Sex in the School Library – 5 Tips for YA Authors

As both a YA author and a high-school teacher librarian, I’m in the unique position to look at young adult literature from both a writer’s as well as a gatekeeper’s perspective. And when it comes to sexual content in YA, there are some things YA authors might be interested to know about getting their book into a school library.

Girl Reading

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Let’s Talk About Sex … in YA

Sex in young adult literature is not a new thing. Ever since Judy Blume’s YA novel Forever ruffled some moral feathers along with the bed sheets back in 1975, young adult literature has gone where a lot of parents, teachers, and other adults wish teens didn’t venture until they were well past the age of eighteen—namely behind that closed door where all that … well … you know … where all the hanky panky takes place (insert blush here).

Okay, brace yourselves, because according to a recent survey of Australian upper secondary students 69% of fifteen year olds have experienced some form of sexual activity, including intercourse. Since one of literature’s roles is to reflect society, it makes sense that fiction for young adults would include themes of sex and sexual discovery. If done well, sexual content in books for young adults can play an important role in the social and emotional development of teens. Whichever way you feel about sex in YA, it’s here to stay, and any school librarian will tell you that sexual content in fiction for young adults is pushing boundaries and becoming more explicit. Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury and Patrick Ness’ Release are only two such examples.

Now, school libraries and teacher librarians are at the forefront of YA literature advocacy. The only thing we love more than YA books is matching a YA title with the right reader (cue the warm-fuzzies *sigh*). But even though most school librarians take a strong anti-censorship, ‘open access to information’ stance, they must work within the ethos and guidelines of the schools that employ them. This means some school libraries won’t acquire certain YA titles because of their explicit content. YA authors might – or might not – want to keep this in mind when writing that ‘swinging-from-the-chandelier’ sex scene.

Awkward Kiss

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Here are some things for YA authors to consider in relation to school libraries acquiring their book babies:

  • Most school libraries cater for a broad age range, which often means twelve year olds have access to the same books as eighteen year olds. Depending on the procedures in place to help students select developmentally appropriate material, some school libraries may choose not to acquire YA with overtly explicit sexual content. It’s not personal, trust me.

 

  • Don’t assume all faith-affiliated school libraries will only want ‘clean YA’. Yes, some faith-based schools will have conservative acquisitions policies, but you’ll find many that are more liberal.

 

  • When writing, ensure sexual content in your YA novel has a purpose; that it serves the plot and / or character development. If it’s simply there because you believe most teens your characters’ age are ‘doing it’, it most likely won’t read true to your story, and is less likely to be selected for a school library collection.

 

  • Aim for realistic depictions of teen sexual experience. Teen sexual encounters, whatever end of the heat scale they’re at, are often awkward and fumbly, filled with insecurity, naivety, and self doubt. They need to be put on the page with sensitivity, while taking care not to patronise the intended reader. School libraries are looking for YA texts that reflect their student body and community.

 

  • More emotion and less body parts, please! YA fiction by nature is usually written from a close point of view, and can therefore benefit from focusing more on the characters’ internalisations than the mechanics of the act. Young adults learn about the physical how-to of sex in primary school. It’s the emotional and relational aspects where sexual content in YA can play a powerful developmental role in young adults’ lives, and it’s this – as well as a good story, of course – that will win school librarians over.

What are your thoughts on sex in YA when it comes to school libraries? I’d love to hear about your experiences, whether you’re an author, librarian or reader.


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Four Times I Got on the Wrong Ship (aka Unlucky in Love Triangles)

Featured image source: Shutterstock

Ship noun (in fanfic) 1. a relationship.
— verb (t) (shipped, shipping
2. to create a relationship between two characters in a work of fiction, as in the genre fanfic.
[shortened form of relationship]

— Macquarie Dictionary

Love triangles* are one of the biggest tropes in modern YA and in speculative fiction more broadly, usually of the two-guys-one-girl variety.

(The geometry nerd in me has to point out that it usually isn’t a triangle but two lines with one connecting point. Gale never snogged Peeta in The Hunger Games … though it’d be the work of a few seconds to turn up a fanfic where he did. Anyway, moving on…)

For a writer, they are loads of fun and a great source of romantic and dramatic tension. For a reader, love triangles can be the ultimate in wish fulfilment. But I have another game that I play when I read books with a love triangle, which is “pick my favourite love interest and watch them lose”. If love triangles are a race between the (usually) two guys for the (usually) one girl, don’t back my bet, people. I almost always get on the wrong ship. Part of that is because I tend to go for the best friend character, the boy next door, rather than the brooding and enigmatic one, and in urban fantasy (my favourite genre) Mr Enigma always wins. 

Four times I got on the wrong ship

Katniss, Peeta and Gale (The Hunger Games) — I was pro-Gale in the beginning, though I did have a soft spot for Peeta (as the boy next door) as well. It just seemed obvious to me that Katniss was hung up on Gale from the start. Of course, then she got broken and he couldn’t deal. By halfway through the third book I had changed ships, but for the first two? I got it totally wrong. 

Hermione, Ron and Harry (Harry Potter) — It’s been a while since I read the books, but I don’t remember JK Rowling inserting much in the way of a love triangle into them. It was more that I was on the Harry ship from the start, and I could never quite deal with the whole Ron thing. Sorry, Ron. 

Clary, Jace and Simon (The Mortal Instruments) — This was a textbook case of me liking the nerdy, normal best friend over the brooding and arrogant Mr Enigma. Given the allegations that Simon is based off Harry from Cassandra Clare’s fanfic-writing days (and Jace is Draco), that shouldn’t be a surprise. At least I’m consistent!

Alyssa, Jeb and Morpheus (Splintered) — This was a race to the bottom between the boys for me. Jeb was the literal boy next door but I hated his domineering attitude even more than I hated Morpheus’s manipulations. At least Morpheus had playfulness going for him, but I wanted neither of them to end up with Alyssa — which, again, was the opposite of what happened. (I only read the first two Twilight books, but I felt the same way about Edward and Jacob. Hard pass on both.) 

Do you play the “who will win” game when you read books with love triangles? Are you better at picking the ship that wins out in the end? Or do you go your own way, fanfic style, and create a ship outside the parameters of the original story — such as Draco and Harry, or McGonnagall and Snape? Leave a comment telling us about your favourite ship!


Cassandra PageCassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer who has used used love triangles a couple of times, in her Isla’s Inheritance YA urban fantasy trilogy and her Lucid Dreaming adult urban fantasy duology (the second book of which comes out later this year). Mmm, triangle-y. 

 

Creating the Feels

I love reading books that leave you with that “feeling all the feels”. Recently, I finished Me Before You by Jojo Meyes, and I have to admit — wow. All. The. Feels!

I was trying to work out what draws such an emotional response from me when it comes to books. After all, if I have a list, it means I could maybe try do it myself one day . . . right?! So here are some of my thoughts on what makes a Feels book:

  • A flawed protagonist. In every book I’ve read that has drawn an intense emotional response from me, the protagonist has been flawed. They’ve not been the perfect babe who gets all the guys. They’ve been raw and very real, with clear issues that have helped define their life, and not always in a good way. Whether you’re looking at Lake in Colleen Hoover’s Slammed, or Fern in Kristin Maddock’s The Enchanted Orchards, they’re people who have had a serious event in their past that they’re trying to overcome; not always with success.
  • Well crafted story structure. For me, the novels that give me the feels build, and build, then, wham! You reach a climx point that absolutely changes the direction of the novel, leaving you feeling betrayed, a little like everything you thought you knew about a character was wrong/is different/has been taken from you. You see a different side, and realise the motivations for their actions is completely different to what you thought it was.

    Sometimes, I'm a sucker for a little bit of heartache  Photo: Big Stock Photo

    Sometimes, I’m a sucker for a little bit of heartache
    Photo: Big Stock Photo

  • Heartbreak. I know you can get the feels from happy books, or thriller books, or, erm, erotica books. HOWEVER the books that really stick with me the most are the ones that break my heart. I don’t know why; it makes no sense. Why do I want to read about other people’s sadness? Is it so I can cheat, have an excuse to cry on someone else’s behalf? Is it because really, I’m not over some of the sadness I’ve experienced in my life, and some books tap in and trigger the heartbreak button for me? I’m not sure. But I do know that heartbreak gives me the feels. Provided that…
  • The protagonist is likeable. I need to be deeply invested, to care about them and their journey. I need to feel like we could be friends in real life. And, for me, this often means they need to have a similar moral grounding to what I have — pretty centre field, no major indisgressions, no propensity for cheating on the quarterback with his best friend, or bitching about friends behind their backs. Hey, I like reading those stories too — sometimes, I LOVE reading those stories — but they’re not usually the ones that leave me with the feels.

There are a whole heap of other qualities that make up books that give me the feels; these are just a few I’ve thought of now. So what about you? What gives you the feels when you’re reading a book?

 

Lauren (3)Lauren K. McKellar is an editor of fact and fiction. She has worked in publishing for more than eight years, and was recently Runner Up Editor of the Year in the 2013 Publishers Australia Excellence Awards for her magazine work.
Lauren is also an author and her debut novel, Finding Home, was released in October this year through Escape Publishing, and her second novel, The Problem With Crazy, is coming out March, 2014.