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July 31, 2013

Pavarti K. Tyler: A teenage protagonist does not a YA book make

Teenagers have sex.  Oh yes they do.  Most of them do.  You probably did.  I definitely did.  They do drugs, they set things on fire, the shoot each other in the face with guns and they dream of impossibly beautiful violence.  But that doesn’t mean these things should be written out in detail in books marketed as YA.

I can hear the crowd already, don’t underestimate teenagers, they can handle more than you think.  Indeed they can.  And they will.  So they should read ADULT books.  Adult books where content is king and the author can go into as much detail as they want without concerns for the audience.  If a teenage reader can handle that, let them.  Let them read every book they want.

I read Henry Miller when I was 15 thanks to the lyrics from this song:

That led me to Anais Nin which led me to Dostoyevsky.  I didn’t understand half of it, but I read it.  But no one EVER suggested the content was appropriate to market to a teenager.  Read above your comprehension, push the limits, look words up in your dictionary and try something new.

But books actively marketed to teens are expected to have a PG-13 rating.  At least to me. I find consensus on this point from marketers, readers, parents and writers.  Yes, I know, the YA market is huge and by labeling yourself YA you can make more sales, but should you?  Self publishing authors aren’t the only ones falling into the trap of the idea that just because a book is about a teenager it’s appropriate for teens.  I have read a number of traditionally published authors who have written things wildly inappropriate for the YA market.

Would I let a teenager read these books?  Depends on the teenager, but probably.

But I also let my 10 year old read the back of any book I own, including the erotica. Then she can ask questions and ask permission to read said book if she wants, but the ones in HER room that I didn’t read before she did, are marketed as children’s books.

In White Chalk the main character turns 14 during the arc of the story.  I have had people place it on the YA section of their websites and refer to it as a Young Adult novel.  Trust me, the people who do this haven’t read the book.  When I notice, I always contact them and ask for it to be moved to either Literary Fiction or Coming of Age.

Some people may wonder why I do this, especially since having it in YA would sell more books.  It’s because White Chalk was written about teenagers for adults.  It’s raw.  It’s real.  There are many teenagers who are living this life right now, and perhaps reading White Chalk will be a source of comfort for them because someone out there understands. But it shouldn’t be shelved next to Judy Bloom.

Buy White Chalk at Amazon

White Chalk deals with issues of sexual abuse, identity, self harm, suicide and pedophilia. It’s a dark book.  I believe it’s a good book. But I also believe handing it to teenagers as if it’s the next Twilight would be dangerous without some kind of understanding that this is an adult novel.

Perhaps I’m over sensitive.  Perhaps it’s because I have two little girls.  But I don’t recall anyone ever referring to Grapes of Wrath as YA just because every teenager in America has read it or Huck Finn as Middle Grade because the main character is a 12.  They are adult novels, literary novels, and teenagers should and do read them.  But that’s different from being a Young Adult novel.

What do you think?  Do you think explicit content like sex scenes and cutting are appropriate in YA books? Do you think there’s a line between a book on these topics for adults and one for teens?  What would be the difference?

About the Author:

Award winning author of multi-cultural and transgressive literature, Pavarti K Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number cruncher. She graduated Smith College in 1999 with a degree in Theatre. After graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked as a Dramaturge, Assistant Director and Production Manager on productions both on and off Broadway. Later, Pavarti went to work in the finance industry several international law firms. She now lives with her husband, two daughters and one very large, very terrible dog. She keeps busy working with fabulous authors as the Director of Marketing at Novel Publicity and penning her next genre bending novel.
White Chalk  (Evolved Publishing) marks Tyler’s third full length novel and promises readers familiar with her work the same mind bending experience.  Her other projects include:  Shadow on the Wall (Fighting Monkey Press) and  Two Moons of Sera (Fighting Monkey Press).   Shadow on the Wall  has been received many awards: Winner of the General Fiction/Novel Category of the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Winner in the Fiction: Multicultural category for The 2012 USA Best Book Awards, and Finalist in the Multicultural Fiction category for the 2012 International Book Awards.
White Chalk has been hailed as “brave”, “raw”, and “destroyingly beautiful”.  In line with novels such as  White Oleander, Thirteen Reasons Why and Gemma, White Chalk invites you to witness one girl’s heartrending story of confusion and desperation.
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  1. Thank you so much for having me on today Donna!

    1. Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  2. Very interesting sounding book. Good luck on your tour.



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