenly overnight become an adult who understands all the bad and hard things in the world, after being sheltered for 18 years. We must start teaching young adults about mature themes before they are adults, and books with such themes are a perfect medium to help them learn about such things.

Brian Nowak said...

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh not cool. There I am, enthralled in the article about MC in MGYA, fully convinced of my polar position-- bring on the sex, drugs, and rock n roll!-- and feeling eager to see how the article will reveal the complexities of the issue. I read about Going Bovine. Each detail raises it in my queue: the premise, the dwarf named Gonzo, and the extensive social commentary. And I feel like it's a piece that will really benefit. Then, having recognized the form of the article, I realized the author was about to blow through some serious plot summary. I don't want to know! I'm tryna read the book! No spoiler alert? Whatever. I skip down, only having read HOPEFULLY no more than the action of 30 pages. I'm on active spoiler-avoidance alert. Naturally the next thing eyes land on is the spoiler of the very end. Who the fuck does this author think they are? Horrible summary writing. You want your summaries to be evocative and clear, but you don't wanna reveal too much. And don't turn around and tell me that I shouldn't be reading for plot. Plot is essential. I haven't learned a damn thing about writing plot from the Rutgers English Program. It's wacky like that. Spoilers are bullshit.

Also, I started playing Dishonored 2 yesterday. It runs on a whole different engine, so it kind of feels very different from a gameplay standpoint, but the world is similar enough to minimize those gameplay differences. The new engine has new character models, of course, and this engine treats the spine well. Guards now turn their heads and look around in a way that really brings them to life. The story hooked me just as well as the first game, even if it was a parallel to the first game. It works. They followed the parallel up with very different, yet just as dire stakes as the first game which means that so far, the story is doing what it's supposed to. If the whole game follows through (I am eager to find out), I want to see about working on the third one, should they decide to trilogize the steampunk, Dunwall tales.

I guess to connect those thoughts SOMEHOW-- I'll just say that Dishonored treats killing people as weighty action-- you can't just kill everyone, you will kill off the city. I made it through the first mission yesterday nonlethally, because it's friggin' incredible that that's even a thing.

Jenny Huang said...

I really enjoyed reading the article “Writing Bridges: How Writers Scaffold Mature Content in YA Literature” by Amy Bright. Instead of writing about the young adult fiction works that every teen has heard of – i.e. John Green books, Eleanor & Park, etc – she explored a couple of really interesting ones that I now want to read. Tender Morsels for me, especially, evoked interest in me – I love the quotes that Bright inserted into the article, like “her insides dangerous, liquid, hot with surprise and readying to spasm again." The idea of YA literature covering a topic so heavy is also surprising to me; it is about incest and miscarriages and abortions, set in the Middle Ages, and that makes for a really fascinating concept. I’m also a huge fan of work that is largely lyrical; I tend to look for books that have beautifully written prose, but this book seems to combine that with a reworking of a fairytale plot, another element that I really enjoy. While I wasn’t as interested by the plot of Going Bovine, I did like the idea that it had intertextuality – having young readers learn or have to know information from other texts makes for a more robust read. Also, mad cow disease is something that definitely is not widely talked about, especially in the modern-day where the possibility of getting it is a lot lower than it was before. The last book, The Marbury Lens, reminds me a lot of the second one in that the main characters are both constantly questioning fantasy and reality. It seems that both Jack and Cameron do not know if what they are experiencing is real or inside their head. I enjoy the goriness of The Marbury Lens – oftentimes I find that it’s difficult to convey a particularly horrifying scene in books when you don’t have a visual, but the excerpt from the article described the horror in a completely unique way. I also find it strange that the book changes from first person to third person point of view, which makes the book even more unique. While I don’t particularly like fantasy books, it seems like it’s an interesting concept that I’d never heard of before. After reading the excerpts, I am definitely considering reading either The Marbury Lens or Tender Morsels.

Syeda Khaula Saad said...

Recently, I wrote a piece that I considered young adult fiction, but covered more a more serious topic: rape. What “Writing Bridges” explains is how I maneuvered my way around putting young adult fiction and rape hand-in-hand. Just as it is stressed in the article, language and style is very important. I was careful not to use any outright descriptions of the rape, but merely focused on feelings and confusion. I tried to write from a younger person’s point of view, and practicing doing this, I feel, really helps me write more mature content and topics for YA. By forcing yourself to think younger, and emphasizing that you “do not fully understand everything,” you can truly find a way to express mature thoughts to a younger audience.
Another way to skirt around the mature content, just as the article suggests with the story about the young girl who has a miscarriage with her father’s child, is to do the opposite of the previous: instead of simplifying and dumbing it down, one can choose to overcomplicate it to the point where a child reading it would not exactly know what is going on. This can often be done with adults speaking in innuendos or in hints that a child would not get. In a recent piece that I wrote, I focused on a conversation between a sex worker and a young girl, and the sex worker makes jokes that go over the reader’s head. But here’s the trick: Although you do not want kids to know what is going on, they always do. Kids are a lot smarter now than we think. They know about sex and rape and all that other stuff, sometimes they might just not fully understand it. But putting little jokes and hints still works in this case because it is not straightforwardly proclaiming something, it is like telling an inside joke, that a kid reading the YA will be excited to understand. And this way, you even create more of a connection between the reader and the story, even if the story is a little mature for the age of the reader.

Michelle Chen said...

In reading YA stories as a YA, I had never taken note of what Bright calls “scaffolding” – the bridging of mature content with complex language, making the content inaccessible to those who cannot overcome the language first. (I’m intrigued now, and want to go back and explore some of the things I read as YA to look for this.) I was interested to see how Bright sees this sort of technique used in the novels she writes about. However, I also noticed that Bright’s essay focuses on works which “bridge fantasy with reality” and in which ‘mature content’ occurs in an ambiguously real world making “teen readers question the reality or fantasy of certain situations”. I think that the essay is weakened by this focus. While the coupling of fantasy and violence (or other mature themes/elements) can be a great tool, it stands that there is a preponderance of YA work that deals with mature themes in a realistic setting. Off the top of my head, I think of Wintergirls, Crank, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Outsiders – novels which deal with mental illness, drugs, death and violence and which I read in middle or early high school. Without considering how scaffolding functions in these realistic works, the essay feels forced to its conclusion by a specific selection of case studies. (I’m not saying it actually is, as there’s good reason for choosing these stories – and obvious the essay is not meant to be comprehensive. However, I think it would have benefitted from at least mentioning, even offhand, more realistic fiction.)

Colleenie vonVorys-Norton said...

In YA books, it is sometimes common and necessary to dive into more mature content. I believe that books are a great way for people to have intense experiences while staying safe. It's like a dream in a why. Dreams are believed to be the brain working out scenarios in safe ways so it knows what to do later. This is what I believe more mature YA book is also doing. Because the reader is, in a way, experiencing that same harshness that the character is facing they are able to begin to grasp the harder realities of life without being in danger or having them happen to them. For example, I will never be in the situation that Liga experienced in Tender Morsels, but through reading her story through her eyes, it is easier for me to understand what that life must be like. This is a very drastic example since she is impregnated by her father and forced to abort her children until she can't.
More mature YA can also tackle topics like what it's like to deal with the loss of a loved one. An example of this for me is that when I was younger, I read Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever. In this book, the main character's father dies and it talks about her relationship with her mother while also describing her grieving process. This was my favorite book when I was younger, and after my dad died I did not read it for about two years. The summer I was the same age as the main character I read it and it so perfectly understood me. Having this book helped me process what had happened while also letting me know that it was going to be ok over time.
Pain is a really hard thing to describe because there aren't words that describe it. Having YA books that tackle more mature topics are beneficial for the YA audience because it gives them a way to be understood without having to deeply open up and it helps make them feel less alone.

Siming Hsu said...

I think it is very important to include "mature" content in YA books. But I also think that there is an extremely fine line that ought to be tread when delving into such topics in ones writing, which is what Going Bovine discusses. Heavy topics like death, sex, drugs, etc. are a part of life that, at least for me personally, has always been easier to digest and learn about through books than through real life. Take Harry Potter, for example--probably the most widely read series by my generation. If you started reading those books at a young age, like most of us have around this generation, you get introduced to so much heaviness in a way that is still palatable and understandable to a child's mind. Death of loved ones, identity struggles, abandonment issues, directly confronting ones own mortality--these are all things that the Potter books delve into, but they are done so in a way that weave into the plot and play into our understanding of Harry's character and the world around him. It also helps that the wonder of the wizarding world is there to ease the heavier topics into a young person's mind.

It is important that a YA story that wants to cover heavy topics like sex, rape, and death do so in a way that is understandable and respectful--shock factor, for example, is not a good reason, nor is using crude language for the sake of crude language. The notion of death, or rape, or any other traumatic part of life, should always be presented in a way that fits in with our understanding of the fictional world presented to us, but also in a way that does not carry over negatively into our real lives - the romanticization of rape or death or suicide, for example, is sometimes an issue that I find in a couple recent YA books. On this part, it is also the job of the reader to understand that what happens in fiction should not always be an example that carries over into real life, a la wishing you had cancer so you could be whisked away into a tragic final love affair (as I've seen people wish, because I can't make that up!).

Nevertheless, mature content is, I feel, necessary in the realm of YA fiction. The threat of things unknown make stories exciting, and we are meant to have strong emotional reactions to the things that happen in stories we become invested in. And though these stories are fictional, they teach us about the perils and the darknesses of real life. To pretend that there is no death, no sex, no drugs, no darkness in our fictional words is also to turn a blind eye to these things in our world, because after all, reading, even for children and young people, is about the human condition.

Sara Hankins said...

Mature content has its place in literature. Often the most extreme and graphic of it is distinctly labeled and readers are warned of it before even reading the first paragraph. Usually people search for this or don't mind a bit of mature content to spice up their reading material. Where it becomes hairy is when there is "too much" for the intended audience, particularly with YA. Is it appropriate for high schoolers to read stories with foul language, murder, incest, or any other qualifier for mature content? I believe that the people who are most concerned about the influence these texts have on young readers have forgotten just how much a 13-18 year old knows about the world. By thirteen most have an understanding of what sex is and all the various ways it can become immoral or illegal, but it may be that teen's first time reading about it so openly. They are certainly old enough to handle the content, if not to simply learn about it, or else they should not be reading books aimed at young adults.

The only requirement I think is necessary when incorporating mature themes in YA novels is that there has to be a reason for it. I once read a YA paranormal romance about angels and forbidden love. In the very end the God all the characters were worshipping and referencing was a woman. The author seemed to go for a shock factor, but having God portrayed as a woman did nothing to make the story special. Nothing would have changed whether the God was a man, woman, or not a human at all. The same idea holds true for me with mature content. If the story would be unchanged without the sex or violence, then perhaps it is not needed. Or, if it does nothing and the author really thinks the story wouldn't be perfect without these scenes, then perhaps it should be a clue to change some things up to make the mature content not only important essential to further the plot, but to also make that content uniquely theirs.

Sierra Commons said...

I think one of the weirdest things about growing older is how hard it gets to remember what is "acceptable" for younger people and what isn't. It's an important question, because it's good to have some exposure to ideas, especially harsh realities, but you also hope to not scar anyone for life. I remember I had a few things I read a little too early myself and they haunt me to this day, so I do feel like there are some things that should be handled delicately. I definitely agree with Sara- there needs to be a reason for incorporating mature themes, and they need to be handled well. One very important thing is to consider the general tone and maturity of the entire book- having a book that feels deceptively light and then suddenly has mature themes isn't necessarily a good idea. It is important to understand that teens may not have encountered the theme before, so it needs to be broached carefully.

Tender Morsels was different than I'm used to. The language was a little weird- usually I'm fine with experiencing various different dialogues in stories, but this felt a little choppy. The story matter sounds pretty intense, but time would have to tell whether it would be acceptable for teens or not. I definitely think that the execution is the primary factor that determines how the mature themes are taken by the reader.

Passenger was very good, but damn was it confusing. I'd really like to read Marbury Lense to get an idea of what is going on, it definitely sounds like the main character and his friends have been through a lot. I'm particularly curious about why he thinks they're all monsters- although maybe I just missed this explanation in the excerpt.

Going Bovine did one thing excellently: reminded me how much I HATE the phrase "Never explain, never blame". I love how in this excerpt the author captures that feeling you get when someone is "nice" and yet so patronizing and someone that you find really annoying. The review of the book made me interested to read more- sounds like it'd be interesting.

Elaina Yu said...

I think there is a fine balance between treating children like children and treating them like people with developing thoughts and ideas. My parents raised me treating me like an adult, they asked my opinion on things and kept me in most conversations, like naming my brother and choosing the new number for our landline. In hindsight I think some of those decisions they let me make were mistakes, but the payoff of being acknowledged and having ownership was far more worth than anything else.
In that sense, I think writing has some different boundaries. Since it’s meant to reach a wide selection of audiences, it becomes less of a parent and more of an older peer that can potentially cause troubles. But I think the issue lies more in the parenting than the book or child themselves. Books tell it as the author sees fit and children are malleable, for good or for bad. But if parents treated children with respect and answered their questions to the best of their abilities, then there’d be far less of an issue. Children aren’t born hating or fearing things. They learn from their environment and parents. I showed a piece with gay characters to one of my middle school cousins. It ended up opening a conversation between us what it means to be non-heterosexual and the difference between gender and sex. She was far receptive than anyone else I’ve ever had to explain to, because that’s just how kids are.
Then for issues like war and gore and things like miscarriages like Tender Morsels, there should be a rating and tagging system like fanfiction does. Everything is upfront.

aliyah m said...

When I think of young adult and mature content, I think back to the time I was 12 years old reading the Gossip Girl series. At the time, I felt very sophisticated and mature because of the nature of the material being discussed. There was a love triangle that involved Serena, one of the main characters, to sleep with Nate, her best friend’s boyfriend. There was also one time I remember reading the book in class and it mentioned Nate taking Viagra. I asked my classmates if any of them knew what that was. All of the boys in my class laughed at me. Looking back, I was not ready for the mature content that those books addressed and my parents did not dig into what those books were about because they loved that I loved to read.

I don’t think that mature content is a bad thing in young adult books. When it came to Gossip Girl, mature content did not feel out of place in the story. As long as writers are telling stories organically, not including mature content for the sake of including it, then I believe that the content can fit very well on certain stories. It is important for people to tell stories that are meant to be told. If that story has mature content, then so be it.

From the article by Amy Bright, I think that scaffolding is essential when dealing with mature content in young adult stories. Scaffolding is defined as “attempts to frame, support, and guide" readers through difficult or mature material. Readers are therefore able to comprehend advanced literary technique and mature content as writers build bridges for learning within their novels.

A story like Tender Morsels can be a touchy one for some people but it is a story that deserves to be told. It includes some heartbreaking themes but these are real things that happen. The fact that Liga, the 15 year old main character, not only has a baby by her father but also as the result of a gang rape as well. Throw in her having miscarriages and you have a young adult dealing with mature content. Scaffolding helped tell this mature story.

ALEX LYU said...

I think that it's important to monitor the material your kids are reading, but I think that open discussion is the theoretical panacea to these problems of overly mature thoughts or subject matter. While certain subject matter is just difficult for the child to comprehend, which would make the likelihood of misinterpretation higher, I believe that introducing many different concepts of varying levels is important for a child to develop his/her own thinking patterns. I would want to leave as many avenues of learning open as possible, and I believe that the proper transmission of knowledge and interpretive skills is more important than some arbitrary line drawing about the purity of the child. When I was a kid, I read all kinds of stuff that my parents probably wouldn't have wanted to read, at least if they heard about it on the surface level, but those books ultimately allowed me to develop new ways of thinking and really expand past my limited, local perception of the world.
Censorship is a blanket solution, but with my child, I would try to be as specific as possible. Easier said than done, I'm sure, but nonetheless, subscribing to some arbitrary line is antithetical to success.

Benji Sills said...

Writing for a YA audience gives writers the interesting task of trying to synthesize mature content in a way that readers will be able to process and understand this content at their own level. So often, parents, critics and educators will take issue with mature content in books aimed at younger readers, but I think it's important to introduce these concepts in a way that readers will be able to face them. Whilst it is obviously important to preserve childhood, it is also important that children do not remain sheltered from the reality of the world they are entering. Literature is an excellent way to introduce kids to real problems and I think there should be less focus on censorship of the material and more focus on tasteful, appropriate and sensitive presentation of it. It is of course a fine line, but I think that children should be exposed to content like this in a safe way that promotes understanding - a blanket censorship can never promote a greater understanding of society and its problems.