Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon: Sex and Language in YA fantasy

I have been reading a mix of YA fantasy this week - the Morganville Vampire Series by Rachel Caine and the House of Night Series by P.C. and Kristin Cast - and I am amazed by the differences between them despite both being meant for Young Adults. The difference in language and sex in particular. There are no spoilers in this, just vague unspecific references.

In the House of Night Series, P.C. and Kristin write the way teenagers talk, not the way teenagers get talked to. For a fantasy series, it is painfully realistic - there were many instances where the books seemed more explicit than adult fantasy. There is a lot more swearing, drinking and sex - although the main characters usually aren't involved. It's like reading old-school HP fanfiction, where the writer delineates everything we usually just assume is going on in the background. Even though there isn't a single character in the series I identify with, I remember the swooning over guys... the parties where every one is trashed... the rumours of lewd sexual activities people were up to... and it is almost painful to remind myself of it all. Even though I was reading - and probably saying - a lot worse than that at 16... if I were a parent I wouldn't buy these books for my teenage daughter.

The Morganville Vampire Series, on the other hand, is almost a different genre. While it deals with issues a lot, er, older than the House of Night Series - the main characters live without parental supervision, and have mature sexual relationships, and there is swearing all over the place - it is a series I would actually give to a teenager. There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of maturity. Basically, if you want to act like an adult - no matter your age - you should think like one too. Also, Caine brings up what I consider an extremely important issue for YAs: having sex with minors even if you don't consider yourself a major. Without getting into too many spoilers, Caine's characters are quick to remember that even a one year age difference (i.e. 17-year old and an 18-year-old) is enough to constitute statutory rape. Admittedly, the likelihood of it being an issue is slim in real life, but I appreciate her bringing it up. I have met the extreme of the issue (13-year-olds dating 19-year-olds) and no matter what you say about maturity, it is so very illegal.

Anyhow, going from one series to the other really made me ponder.


  1. I have yet to read the House of Night series, though I have the first book in my TBR pile, but I have read all the Morganville Vampire series bar the most recent, Carpe Corpus, and I completely agree with you. The maturity is there, but they still are teenagers; for example, I am just amazed at how well Caine writes Eve and how she speaks, I could almost believe she was a real person.

    Throughout July, I am holding a Sex in Teen Lit Month on my sub-blog Ink and Paper Specials. I haven't covered any fantasy YA, but I thought you might be interested in checking it out :)

  2. @Jo Though I really enjoy the House of Night series, I am not sure if I would wish it all the popularity it has gotten. Especially by teenagers. But then again, I say the same about the Twilight Saga despite the fact that I LOVE it!

    I have started following the Sex in Teen Lit blog - and can I just say, WOW. Lots of really interesting features and discussions - really have been enjoying it!

  3. It's interesting to see what level of erotic scenes are OK for YA. I had thought the threshold was much lower (less sex allowed).

    I've been told by many critiquers of my first chapters that my novel would be fantastic for YA. I held back because I have some steamy scenes later on, but your post makes me think it would fit well with YA. Perhaps I'll start marketing it in that direction: high fantasy/YA.

    Also curious to know: do you have any non-female authors on the TBR list? ;)

  4. @Dave - Since YA is selling so well right now, I'd say go for it. While you have to be a bit delicate when it comes to sex - there is still a lot that is now considered acceptable. Honestly, I think it is more for the sake of the parents and publishers - "young adults" are often far more informed than people give them credit for... although I don't necessarily mean that in a good way!

    As for male authors on my TBR list: I am really, really looking forward to Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros Series and Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series is high on my list. Jim Butchers' Dresden Files are also in my basket, along with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

    It felt odd to look at all my newly purchased fantasy/YA books and notice so few male names. I am accustomed to the exact opposite when I look at my litfic shelves - where I think Ann Patchett and Donna Tartt are the only women who make a significant impact. Will have to give this a ponder, and search out some posts/articles on the matter!

  5. Looking for a great new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld," was released last month and has been receiving rave reviews.

    During the cold months ahead, they will curl up in a warm blanket or in front of the fireplace and enter a fantasy world filled with excitement and suspense.

    The book is listed on, Barnes&, and Powell’s



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