A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Once you’re old enough to be flattered at being asked for ID, no one cares what you read.
But society really does care about what teenagers are reading. Not in a ‘Yay – let’s make sure teens can get their hands on as many books as possible through their local library or on an industry-sustainable-promotion in their high street bookshop’, but in a more damaging ‘Boo – teens are reading twaddle. I grew up on a diet of Hardy, Brontë(s) and Tolstoy AND SO WILL THEY, BY GOVE JOVE.’
When you look at the way this discussion is framed, what we appear to be saying is that by choosing what teens read, we can grow them according to our own specifications:
No. You won’t read about sex. Lest ye go out and actually do it.
No. This books contains no swears. None whatsoever. Unlike your school bus, which is actually powered by the four-letter words generated on the back seat.
No violence here. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in books. Or in real life. OK, OK, it happens in books. But only in dystopian gladiatorial settings or zombie books. Never in real life. Of course you don’t need to prepare for the heady, dangerous mix of anger and adrenaline and hormones that can see the class whipping boy lash out at the bully who’s pushed him too far.
Only bad people imbibe/ingest/inhale. GOD WILL SMOTE YOU. (Or whichever deity frightens you the most. Or Richard Dawkins.)
We don’t like self-harm. As in, we don’t like to talk about it, in case we inadvertently give you a How-to Guide. No we’re not interested in providing a safe place for you to explore your own fears. Get back in your own head.
Eating disorders? None of that, thank you. (See above.)
The papers, the politicians, the parents would feel a lot safer if teens were kept in a sexless, swearless, pacifist bubble of pure thoughts and unicorns and emerged the other side of adolescence entirely unprepared for actually being a grown up.
Thankfully there are some people out there who think this is a load of – ahem – rubbish. And those people have written tons of amazing YA books that tackle all the issues listed above – and more. The authors of these have walked the fine line between depicting the truth as their readers need to see it and keeping the gatekeepers sweet enough that they’ll let the books through. No other writer is required to dance in attendance to society’s paranoia quite the way a YA writer must.
So for everyone who poo-poos YA as twaddle in favour of ‘real’ books (anyone guilty of No. 7 on this list) think about how hard it is to stay true to your reader whilst sneaking past the parents (or politicians or papers). Like a horny boy/girlfriend clambering in through the bedroom window, YA writers are a bloody-minded, resourceful and passionate bunch. No one writing YA is writing for the parents – we’re all doing it for the readers. And we all hope we’re doing it well, because the last thing we want is to let anyone control our readers’ futures.
Well, anyone except the readers themselves.
After playing with glitter, stickers and short sentences in the non-fiction side of Usborne Publishing (where they insisted on using her real name ‘Leonie’) Non Pratt moved to fiction as Commissioning Editor at Catnip Publishing, still playing with sentences, but not so much with the glitter and stickers.
She’s written a book called TROUBLE that will be published in March 2014 by Walker Books in the UK, and later in the year by Simon and Schuster in the US. Non is currently enjoying having someone else tell her what to do with her sentences.