The edge has moved (but it’s still sharp)

Back when Game as Ned was being pitched to various publishers, there was feedback that a particular scene in the story, a vicious and violent assault, might be considered “too edgy”. This feedback didn’t come from the editorial wings of companies. It came from the marketing divisions who thought it might limit their potential sales.

I’d already come under fire for my writing of the scene and had reworked it extensively. The moment isn’t graphic and I maintained it was integral to the story. Sometimes it takes a major incident such as this assault to be the catalyst for character action and growth.

I do wonder what rock the marketing folks are living under. In my visits to schools this year I have had extensive contact with teen readers, teachers and librarians. Some schools have been a tad squeamish about bad language in (other) YA fiction but none have raised the assault scene with me.

I can confidently say that teens are way more worldly than when I was in secondary school – more hardened to the “edgier” aspects of life. Whether this is a good thing is a debate for another time but check out the bleak-but-brilliant UK TV series Skins if you want a sense of where some YA kids are at today.

Some of the best YA titles published cover the big issues, fearlessly and without marketing spin. Here are just a few that pull no punches:
Before I Die
How I Live Now
Kill the Possum
So Much to Tell You

And there are plenty more.

I can offer further insight into the teen mind to let the marketing folks out there know that “edgy” isn’t what it used to be. For the past five years I have judged the secondary school short story competition for a rural show (that’s a country fair for any US readers). Here is the list of topics tackled by the year 8, 9 and 10 entrants for 2008:

  • Loneliness/abandonment (x 3)
  • Poverty/homelessness (x 4)
  • Domestic violence (x 2)
  • Disability
  • Bullying (x 4)
  • Fatal illness
  • Suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Heartbreak (x 2)
  • We also had plane crash carnage, Viking pillagers, truancy, fantasy and a rare but joyous hint of humour.

In the years I’ve been reading these stories, domestic violence, suicide and bullying have featured prominently. The teen years can be a dark place.

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