Much Too Good For Children

Or too explicit?

SF Signal does this regular thing called Mind Meld where they ask the same question of several different people in the field.  This week’s goes, “Is Young Adult SF/F Too Explicit?” People answering included Ellen Datlow, Kaza Kingsley, Derryl Murphy, Farah Mendlesohn, Ben Jeapes, Gwenda Bond, and me.

Here was my response.

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer:  I have a dear friend, a hospital pediatrician, who told me her father had explained that “sex is wet and messy.” This kept her from experimenting with same for nearly two years longer than she would have otherwise. This, in of itself, would justify more explicitness. My book (it’s all about me, Me, ME!), Jumper, was on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Banned Books List (1990-1999) because it essentially said, “If one of your parent’s is an active alcoholic bad things may result” (page 2) and “If you run away from home you may become the target of sexual predation” (page 9).

Now let’s try a thought experiment. You have a child. You want them to find out that they could be targeted for rape as a homeless teen by (a) Reading about it in fiction or (b) experiencing it.

Anybody choose B?

The job of writers is, foremost, to entertain, but we have other functions too. We give people experiences about choices and consequences from which they can draw conclusions for their own lives, and they didn’t have to go through that sexual assault or become a drug addict or live in a war ravaged city or kill somebody themselves. But, we also have to sell it–to make it real, to make it believable and sometimes that calls for explicit detail.

Looking back two hundred years, we can see a significant shift in what is explicit and what isn’t. We aren’t tying skirts around the legs of our tables lest the exposed nature of the “limbs” unduly excite the young (but the Victorians did.) Bare midriff’s would give them a heart attack.

And what is too explicit shifts widely between cultures and even between families. It shifts too much to expect school and public libraries to be able to decide (other than on a broad basis) what is and isn’t appropriate for your kids.

That’s your job.

Read the rest here.

3 thoughts on “Much Too Good For Children

  1. Like, amen.

    I think the “explicit” romances do more harm than good, because they emphasize the swoony aspects of love and sex, eliding over the “wet and messy”–not to mention the comedic–aspects of sex. Which, again, does more harm than good.

  2. I was astonished by the comments from John Wright. He seems to have dropped in from some alternate reality where your answers were entirely different.

  3. Wow, Stuart, I went and looked at the comments. I’m not sure where he’s coming from. For someone with a lot of published works, it’s actually quite hard to make out what his point is (except, apparently, “explicitness, he’s ag’in’ it.”)

    There are several other oddly patterned responses from other commentators as well. Goodness.

    I sat there and started to respond for about five minutes then, ultimately, decided there was no point. These were, for the most part, people who were there to talk but not to listen.

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