I’m ostensibly here to talk about my new book His Cursed Prince (out now!) but I’d like to talk about Young Adult literature instead.
In my real life, I’m a teen librarian. I’m on a collection development committee for new YA books at my library. I’m a card-carrying YALSA member. (YALSA is the YA librarians’ arm of the American Library Association). I’m not saying that I’m an expert in YA lit, but it takes up a darn good portion of my work day, and I spend a lot of time thinking about it, including analyzing works that are on the cusp between middle grade and YA or YA and Emerging Adult to determine where to put them in the collection. (A few times a month a coworker gives me a “cusper” and asks my opinion.) General guidelines: characters aged between 14-19 (20-21 at a stretch, but usually this pushes into Emerging Adult arena) and this from YALSA: Whether one defines young adult literature narrowly or broadly, much of its value cannot be quantified but is to be found in how it addresses the needs of its readers…That period of passage called “young adulthood” is a unique part of life, distinguished by unique needs that are – at minimum — physical, intellectual, emotional, and societal in nature.” (Cart, 2008) http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/whitepapers/yalit
In a review I read this morning, the reviewer called my written-for-adults book His Cursed Prince “a teen read”. So here I have my book, which I didn’t write for teens, judged under the YA lens. So that was fascinating. I started thinking about all the cuspers that I’d had to find a place for, and how when I was truly stumped I’d ask other YA librarians and check our databases and search reviews to find a consensus for shelving. The reviewer speculated on my motivations for quite a few things I’d put in the book for my assumed teen audience, which was interesting for me to read, since I very much enjoy when readers bring new interpretations to my books. Among other things, he tried to figure out what I was trying to say by having a scene in which Tuck loses his virginity be angst-free and without consequence. Well, I wasn’t trying to say anything because I didn’t write this as YA. Tuck and Frederick are in their twenties. They are adults, in love, and ready to get it on. But! This gives us the opportunity to analyze that aspect of YA. In a YALSA white paper quoted above and titled “The Value of Young Adult Literature”, Michael Cart writes, “another value of young adult literature is its capacity for telling its readers the truth, however disagreeable that may sometimes be, for in this way it equips readers for dealing with the realities of impending adulthood and for assuming the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” This is the perfect explanation for the considered portrayal of sexuality in YA lit.
YA writers have often portrayed sex in a negative way that leads to negative consequences for the participants. Some think that is starting to shift, but I’m still seeing a balance. In the past week, I’ve read a book that had 1 character who reveled in her new sex life with her boyfriend and another who was deeply ashamed of it. Just this morning I finished one in which a teen was excited and conflicted over being seduced (taken advantage of) by two grown men. The key about the teens having the negative experience was that there was no love. In the first situation, it was a secret relationship and she felt used and in the other, it was two predators taking clear advantage. In both, the teens had body image issues and low self-esteem. Conversely, in the positive situation, the two teens had been in a stable relationship with good communication for years before deciding to have sex. (The book portrayed this teen talking to her friend prior to the act and being excited and nervous.)
All of this provides messaging to teens. If a teen decided to read His Cursed Prince, I would hope they take on the positive message that Tuck and Frederick are in love and they talk to each other. That is what I see more and more in YA, that balance between showing how to explore sexuality in a positive, affirming way and recognizing and reacting to negative situations, like the ones I mentioned. Even though I didn’t write His Cursed Prince for teens, I like that they might take this away from it. I actually think His Cursed Prince is too thematically simple to be YA. It’s an escapist magical realism fairy tale romance–though my favorite YAs are magical realism too. Teen lit explores issues that would send adults reeling. It doesn’t shy away from anything, and I think when adults start reading YA, they are often surprised to find honest portrayals of issues that face teens, from sexuality to violence to self-esteem to leaving home and more.
“YALSA finds another of the chief values of young adult literature in its capacity to offer readers an opportunity to see themselves reflected in its pages. Young adulthood is, intrinsically, a period of tension. On the one hand young adults have an all-consuming need to belong. But on the other, they are also inherently solipsistic, regarding themselves as being unique, which – for them — is not cause for celebration but, rather, for despair. For to be unique is to be unlike one’s peers, to be “other,” in fact. And to be “other” is to not belong but, instead, to be outcast. Thus, to see oneself in the pages of a young adult book is to receive the reassurance that one is not alone after all, not other, not alien but, instead, a viable part of a larger community of beings who share a common humanity.”
What this quote expresses may be the reason His Cursed Prince was viewed as a teen read by at least one reviewer. Despairing over his uniqueness describes Frederick almost perfectly, and Tuck could easily be seen here too. But these feelings don’t necessarily stop when the teen years do. Adults need reassurance that we are okay and loveable and acceptable and all unique and all the same and worthy too. We also need to see ourselves in what we read. What else is romance for if not to affirm all these things? Thanks to this review, now I’ve made this connection between adult romance and YA lit. I may never view either genre the same way again. I hope you are able to read His Cursed Prince, and give that white paper a glance too. http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/whitepapers/yalit And hey, if I’ve inspired any of you writers to try a new genre, you can thank me in the comments! 😀
Check out His Cursed Prince today!
Three facts about Tuckington Belle:
1. Given the choice between illegally scaling the royal castle’s walls to steal flowers for a client at his family’s dress shop or going on a date with a girl his brother set him up with (“He’s fertile, and he can sew!”), Tuck will scale the wall like a spider after a fly.
2. If, upon knocking himself unconscious when he falls off the wall, Tuck wakes up bruised, blindfolded, and inside the castle, where—based on the unearthly wails heard nightly—the prince no one has seen in ten years is probably a ghost, Tuck would still choose this over a date with a girl.
3. Tuck thinks it’s time to admit he’s gay.
Three facts about Prince Frederick George Deor (Read and approved with great reluctance by Lord “Protocol is Protocol. Stop Being a Pain About It” Todd):
1. He brought a curse upon himself and now bears the skin of a snake.
2. He can’t take his eyes off the injured thief recovering in the castle.
3. Friendships born from lying and insisting the other person wears a blindfold can blossom into true love—which he needs to break the curse.