As a writer who likes to push the limits, Banned Books Week -- which this year was at the end of September -- is always one of my favorites. I used to question how far I should go, what would get me in trouble with editors, with agents, with conservative groups, with my mom. But my husband would tell me, “The best thing that can happen to you is to get banned. You get more attention that way, and then you sell more books.”
He’s got a good point. Teens love things their parents say “no” to. But banned books aren’t about just throwing in taboo and gratuitous material. Truth is, YA books are never banned for being poorly written. A YA editor would rather burn their favorite reading chair or be cut off from coffee for an eternity than to throw a mediocre book out into the marketplace. YA books are banned because they are written so well and with so much truth and honesty that they resonate with their readers.
Which is why books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky are on the list of most frequently banned books. While banners of YA literature only see the language, sexual content, or on-the-fringe social issues in these books, teens see real life. And they relate to it. But more importantly, they feel they are not alone.
Meg Cabot, author of over 45 YA books, said in last week’s awesome CNN article, A brief history of young adult literature, that "The whole reason you're reading is because you want some hope that you're going to get through whatever you're going through. I know how hard it was as a teenager, and I understood how it felt to be an outsider. I want to be able to offer people hope."
CNN’s article also suggests that what young adults relate to has changed drastically from the inception of YA literature, and it will continue to change as taboo subject barriers are broken down and the majority of society accepts that more teens are getting involved with and relating to subjects like sex, drugs, self-mutilation, bingeing, etc. Even ten years ago, editors and agents would read my work and tell me that sex could happen, but you’d have to “close the door on the reader” before teens read it in detail. Now that door stays open while YA writers find the most effective way of packing the emotion into the experience without turning it into 50 Shades of Grey.
Ellen Hopkins, author of emotionally wrenching novels in verse, is frequently banned, even as her books go straight to the New York Times Bestseller list. Hopkins says her intention is never to sensationalize the mistakes and tragedies of teens. Instead, she tries to get as close as she can to the emotional heart of these issues.
"The story lines push the boundaries of what young adult is allowed to be," she says. "I don't see how arming kids with knowledge can ever be a bad thing."*
In honor of 2013 Banned Books Week, YA Fusion is giving away Ellen Hopkins’ new novel, SMOKE. Simply post a comment below about your favorite banned book or what your stance is on banning YA literature. A random drawing will be held and the winner posted on Friday, October 25. Be sure to leave your email so I can contact you in case you win. Drawing open to only U.S. and Canadian residents.