Monday, September 21, 2009: Guest blogger: Lara Stauffer

As I’m winging my way back to the US today, my dear friend and wonderful writer Lara shares some thoughts about the need for upbeat YA fiction.

Some people think it should ONLY be, well, bland. Some people think it should ONLY reflect angst.

I think it’s really important for YA fiction to cover the wide spectrum, because teenage emotions cover it. There’s a need to deal with real issues, even the tough ones, that teens face.

There’s also a need for escapism and joy and outcomes where Good wins.

And Lara articulates it better than I ever could:

A Little Levity, Please…
by Lara Stauffer

You remember being a teenager, don’t you? I know, it’s “been a while.” It’s been a while for me, too. But I remember being bogged down with schoolwork, experiencing “friend drama” (as most teens do) participating in extracurricular activities, etc. etc. etc.

And what was my escape from the craziness of my angst-filled teen years?

A good read. I loved getting lost in a good book. The Sweet Valley High series was a favorite. Or the whimsical “Secret Garden.” And who can forget the “Choose Your Own Adventure” Series? Or Trixie Belden? Little House on the Prairie Books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—the list goes on. All whimsical, light, magical, romantic. All good escape reading.

Cut to today, and what are teens calling those books?


And what is the average teen reading for escape value?

Books about vampires. Books about abused teens finding other abused teens to commiserate with. Books about suicide and death, and teen pregnancy. Books that are dark, gritty, and “edgy.”

This is escape reading? Just scanning the synopses of the books in the YA section of any bookstore gives me chills. For example, why would someone consider the gritty tale of a homeless kid, fending for themselves on the streets and abusing drugs an escape read?

Call me old fashioned, but I think today’s YA books are too dark, too violent, too gory, too sexy. Kids are forced to grow up quickly enough as it is. Their lives are chaotic, fast-moving and pressure-laden. The teenage years are depressing enough, we don’t need depressing books on top of everything else.

I am left wondering: when did “happy books” become gauche? The books that made you smile, or laugh, or sigh in contentment? Case in point, I had a friend critique a query of mine, where I gave a teaser on my fairy story. Her critique was that my query made the story sound too “light” and I needed to add in the fact that the Fairies drank blood, so it would seem “darker and edgier” for potential agents. Because “darker and edgier” is in right now. I was surprised, but she was right.

This too, shall pass. I have faith. One day, the “Brady Bunch” endings won’t be scoffed at. Mirth and Light will be back. Teens will return to escape reading that truly gives one an “escape” from the doldrums of Life.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Lara Stauffer is a stay-home mom of four, who writes happy YA and Middle Grade Fiction. You can read Lara’s daily ramblings on her blogs, “Ramblings Of A Suburban Soccer Mom” and “The Potted Pen.”

Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 1:27 am  Comments (7)  
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  1. I’m missing the “good old days” too, Laura. But I remember a few books that I read then that were, well, disturbing in nature. I loved them. Why? Because they reminded me my life wasn’t so screwed up after all. :))

    These books, while being violent and oddly gory, have the same basic formula we’re used to – angst-ridden teens, misunderstood by the “in” crowd, meeting odd characters and having their lives propelled at first before taking control and steering their own destinies. I’m not a fan of the Harry Potters (couldn’t get past the first few pages) or the vampires, but teens are gobbling them up for a reason. They’re escapism. They offer an alternative reality where freaks are accepted and the odd kid out becomes the hero/heroine. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.

  2. Great post, Lara. You make me want to dig out my old Famous Five books now!

    I can’t offer any theories to your questions. My own daughter reads a lot of this edgy stuff (her favourite author is Jacqualine Wilson) but at the end of the day I just say keep saying to myself, “at least she’s reading a book”.


  3. I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books and I am STILL kicking myself for getting rid of my ENTIRE collection. GRR Oh well.

    But you’re right. The YA books about demon hunters and zombies and all that is what is hot these days. I love a good happy, fantatasic read with a bit a romance, too. But you knew this. 😉

  4. Thanks for having me on, Dev. I hope you fly safe! Can’t wait to hear from you!


  5. My Daughter reads some of the angst ridden and dark books, but luckily she prefers books like the Percy Jackson series, or the Artemis Fowl series. At least I know she’s reading of Good vs. Evil. As for the other books out there such as the P.C. and Kristen Cast books, the House of Night series? I’m making her wait a bit. You’re right. The pressure on kids to grow up fast is at least something I can control with her leisure reading.

  6. Lara (sorry for misspelling your name), I think I get why they like this. Sexual tension is rampant in teens. Edgy stuff is somewhat of an outlet, I suspect. They ARE forced to grow up too quickly, and I’d say part of the blame rests on the parents who don’t make enough noise about what these kids are exposed to in the media, but that’s another story.

    I would rather they read about fantasy worlds that they know in their heads don’t exist rather than see it depicted “in real life” on tv or the Internet. Back when I was savoring Sidney Sheldon and Rosemary Rogers books, I knew these were not real. It was too sexy, but it was an escape from my pubescence and made me feel like I was in on the big secret, so to speak. 😉

  7. Thanks to Lara for the post and everyone for stopping by and commenting!

    I think there’s room for both. I think there’ so much genuine terror in the world nowadays that some of the fiction SHOULD be on the gentler, more lighthearted side to balance it out.

    i think there can be an innocence and a gentleness without stupidity, if that makes any sense.

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