Hot Teen Titles: Sexuality and Teen Fiction


Presenter: Amy Pattee, Simmons College GSLIS

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

2:30 – 4:00 PM

Amy started by discussing some of the issues in collection development. We often face situations where parents are concerned about what their children are reading. Part of our job is to educate people about the books in our collection and why they’re there.

How do we define sensual or sexual content in Young Adult literature? Here’s part of a quote from Patrick Jones:

“Verbal references to sexual activity, innuendo, implied sexual activity, actual activity.”

This is a huge continuum – so what do we do? We all do have different ideas about what’s appropriate.

How does this affect our library collections? Who are we serving?

What do teen readers like to read? They are difficult to stereotype. They read across all genres. Our collections need to reflect this. Young people read for a variety of reasons: to satisfy curiosity; taking part in a taboo text builds a shared experience among peers; they enjoy what they read – it makes them feel good.

Teen readers are developing a relationship with reading. The Young Adult librarian nourishes that relationship, and must provide a wide variety of materials. As adults we want freedom to read, and feel empowered to request what we want. Young people often find barriers in getting the information and reading materials they want. We need to authorize all sorts of reading experiences in how we select material. We also need to reassure them that it’s okay to not finish a book.

Collections must present a variety of choices for young people. How do we ensure a good collection to reflect what young people want? The difference between being a selector and censor is narrow. One is positive, the other is negative. The selector looks for values, strengths, and reasons to keep the book.

Example: Gossip Girl – very popular and controversial. Why is it popular? Because it’s part of the shared experience – “everyone” is reading it and/or watching the TV show. The selector asks: why do we keep this book? Just as not all adult books are of the highest literary value, we need to have books that are popular to teens that aren’t necessarily of strong literary merit.

We also need to make sure that we read the books they want so that we aren’t just dismissing them outright.

Urban Fiction/ Street Lit: enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Self-published, sold on the street about life on the street. Includes sexual content, and drug and alcohol abuse. Some feel this is dangerous to young people. But it’s popular fiction. Triple Crown publishing is a publisher of urban fiction for adults and teens. These are often very powerful critiques of society that offer a different and much needed perspective.

How do we know what books are appropriate for what readers? We can’t know. Labeling books does not work. If we want to encourage reading and library use we can’t limit it for them. Often annotated booklists (passive programming)are a way to connect books to readers. YA designation is broad – ages 12 – 18. Aspirational age is important to consider (12 year olds want to read about 14 year olds, 16 year olds want to read about 18 year olds and so on). “The right book for the right child at the right time.” This implies that there’s only one “right” book, and that we’re the ones to decide what the right book is.

We need to be reading ourselves and talking to young people about what they like to read.

In summary, we need to be aware of what books are popular with teen readers, understand why they want to read them, and make sure that the books they want are accessible to them.

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4 Responses

  1. Very interesting topic and debate!

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com
    Ch 1 & Book Trailer are online!

  2. I thought this might be a good place to mention that Amy has a YA literature review blog. It can be viewed at:

    http://gslis.simmons.edu/blogs/yaorstfu/

  3. Amy Pattee has a YA literature book review blog at:
    http://gslis.simmons.edu/blogs/yaorstfu/

  4. I stumbled upon this blog and I’m glad I did. I am writing a teen fiction novel that is full of magic and fantasy but skips the sex. The Mayden Chronicles is a novel being written in real time (I post a chapter to the blog every 10 days)and I’m happy to report that I have a pretty good teen following.(http://www.maydenchronicles.com/

    I agree 100% that we need to be aware of what books teens want to read and that the books they want should be accessible.

    Thank you for this provocative post! I’ll definitely be coming back regularly.

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