The New 'Young Adult': A Guest Post by Amber Maguire

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Aspiring author Amber Maguire talks about the changing world of YA literature...

Nothing is too filthy for young adults as long as you treat the characters and situation with respect. This was just one of the many gems of advice I received during a recent Young Adult Lit Chat via Twitter, and one I thought summed up my dilemma best.

I’m a twenty-something so you’d think given my age I wouldn’t have a problem knowing what can and can’t be written into a novel for today’s teens. Wrong. I feel so out of touch that I may as well be a sixty-something trying to write about teen issues of today while reminiscing about my fifties childhood.

But it’s not as tough as I think. While I’m tapping away on the keyboard stressing about the scene I’m writing – How many expletives is too many? Is it okay to have a teen masturbate on the page? Will my blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sex scene have to be cut during the edits because it’s simply “too much?” – I’m forgetting one fundamental thing. Times have changed.

The YA genre has been pushed wide open in recent times. Teens are no longer only reading books like Enid Blyton’s ‘Malory Towers’ series or Emily Rodda’s fantastical world of fantasy – books I grew up with and fell in love with in my day. Now they’re reading about death and drugs and sparkly vampires with insatiable appetites. And sex. Today’s issues no longer only revolve around having enough money for the tuckshop or who’s sleeping over whose house this weekend; there’s added issues about losing one’s virginity and recreational drug-taking and underage drinking, and they’re no longer taboo.

I remember reading a series of books when I was thirteen (and I can’t even remember what the books were called now) about high school students and a brutal murder where a young girl’s body was shoved into a locker. I remember being horrified and wondering what my parents would think if they’d known I was reading these books. I’d hired them from the school library: my name was on the cardstock, immortalised in ink, so there would be no question that I’d hired them, read them. If my parents knew they never said anything, but at the time I couldn’t quieten the voice in my head that told me I shouldn’t be reading them. I was too young to be reading such things, it said. Maybe I was just a prudish parent before my time, or maybe I just liked the thrill of reading something I thought my parents would disapprove of – typical teenage rebellion in literary form.

Whatever the reason, thinking about those books now and what was in them – death, murder, minimal gore by today’s standards – makes me blush. Not because they were so terrible, but because teens today would probably wonder what the fuss was about and think them tame.

The times have changed. The boundaries in YA literature have been re-drawn, and what was considered inappropriate even ten years ago is no longer considered so today. I’d almost go as far as to say that anything goes when it comes to writing for this generation of young adults. I just have to remember one thing: whatever the situation, it has to be treated with respect.

Amber Maguire is a twenty-something living on Queensland’s central coast that is pushing the boundaries of what is considered ‘Young Adult.’ She is currently editing her first manuscript and blogs intermittently about the stresses of writing at

What do you think of the more 'mature' teen books of today? Have the standards and expectations of YA literature changed?
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