Wednesday, March 23, 2011

V-Cards, Booze, and Other Teenage Unmentionables

I'm currently reading TWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler, and before I go into what's next, I want to say I'm recommending this book fully, unequivocally, 100 percent and all that. I think it's great. You should absolutely go read it. It's very comparable to Sarah Dessen and THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson in that it's YA chick lit with a more mature emotional edge. This book makes me feel like it's summer in California, which is exactly everyone needs at all times.

A particular premise of the book is that Anna, the main character, who is vacationing in California, has this prime opportunity to lose her virginity, which everyone refers to as her "albatross." So before you decide to agree or disagree.

Let's get one thing straight. All fiction has some semblance of reality. Even fantasy. There has to be something that people can relate to or else there's no reason to keep reading. And while real teenagers don't engage in fights with cyclopes or fall in love with vampires, they do have sex, smoke weed, and drink beer. Maybe not all three, all at the same time, or in that order, but these things happen.

Lately, I have seen a lot of complaints about how YA fiction portrays things that could be construed as sending the wrong message to readers about what is acceptable behavior. I suppose this depends on what you consider acceptable behavior. In my opinion, love interests watching you without your consent from your bedroom window is unromantic and borderline illegal. But the real question is do we actually believe people take social cues from what happens in a book? You could apply this to the multiple instances of underage drinking in YA novels. Does that make underage drinking seem less taboo or are these books just showing it like it is? I tend to think the latter, but maybe it's somewhat of a self-perpetuating cycle. Also, the whole virginity thing in TWENTY BOY SUMMER. People have wildly different views on how you should approach this issue, but the fact of the matter is, average age for first-time sex is 17 in the US. To me, it's just a number, no positive or negative conclusions about the moral state of America. I don't really care about whether you should "save it" or "get rid of it" or whatever, because obviously, everyone believes something different. My opinion: I think virginity is an antiquated social construct, and I've never really understood why it's so objectified. As long as you're safe and smart and you know what you want, then go ahead and do what you want.

I'm not saying these things because I want you to agree with me, but I'm just wondering whether YA books should be construed as life lessons or simply representations of what happens in the life of the average teenager. For example, if a character decides it is imperative to her social life to ditch her virginity ASAP, is this a message telling girls to go do stupid things like not use protection, form pregnancy pacts with their friends, and bonk any random hobo on the street, sobriety optional? omg, please do not do any of these things if you value your health/dignity/sanity/life at all. Or is this just reflecting what girls basically think today anyway?

What is our primary obligation as authors? Is it to entertain, to influence, or to truthfully portray? Or can we do all three? I think it depends, but I want to know what you think.

*So here was where I was going to put a picture of a typical college party with the caption "this happens," but then I googled "college party" and nothing that came up was even remotely appropriate. So yeah. Just imagine that picture. And that caption.*

1 comment:

  1. This is a tough one for me to answer. I don't expect people to share my views, but as a Christian, I believe sex outside of marriage is wrong. Yeah, it happens all the time, but it's portrayed in the media (television especially) as nothing special. It is special. I wish it still had value, I guess.