Who’s the Criminal Here?

It’s funny how often seemingly random things in life align.  This past week, my Youth Services class was looking at Intellectual Freedom and censorship, and my teacher asked us if we could think of any book we would personally hesitate to recommend to a teenager.  I thought back to my Young Adult Literature class, where I made a reader’s advisory website (The Noir Reader) for noir literature.  While researching titles for this, I questioned whether or not to include the classic–and clearly adult–titles by authors such as Chandler, Hammett, Ross, and Elroy.  These books are gritty and deal with sex, alcohol, language, and violence; they are also well written and hugely influential to many modern writers.  In the end, I decided I couldn’t leave them out.  As long as teens are alerted to the contents and context, I think they are well equipped to handle an edgy novel.  I also considered the movies, t.v., and video games that are part of the average teen’s life, and didn’t feel that a book like The Maltese Falcon or even Sin City would tax their youthful sensibilities.

Then yesterday morning, I saw a blog post by TheBookAddictedGirl in The Guardian entitled, “Why criminals are the new vampires in YA fiction.”  In it she discusses a recent and much needed surge in the teen book market for crime fiction that doesn’t gloss over the grit or talk down to its younger readers.

Many big publishers seem to have cottoned onto the fact that teens love crime, and are bringing out more books for us. Adult writers are dipping into teen fiction too, with huge names like Harlan CobenKathy Reichs and John Grisham bringing out YA series of their own (speaking of, you must check out the Mickey BolitarVirals and Theodore Boone series – they’re all brilliant!)….

The question in my mind, however, is why now? Why are we seeing this spike in YA crime thrillers? Maybe adults are realising that we older teens aren’t as fragile as they once thought we were. We know about all the bad things already, know they happen and what some people do. So why aren’t we meant to read about it in a fictional book – why are we told ‘Oh, you don’t need to know about that yet’, even though we see it all on TV and in the news?

Plus, what with teen crime becoming more common and the whole teens-wearing-hoodies-are-dangerous stereotype, these books with real life teens both committing and more importantly solving crimes are just so much more relevant and – in my opinion – actually necessary.

I think that Megan (i.e., The Book Addicted Girl)  makes several great points, especially the bit where she says, “we older teens aren’t as fragile as they once thought we were. We know about all the bad things already…”  Sheltering teens from a violent book in no way detracts from their awareness of violence in the world; it just deprives them of what they would like to be reading and ignores the opportunity to empower them by casting teens as crime solvers.

However, I am not saying that all books are appropriate for young adults.  To illustrate this point, Megan mentions how she was scarred by reading an adult crime novel at too young an age (12), so cautions do need to be in place when making recommendations within such a charged genre of fiction.  Perhaps my website would be improved by adding suggested ages to the book descriptions so that young readers can easily spot more age-appropriate titles.  I think all these elements (professional judgement, interest & desire, capacity for intelligent & mature thought) come together nicely into a clear reason why teens should not be denied a book simply because it features crime or violence.

I am happy to hear that authors are starting to recognize a need/desire in the YA market for modern teen crime fiction, and that they are writing for teens as intelligent, discerning readers–the latter being the most important part of that equation.

I’ll conclude with the 3 recommendations made by TheBookAddictedGirl, as none of them are on my website…yet!

Crusher by Niall Leonard

(See a more detailed review here)

  

The Empty Coffin Series by Gregg Olsen

Definitely check out Olsen’s site.  He does a great job of discussing the factual/historic elements of his novels.  There are also discussions on issues such as cyberbullying and teen use of social media, topics which arise in his books.

Street Duty: Knock Down by Chris Ould

I immediately liked Ould’s site you can tell he isn’t going to talk down to teens.  He has Top-5 lists and a link to an interview with welovethisbook.com, where he discusses his philosophy for writing YA crime fiction:

A significant percentage of teenagers encounter crime in one form or another in their everyday lives, and in the Street Duty series I wanted to deal with that in a realistic way. I didn’t want to make concessions by sanitising the effects of crime – or the world in which it takes place – just because I was writing for young adults. That’s patronising and misleading.

…Clearly, young adults want plots and characters they can relate to, but the stories have to be as hard-hitting, pacy and intriguing as any adult novel – perhaps more so.

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