Hello, lovely peoples! It is a beauteous Tuesday here in Southern California, and I have been PONDERING.
Also, whichever one of you got me hooked on alliteration (points up at post title), I suggest you start running, for I am mightily vexed. You don't even want to know what my manuscripts look like these days. It's like Old English Poetry decided to just take a dump all over them.
So I've been thinking a lot lately about the responsibility of an author, especially a YA author, in regards to difficult or morally gray subject matter. A lot of YA (particularly contemporaries) tackle some pretty heavy stuff these days. I mean, we all remember the Wall Street Journal kerfluffle, right? But it's not subject matter that's got me thinking, but how we approach those subject matters.
Sometimes you have the Voice of Moral Authority, that heavy-handed author who ordains from her writing desk that CERTAIN THINGS ARE BAD AND YOU SHOULD NEVER DO THEM. 'Mary Ellen caved to peer pressure and smoked a joint one day and it ruined her life and broke up her family and she flunked out of school and never went to college and worked at a gas station the rest of her life and died miserable and alone, DO YOU WANT TO BE LIKE MARY ELLEN?'
Fortunately, most of us keep our Voices of Moral Authority tucked far, far away from our writing desks.
But then we have Buddy-Buddy/I'm Just Like You Kids Syndrome, that lackadaisical approach wherein we're all just good friends and its just a story anyways and kids'll make the right choice on their own. 'Mary Ellen got high every single day and it was totally awesome and she never had to be sober once all through high school and yet she still graduated with honors and had a totally cool boyfriend and they both went to law school and had two point five kids, a golden retriever and a house with a white picket fence and lived happily ever after while still occasionally getting high with their now teenage kids, DON'T YOU WISH YOU WERE JUST LIKE MARY ELLEN?'
Fortunately, this particular syndrome is rare amongst capable writers as well.
Obviously, these are two very extreme ends of the spectrum, and most of us, and most published works, fall somewhere in the middle. The question is, where do you fall in this spectrum? What do you see as your responsibility to teen readers?
I think most of us would like to be as true to life as possible and let readers draw their own conclusions, and decide for themselves. But drugs are a fairly easy example. There's not a lot of gray area when it comes to strictly illegal substances and breaking the law, so you don't HAVE to be heavy-handed as an author to still feel comfortable that kids aren't going to put down your book and immediately go in search of a crack pipe, no matter what tack you take with it. It takes some of the pressure off.
But what about something where there isn't as clear a right or wrong? A lot of YA deals with complex social issues like eating disorders, abusive relationships, etc....so let's extrapolate from one of those.
This is a purely hypothetical writing exercise, not based on a real book:
Say you're writing a story that involves a boy with a history of being abusive to his girlfriend - but he's not with her anymore, he's done his best to make amends, he's been through therapy, he's doing his best to be a different person, a better person...and he meets a new girl. What does this new girl in your story and in his life do? Does she trust herself with him, even knowing he has a violent past, believing in second chances and that he's a different person now?
What message would you, the author writing that narrative, want teenage girls to take away from reading that book? And how much, and in what ways, would your writing of that book be shaped by the choice you'd hope your readers would make if they found themselves in that situation?