I would like to welcome G.P. Ching to my blog today! I’m currently reading the first book in The Soulkeepers Series and after the first I plan on going right on to the second so look for those reviews to be posted in the next few days. Today, she talks about a really interesting topic. I would really like to see some discussion on this one! I’m going to comment with my two cents so that way I don’t take up too much space in this intro. So enough from me! Enjoy!
Sex, Drugs, and God: Taboos in YA Literature
It all started with Judy Blume. Well, you could make an argument it started before that but Are you there, God? It’s Me Margaret and Forever changed the landscape of young adult fiction for good. One took on the topic of God, the other the topic of sex. I actually know a woman who claims she learned about sex from Judy Blume’s Forever, and I knew plenty of kids growing up who read it for the naughty parts.
While these two books are some of the most beloved in young adult literature, they are also some of the most controversial. Both of them are on the most frequently challenged list (books that people request to be censored or banned) year after year. Still, to fans, the books are a right of passage and perhaps the most true to life of any out there
And what about the drugs? I was recently at a writer’s conference where an agent suggested to an author that he probably wouldn’t represent a book that had a character who smoked…tobacco! Sure there are books about social issues like Crank by Ellen Hopkins that place their foot firmly in the don’t-let-this-happen-to-you camp. But in general, the topics of sex, drugs, and God are glazed over in YA. The curtain is drawn before we know too much about the details.
In my first book, The Soulkeepers, faith plays a role in the development of my main character, Jacob. My book isn’t about religion per se, but my character goes through changes spiritually that affect the outcome of the story. The plot has to do with the battle between God and the Devil. I didn’t think it would be realistic to place a teen character into that battle without addressing whether that character believed in God.
Although the book is fiction, and clearly I am not the first person to write stories about God and the Devil, again and again the topic of religion comes up when discussing my book. Luckily, most people recognize that the book isn’t “preachy” and that the topic of religion is used in context for character development and furthering the plot. However, despite having this widely publicized, I occasionally have someone tell me they initially avoided the book because of the religious themes.
Weaving Destiny, the second book in the series, has far fewer religious references, although it is still based on Judeo-Christian history. For Malini, her religion was already addressed in book one. But sexuality plays a stronger role because Malini’s development isn’t about her spirituality but about her self-esteem and self-reliance. The topics addressed are realistic to her age and situation.
As an author, though, I’m proud that I didn’t give in to pressure to sanitize these topics from my manuscript. A recent poll by the National Study of Youth and Religion found that a majority of teens believe in God and worship in conventional congregations. So why is it that a majority of their reading choices have characters who don’t?
I believe young adults are intelligent human beings that can appreciate art as a reflection of life. My manuscripts might not be squeaky clean any more than life is squeaky clean. There might be a cigarette, there might be some nudity, and someone might say the F-word. And because my art represents life, I’m proud my characters have a religion, too. Although it sparks controversy, I think my readers will appreciate a peak behind the curtain.
G. P. Ching is a short fiction writer turned novelist. Co-founder of DarkSide Publishing with Karly Kirkpatrick and Megg Jensen, she is a member of SCBWI and blogs about writing and publishing at www.gpching.com. She lives in Illinois with her husband, two daughters, and a very demanding guinea pig.
Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Jacob Lau is pulled from the crumpled remains of his mother’s car, no one can explain why he was driving or why the police can’t find his mother’s body. Made a ward of his uncle and thousands of miles from home, a beautiful and mysterious neighbor, Dr. Abigail Silva, offers to use her unique abilities to help him find his mom. In exchange, she requires Jacob to train as a Soulkeeper, a biologically gifted warrior charged with protecting human souls. He agrees to her demands, desperate for any clue to the mystery of his mother’s disappearance. But soon Jacob finds himself trapped in a web of half-truths, and questions Dr. Silva’s motives for helping him.
Synopsis: Malini Gupta thought Jacob Lau was her destiny. But after months of failing to decipher how she fits into the Soulkeepers, frustration threatens to tear their relationship apart. And it doesn’t help that a new Soulkeeper named Mara is ready to stop time itself to earn Jacob’s love.
When Malini faces her worst fears, and even death, she learns a funny thing about destiny. Fate is a tapestry of choices, and she has the power to weave hers.