Saturday, August 22, 2015

What's This World (and YA Literature) Coming To?

I'm feeling outraged and have to vent. According to this August article in the New York Daily News, to make it in the YA publishing world you have to include sex in your novels. Not just sex, graphic sex. Not just graphic sex, but sex that pushes the boundaries.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the article:

"Want to publish a Young Adult book right now? Make sure it has a threesome.

"The shelves of books aimed at the 14-year-old to 17-year-old reader are groaning - make that moaning - under the collective weight of explicit scenes involving multiple partners or love triangles.

"'I frequently tell my clients to sex it up,' said Brianne Johnson, an agent who represents authors of Young Adult fiction. 'It helps sales.'"

The article goes on to cite statistics of young adults losing their virginity. Yet, instead of viewing the increase in sexual activity of our young people as a warning sign of moral decline, the author of this article, Allen Sarkin, chooses to use it as a justification for stirring more morally questionable images into the minds of young readers. The author states, "that's why experts aren't worried about the polyamorous literary trend." No doubt it depends on which "experts" you rely.

Indeed, this author argues that teens are mature enough to explore sex, therefore they should be able to read about sexual activities in order to find their own way in an increasingly sexualized world. He urges such books help kids "as they search for their own sexual identities." In his eyes, if they are experiencing more of it, they should therefore be reading more of it.

To further his point, he cites an author of a sexually explicit young adult novel, Sarah McCarry, author of the 2014 novel Dirty Wings. She claims, "As a writer, the moral upbringing of the young people of America is not my job."

Not my job? Really? I cannot believe an author would actually argue that they bear no responsibility for what they present to the world in their stories. When reading the Donald Miller workbook, Storyline, I read an interesting quote that causes one to think. He writes:

"Every time you hear a story, the moral compass in your mind is adjusted. Good stories help us understand love matters, integrity is important and the world doesn't revolve around us. Other stories may teach us pleasure is king or power is worth killing for. A person's moral compass can be confused as easily as it can be set straight."

Furthermore, he says, "Make no mistake, screenwriters [authors] are teachers when they tell us a story because they are telling us what they believe is worth fighting for."

That is why this article really boils my blood. As Young Adult authors, we should be trying to present messages that enrich our young people, not tear them down or encourage them to destroy their lives. As author, Jim Burns, recently reminded me from the pulpit, "there is no such thing as casual sex." There is nothing casual about sexual relations. It is an act which binds one fully to another. I firmly believe that the best use of sexual activity is within a committed marriage relationship. I will encourage any young people I encounter to save their sexuality for that most meaningful relationship they aspire to. I don't believe children need more encouragement to try out sexual activities. Quite the contrary. They need bold literature reminding them of values which will strengthen and enrich their lives. Every author who puts pen to paper bears a responsibility for the words they present to the world. Indeed, I agree with Donald Miller, that every person tells a story with their life and, as such, bears responsibility for the story they are presenting to others.

Will your story bear good fruit or bad? Will your story make lives better or more morally corrupt? Of course, this article could encourage me to despair and throw in the towel, thinking "if that is what sells Young Adult fiction these days, then I have no chance in the world of being published." I am determined not to allow it to discourage me. I am determined to continue writing wholesome, morally upstanding literature. It is truly a shame that more Christian publishing companies aren't recognizing the moral decline of secular publishing standards and therefore making more of a push to increase their sales of quality literature.

If this is where the world of Young Adult literature is headed, can we really shake our heads in wonder when our young people become parents at far too young an age to bear the immense responsibilities of parenthood? Can we look aside as they increasingly explore sexuality in a moral vacuum? Apparently that is exactly what is happening.

At my most recent book club meeting, we began discussing the outrageous behaviors of parents at sporting activities. The conversation then veered to one mother expressing outrage at the information her daughters share with her about what really goes on in schools today. She proceeded to tell us that a friend of hers agreed to be a chaperone at the prom. At the beginning of the evening, the chaperones were pulled aside by the principal and told something like this: "Sex is going to happen tonight. Your job is not to keep it from happening. Your job is primarily to make sure that the girl is okay with it happening." My jaw dropped as this mother went on to say that young people are engaging in such activities right there on the dance floor and chaperones are instructed not to intervene.

So, I say again, what is this world coming to? At the moment, one of my YA manuscripts has been requested by an agent for consideration of representation. It is my only secular manuscript, yet it clearly bears evidence of what I believe is worth fighting for. There is a scene in a church, where the main character contemplates the sin condition of man. I very well may receive word any day now that the agent feels it is something too squeaky clean to be marketable. The bottom line remains the bottom line - what sells. When society gives in to the craving for morally irresponsible literature, moral decline cannot help but follow.

I fully believe that each of us will one day be called upon to answer for what we stood for in life. Our actions, our beliefs, our words will be reviewed. I don't want my life or my words to be found wanting. I want them to stand up to the light and to have accomplished good. In the fight against evil, I want to be a champion of what is good and right and wholesome, edifying and true. I want my words to move readers toward redemption. I may stand alone in that conviction, but stand I will.

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