Times are a’changin

I had a funny conversation with my friend Peter a couple weeks ago. He was asking about bringing his nine-year-old daughter to the book launch.

“Of course, bring her,” I said. “But don’t let her read the book.”

“Why? What’s in it?” he asked.

“Sex. Alcohol. Incidental drug use.”

“Oh,” he said. “But isn’t it for teens?”

“Yes.”

That’s all I said. “Yes.” I might have smiled. But I resisted saying, “Yes, Peter, and in just four short years, you’re going to have a teen, and she’s going to be thinking about all those things.”

But it’s really not Peter’s fault. Young adult novels have changed dramatically since the time when we were in high school, when even the grittiest books were about a single issue — girl faces anorexia, girl faces teen pregnancy, girl faces first sexual encounter — all wrapped up with a pink happy-ending bow.

YA novels today encompass every social controversy and personal issue you can imagine, often tangled up together. That’s why they’re so much fun to read.

The first of this species that I read was True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks, published in 2003. The knowledge that you were now allowed to put stuff like that into a teen novel made me think that maybe, someday, I’d like to write one.