I don’t know about you, but I get pretty mad when an author writes something damaging and somebody defends their work by saying, “It’s just a story, don’t get so worked up.”
Because we should all know by now that words, even on a page, have power. People who read books are impacted by what they contain, therefore authors have a lot of power when it comes to what they write.
Many times, I’ve seen authors skirt this responsibility in the name of creating drama and intrigue, and playing on people’s insecurities or past hurts. For example, the woman falls in love with her captor/torturer trope can be downright destructive for readers, especially those who are young enough to not be able to recognize unhealthy relationships. Tropes like this give young men and women unrealistic, unhealthy ideas of how love develops and matures. Adults and teens in healthy, caring relationships do not torture or bully each other. They don’t hit or abuse, and they certainly don’t lock one another up in a castle somewhere in the woods or shout “I hate you” during sexy time. (*cough cough* I wonder what book this refers to.)
Another bogus trope I see too often the perfect guy/gal for the protagonist. We’re finally starting to see our female leads branch out (thank goodness), but I’m still seeing too many perfect guys/love interests. Can we get a protagonist who digs the guy with a bit of chub? Can we get more minority love interests? (And not just in books with an all-Asian cast, please. I’m talking some real, mixed-couple, smashing barriers gold here.) How about a girl who falls into a complicated relationship with a man dealing with mental illness? Do I need to write a book to make this happen?
Authors must remember that the line between fantasy and reality can be blurred through their words. And young readers soak up what they read. They take subtle cues from it.
And on the note of books that contain scenes of assault, rape, abuse, etc., I think it’s time for authors to take more responsibility for warning readers of what lies within the pages. While many authors and publishers do provide warnings about this kind of content in their books, I don’t think it’s enough to just have a hidden blurb on a site or an answered question on triggers on Goodreads. A much more up-front option is having a short author’s note at the start of the book explaining any triggers.
For example, in White Stag, Kara Barbieri puts an author’s note explaining how when she started the novel, she was in a dark place. She reflects on her own personal struggles and experiences while warning the reader that there is triggering content within her novel. At the end of A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer added a note about cerebral palsy and how it can manifest itself multiple ways. She also mentioned that she wanted to create a character who was a badass and took pride in her abilities, regardless of her cerebral palsy.
I’ve starting to see even more notes like this on sensitive topics in YA novels and I am so here for it.
So let’s expect more from authors and the books we read. Let’s read and support more than what’s popular at the moment. If you’re a writer yourself, write your truth, even if it doesn’t fit into the current YA scene.
And somebody please write a solid YA book about a mixed-couple so I can buy it.