The list of formerly taboo subjects for writers of teen fiction has become shorter and shorter. Now we can write about sex, oral sex, teen pregnancy, sexuality, drugs and suicide. There are lots of teen books that deal with those issues.
There are no subjects that are taboo any more, you might conclude, not even incest.
But go into any book shop and you will still be hard pressed to find teen books that deal with the kinds of crimes that are committed by adults on teens and younger kids, particularly abuse, whether it is physical, psychological or sexual abuse. And you won’t find a crime section in the kids’ department, although you will now find a teen section, so that’s a huge leap for all you teens out there. But within the teen section, books dealing with abduction and abuse will be few and far between. They are not considered suitable subject matters for kids to read about, and so have traditionally been taboo subjects. Even now, publishers tend not to want to take a chance on a book that might be deemed too ‘risky’.
But we all know these crimes happen. We read about them in the papers, hear about them on the news. They happen to young kids, older kids, teenagers and young adults. The point is they happen, but rarely figure in books for kids or teens.
I was lucky with my book, The Long Weekend. Despite the fact that it explores a taboo in teen/YA lit, it somehow slipped through the net, and it’s on the bookshelves of book shops and libraries. It’s about two boys who are abducted after school on a Friday afternoon by a paedophile, and yes it’s suitable for anyone over the age of 12.
As a writer I think it depends on how such taboo subjects are approached, how sensitively the subject matter is dealt with, and what kind of story it ends up being. The Long Weekend is at heart a gripping thriller that most teens just don’t want to put down once they’ve started it. It appeals to young adults – and even older adults, too.
I think it’s important to break through walls and go where others have not gone before as long as the writer knows what they’re doing – and remembers the age of their readership. There is still so much scope for breaking traditional taboos in teen lit.
Have you read a book recently that has been devastatingly good and that has explored a subject you have rarely seen on the shelves before?
For a chance to win a copy of The Long Weekend, check out the competition box at the top of the page