Monday, August 5, 2013

Sex in YA — Part 1

This is a series blogpost. Fair warning.

Just a little theme music...

This is a subject I’ve been wanting to discuss for quite some time and something that’s recently come up in regard to the Grab Your Pole series and its genre. Herein lies a problem though; one that needs to be addressed before we can even broach the subject of sex within the GYP series and its genre, and that problem is:

What, exactly, is that genre?

I’ve been over that question myriad times with a slew of people including my agent, and we’ve all come to the same conclusion. We don’t know.

How can that be? You’re the author for goodness sake, don’t you know what genre your own books fall into, you ask?

Well, not necessarily because as it turns out, genre is rather subjective when it comes to the broader category of young adult. A reader of the GYP series mentioned that in her writing class it is believed that actual sex between the main characters doesn’t occur in YA books, but that authors have been seen breaking that “rule” lately. That’s probably because there is no hard and fast rule as it pertains to pigeonholing a book into the YA genre. Everyone from authors and readers to literary agents and publishing houses seem to have their own criteria for deciding what a title should be listed as. Additionally, the burgeoning genre of new adult appears to have made for even more smudging of already blurry lines. Not only that, but depending on the presentation, the criteria isn’t so black and white as one might think either, all making it tricky to list certain titles. Titles like mine that fall squarely in the gray.

Here, take a look at some of the criteria many use in determining genre nowadays (Yes, I said nowadays. Shut up, I’m old.) and maybe you’ll understand what I mean about the gray.

Characters 18 or younger — YA or NA?
Characters 18 and up — YA or NA?
Characters in high school — YA or NA?
Characters in college — YA or NA?
Characters having sex — YA or NA?
Strong or adult language — YA or NA?
The use of drugs and/or alcohol — YA or NA?
Adult and/or mature life issues dealt with — YA or NA?

Now for those of you who have read my work, look at that list and how you would categorize the determining qualifications, and then based on your determined criteria, where does the Grab Your Pole series fall? By my math the GYP series falls into NA. BUT, some of those criteria aren’t exactly black and white so depending on how they’re presented and written in a story, an argument could be made that with the way I’ve chosen to write the GYP series thus far that it’s more YA than it is NA. However, for some people the age of the characters weighs heavier than the other qualifications listed, so it could also be said that it’s a tie as according to that list.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

There is no possible way to stick this particular series of books into a hard and fast genre that everyone will agree on across the board based on subjective criteria. I’ve had readers claim the series is very YA. I’ve had readers say the exact opposite. My agent has said that she would maybe call it NA, but like others I’ve spoken to, she’s not firm in her position at the moment either. Personally, I feel like it starts off relatively YA, moves into mature young adult as the series progresses, and then sort of straddles the fence but maybe hasn’t quite put both feet across the thin line into NA yet. Maybe. Because book 3...? Well, it might be seriously teetering and that’s where maybe comes more heavily into play. Here again, though, it’s subjective and this is coming from a woman with friends who wouldn’t let their children watch certain Disney movies like Hercules because it was on the dark and scary side, but who raised her own child on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A child, mind you, who wholeheartedly wanted to dress as Buffy for Halloween when she was 3 fucking years old. Let’s just say I tend to lean towards being less conservative in my opinion on certain subject matter than others are. Shocker, right?

I’m sure there will be people reading this who *gasp* haven’t read the 3 published books that make up the Grab Your Pole series thus far, so how about we break it down and see if we can’t figure this shit out together, okay? We’ll call it teamwork. And yeah, I’m usually one of those type Z personalities; you know, a lazy kind of person who can’t seem to manage to do things for herself and would love for others to step in and take over until her brain explodes because she just watched someone put a bowl in the top rack of the dishwasher when everyone should know that bowls always go on the bottom rack, goddamnit, but I’m not opposed to doing a little teamwork in this case.

The GYP gang is made up primarily of 16 to 18 year olds in high school with varying levels of life experience, but Jillian, who you absolutely cannot leave out of the equation here, starts off being 12 in junior high, but turns 13 and goes into high school. She’s obviously by far the youngest of the gang, but she’s also probably the most aware and mature of them as well. That in itself poses a conundrum, doesn’t it?

Are the characters drinking and partaking of the occasional recreational drug? You betcha. Are they talking like most teenagers in high school, vulgarity and sexual innuendo included? Fuck yes. Have they come up against certain situations and obstacles in their lives that people usually associate happening in the lives of adults? Absolutely. Life doesn’t look at a person’s age and say, “Eh...I don’t know. That one is a little young to have to deal with XYZ. I think I’ll give him or her another couple of years to learn some more coping skills.” Yeah, bullshit. It’s more like, “Hey kid! Here comes a tidal wave! Hope you know how to swim, ‘cuz if you don’t, you’re fucked.”

Are some of the GYP gang members having sex? Duh. Of course they are. Whether parents and other adults want to admit it, an assload of teens are having sex in high school. Some of them started when they were in junior high school, and there are even a few whom, shockingly and sadly, have their first, full-fledged sexual experience in elementary school. Does that mean that every teenager banged someone before they could vote or legally buy booze? No, of course not. I’m just saying, let’s not kid ourselves. Premarital sex amongst teens isn’t a new trend by any means. Fact.

And then for kicks, let’s throw in this little bit of trivia: 3 out of the 8 main characters in the GYP series are 18 by the end of book 3, Shark Out of Water. They’re still in high school, true, but according to the U.S. Government, they’re old enough to be contracted and paid to commit murder in the name of freedom and in the protection of our country and all it holds dear. With that being the unobjectionable truth, I still can’t fathom why the legal drinking age in most states is 21. I mean if you’re old enough to legally kill someone while doing your duty for the good ol’ USofA, you should sure as shit be able to legally buy yourself a goddamned beer afterwards.

Alright so we have a mix of underage and adult-age high school students, who are partying it up and misspending their youth like many teens have done for centuries and will continue to do, while at the same time, they’re being confronted with having to make life choices and being forced to deal with some things even adults wish they didn’t have to face. They’re making decisions, they’re making mistakes, they’re learning who they are, what they want out of life and how to get it. They’re growing up; something that doesn’t happen over the course of a single birthday, and something that not all “adults” have done yet themselves.

So, you tell me, are the characters in the Grab Your Pole series part of a young adult story or a new adult story? I know, right? Feel free to talk amongst yourselves and get back to me with your answer, then join me in the continuation of Sex in YA later this week with parts 2 and 3.


  1. I consider NA to be an category or age group, and not necessarily a genre.
    I've always listed the GYP Series as Mature YA.

    But what do I know...

    1. You know that Brandon is yours, so that counts for something, right? :-p

      But you're right, in a way. Part of the "issue"—for lack of a better word—is that the whole topic is subjective. No one has come out and said whether NA is a sub-genre or category within YA or Adult, and everyone is basically free to make their own determination. It makes for confusion, I think, and then throw in the fact that when self-publishing and listing your book, there isn't an option to list as Mature YA, or even NA. Because of that, I've found that I have to list in general fiction under the sub-genres of Coming of Age and Contemporary Fiction, and on one of the buy sites I think I have to list under Children's Literature which is where the Coming of Age sub-genre is, but there isn't a way to list as simply YA either. I have to use keywords for making it searchable in the places it should be.

      So in looking at that, my next question would be, how would an author publishing a true NA title list it?


  2. I think your books show growing up pretty well. Each one seems to have been with the POV getting more mature too.

    I would label them Mature YA/NA. I think some stories need to be told. Not everybody needs to like them - or should like it.

    1. I would definitely agree to all that you said, especially the latter part of not everybody needing to like them, which I'm actually planning on addressing in a future blogpost. ;-)

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Great discussion! I completely agree with you. Plus your books deal with real situations. No need to sugar coat reality!

    1. Thank you, I try. LOL

      And I really do try to keep it real, however, I also try to throw some sugarcoating in where I think it's either needed or will be appreciated. If I didn't, the series would be depressing AF and no one would want to read it. Plus, sometimes reality does share itself with the outrageous and is just as hilarious.

      Thanks for the comment and I hope you stop by for the rest of the blog series!

  4. This is exactly why I hate book genres. I wish we could just rate them like we do movies. It would make it much more simple. I don't need you tell me that a book is Science Fiction, I can read the blurb and figure that shit out on my own. Just tell me if it G, PG, NC-17, R or X so I know to stay away from the G/PG. ;) I always thought the GYP series is Mature YA but as the characters grow it would end up in NA which I think is age based, not so much content based. There is plenty of NA out there that has no sexual content. And, honestly, labeling one genre or the other doesn't always tell you if the reader is ready to read it. There are 16 year old kids out there not ready to read anything with sex/drinking/drugs and plenty of younger kids who are. I'm rambling now, I'll stop...great conversation though!

    1. Ali, I kind of want to give your comment a standing ovation. LOL

      And here again, being that the genre of YA is so broad and subjective as it is, labeling is tricky. Also, I don't know that I would be a fan of movie ratings on books because of the last part of your rambling, but if it's done right and is suggested rather than lawfully enforced, I might be cool with it.

      And here's another point for you to noodle on... If there were to be a rating system in place for books, how would you rate some of the classics, like Romeo & Juliet? There's blood, betrayal, strong language for the day, suicide, sex...all kinds of fun stuff, yet it's taught to underage kids in school. Not only that, but my own kid was given summer work for her honors Lit. class a couple summers ago and even *I* was offended at what they were being told they had to read. It was probably one of those stories that The Book Elf mentioned up there—a story that needs to be told—but should 14 & 15 year olds be required to read graphic rape and public masturbation scenes? I mean does that really go to advancing their academics and literary enlightenment, or is it gonna scar a lot of them for life because they weren't expecting it and weren't emotionally ready?

    2. Great points! Obviously a rating system is just as flawed as a genre system. Both have their kinks. And, I could go on for days about 'required' reading list.

    3. Right? I mean within the same school district in which there are only FOUR high schools, the required reading for the same class was/is all over the board. That year my oldest had to read two books, one I mentioned in my previous reply and the other was a classic, I believe, but my memory sucks. Regardless though, it was a fairly inobtrusive and rather blah read. Another school, however, had its students of the honors Lit. class reading the Hunger Games. I'm not shitting you. The fucking Hunger Games series was assigned as summer reading in a high school honors Lit. class. I mean what teenager in their right mind wouldn't consider ditching their hard won social ranking and starting over as a nobody by transfering schools just because of that? I mean that's like having to eat liver and onions when your friends are eating Bacon and chocolate cake.

    4. Wow. I don't even..I have no words.

  5. Well, we've discussed this before and I list GYP as Mature YA/NA. The reason being that the situations that they deal with as the series progresses are more mature. Sex is, hopefully, mature and this group has a very realistic handle on what sex "should" be. In my opinion, anyway. Traditionally, YA doesn't get as detailed with sex, drugs, drinking, etc. I think Mature YA/NA allows the author more flexibility and really more of a realistic approach to teen life. Now, I have read books about college age kids that I would definitely label as Adult. I just think it depends on the content. It doesn't have to be a sex thing. Great post!

    1. I know we have and I love you for commenting (well, I just love you regardless, but you know what I mean), because you have a differing opinion in that you feel it's a content-based thing rather than age-based, which just proves my whole, "this topic is subjective" argument. We're all, everyone who has anything to do with literature, going to have a different thought process on this because it's a gray area and we're left to make up our own minds. Well, not me. I don't make up my mind, that's what I have you for. :-*

  6. I've always thought of the books as mature YA, and as the books have continued I still see them that way. They may verge into NA as the characters age but as of right now I think they still belong in the YA genre.
    For me the sex, drinking or drugs doesn't matter. It's about the age of the characters.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and giving us your two cents! Now, I'm not saying I don't agree with you, but I'm kind of in a mood right now, so I'm gonna play devil's advocate with your comment.

      If it's about age, would you still classify a book as Mature YA if the main character was, say...14 and was demonstrating progress towards being a serial killer by torturing and killing animals, being violent with parents and friends, and maybe even raping a classmate, all of which was depicted in graphic detail?

      Or what about a story told from a young girl's point of view who was sold into prostitution and tells of drugs, assault, sodomy? Still MYA, or no?

      I don't have specific examples of books in mind or anything, I'm just curious as to what your thoughts are. ;-)

    2. Interesting points. I would still classify them as YA but I would hope that the authors would let readers know that the subject matter is quite intense and may not be suitable for all YA readers.

      I read a lot of adult novels in high school. I was slightly addicted to true crime books especially those written by Ann Rule. Of course I read a variety of other adult authors as well. Since I was actually a young adult back then reading about murders I guess that's why I think that it's an age thing rather than a subject matter.

      I would say that many young adults can handle such intense subjects but not all. It wasn't til after high school that I actually started reading young adult or was even aware that there was such a genre.

  7. I like both Andrea's and Ali's comments and agree with you totally Jenn. I kind of look at NA more as an age-group to rather than whether there is sex in it. Like Ali said also, a rating system would work much better. I worked in Public Health for 10 years with teenagers and trust me, as you well know, they are having sex, and they know more about it than most adults. Granted, there are some that don't, but I think there are more that do. I think as long as that is made clear in the book's description - that it's mature YA, etc., there shouldn't be a problem with it. The YA books that I have read where the characters do have sex have all been very good and very well done, and frankly the ones that do are mostly a lot less frustrating :)

  8. I don't know if this has been put out there in regards to this thread, but here I go. I think unless a series is always the same for every book and there is no major life changes, such as growing up from a child, teenager, to legal adult, then it can be crammed into a category. But if there is a series that has a starting point and continues to follow the main characters, and even supporting characters, through times of their lives when they are changing how they think, the way they see things, how they see themselves and other and how life changes things, then I do not think a series can be shoved into a category. To me GYP series is exactly like that. So no I don't think that the GYP series SHOULD be put in a determined genre, but the books individually can. Here is my opinion as an example: Shark Bait- YA, Other Fish in the Sea- Ya, Shark Out of Water- MYA. I wouldn't classify any of this series thus far as NA. While yes there is sexual situations and sex, none of those situations or encounters are given any strong description, it's all been mild. There was no thrusting, pounding or any other describing words when there was sex. That's my opinion on that, feel free to tell me to shut it, but be prepared to receive in kind! ;)

    And last, but not least, I really hate it when a reader reviews a book that has teenagers having sex and the review be something along the lines: "Teenagers don't have sex and to write about it is wrong". Well, wake up parents! I was 17 the first time I had sex. I was the last of my friends to have sex, so my 5 closest friends had sex under the age of 17. It's completely unrealistic to think that it doesn't happen, hello MTV's 16 and Pregnant?? Does this mean that the parents who are writing these reviews, and maybe even a few teens themselves, are wrong? Nope, maybe their teens aren't having sex, or they are and are hiding that fact well. Either way, sex happens between teens and if not sex then they sure try out all the bases at one point. Sure, it would be great if all teens wait at least until they are out of high school to have sex, but if they are educated and protecting themselves and not relying on the other person to do 100%, then they can make those decisions for themselves.


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