An Unstill Life

An Unstill Life
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

V is for... violence


I've talked about sex in YA books here before, so now it's the turn of violence.

While I'm not at all into violence, it is a part of life, and a lot of teens deal with it on a daily basis.  Bullying, domestic violence, sports violence and road rage are things kids have to face.  So how much can we show in our books for teens?

It's a question I've been considering the past couple of weeks because the new book I'm working on has, as a big part of it, a band who are known for inciting riots at its center.  I need to be able to give a sense of  how volatile the atmosphere at their gigs is, and how the crowd anticipate the first punch or kick being thrown.  Violence is central to the performance and I need to convey this to make the rest of the book work.  But how far can I go?  Nose breaking from the stage?  A few well thrown punches?  Blood?  Broken bones?

I guess all violence is about context.  If it's integral to the story, I don't think you need to shy away from presenting violence in all its raw, messy forms.  Where things get ooky is where it's there purely to provoke or because whoever is presenting it gets off on the savagery.

Some of the most popular books are riddled with acts of violence.  The Hunger Games is entirely based on a violent premise.  Even Twilight is filled with battles, and when you think about it, even the acts of passion are violent in that they involve  biting people and sucking out their blood.

What worries me is that violence seems to be far more widely accepted than sex.  Violence hurts and even kills people.  Sex, for the most part (let's forget rape which is violent sex) is an act of love and brings life into the world.  So why are people squeamish about presenting sex in YA books, but completely okay with kids killing people as a public spectacle?

What are your thoughts on violence in YA literature?

3 comments:

  1. You make a really good point about violence being much more widely accepted than sex. I did just finish the Hunger Games series, and while the sex scene is brushed over in one or two lines of vague reference, the entire series is riddled with horrible violence. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the series, but it does make you wonder about society's priorities!

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  2. Brigid Kemmerer's STORM just came out, and I looked at the reviews. The only bad one was a lady who objected to a 'gang rape' subplot. It wasn't that she thought it was too hard-hitting for teens, but that she felt the mc was too blase about it and didn't react enough. I think it's very important to research the effect these things have on actual victims in order to do the portrayal justice.

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  3. I once had a parent ask me about Hunger Games for her child. She wanted to know what was in it. I said it was fairly violent. She said she didn't mind that, but was there sex in there?

    I tried not to shake my head.

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