By Julie Daines
There has been a lot of talk lately about “edgy” young-adult literature. Read the blurbs about what many agents are looking for and it will include the word “edgy.” Manuscripts are rejected because they aren’t “edgy” enough.
Edgy is generally defined as books that push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable. One definition said that there are no forbidden subjects in edgy young-adult fiction, but they are “written with sensitivity and care, not gratuitously.”
Critics opposed to edgy YA argue that the novels encourage destructive or immoral behavior. Those in favor claim that fictional portrayal of teens successfully addressing difficult situations and confronting social issues helps readers deal with real-life challenges.
I looked up an agent’s list of edgy books, and one that caught my eye was about a teenage girl who falls in love with a boy from her apartment building. The girl’s feelings for the boy become confused when she discovers that he is actually a girl who has had a sex change.
Is that edgy? Is it gratuitous? Or does it help teens confront real-life challenges? How many teens will really have to face that kind of situation?
Another recent book is written entirely in text message lingo and deals with a group of teenage girls who discuss boys, gossip, sex, clothes and getting drunk. A book geared for grades 8-10.
One reader left her comment regarding this book on Amazon: “This book offends me and makes me ashamed to be a teenage girl…is this what people think we’re like? AHHH. No.”
Are we underestimating our youth when we push edgy too far? Are we selling the rising generation short when we appeal to the lowest common denominator?
Many books that were once considered too edgy are now taught in our schools. Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, and Speak. What’s the difference? What makes these books worthy of study?
What is the boundary between “edgy” and “trashy”? Where is the line for taboo subject matter? Do we compromise ourselves as authors when we cross those lines simply for the chance to make money or get our work published?
All teens deal with challenges, heartache, and a huge range of deep, serious, emotional issues. It seems to me that books that actually do help them cope with these “real-life challenges” are uplifting, not gratuitous, and carry a message of safety and hope. They stretch the teenage mind into a positive, new way of thinking that inspires them to want to be better, lifts them up rather than pulling them down, and does not simply shock and tantalize the senses.
What do you think?