Thursday, October 09, 2008

The "Ick" Factor -- Eve

I’ve got a stack of YA books on the shelf next to my writing couch (Yes, I said “couch”…I like to be veeerrry comfortable when writing, and need to spread out. A chair just won’t do!) that I read when giving my wrists a break from typing on an ergonomically-challenged laptop for hours at a time. The “stack” consists of YA novels that have been given or recommended to me, and they’re all very different from what I write, in terms of style, subject matter, and themes. I find that reading during my writing breaks keeps me motivated…not sure if it’s the carrot of the whole entire published book, or if it’s just giving my mind a break from whatever I’m obsessing over in my own story. A lot of people tell me they cannot read anything else while crafting a book. But for me, it’s essential.

So, I’m staring at the “stack” today and realized that I’ve read little bits and pieces of each book, but never read just one consistently for too long, or even finished most of them! (It’s a LARGE stack, I tell you.) So, I thought long and hard about what my problem is and it hit me that the books all have something in common.

The “Ick” factor. Yes, I said “Ick.” As in, yuck. Sick. Gross. Disgusting. Repulsive. I don’t know what it is about the novels people are giving me lately, but they all deal with really sick topics. Like, hard to read topics. Now, I am not a prude. I can watch gross-out horror flicks, CSI, Fear Factor, bloody surgery shows with the best of ‘em. But, I’m talking about disturbing stuff. Stuff I wish I hadn’t read. Nauseating visuals I can’t get out of my head. Plots that are so far out there on the vile scale, I have to wonder who would actually read--and get pleasure--from them.

I have nothing against difficult and edgy topics. Give me suicide, death, destruction, drugs, guns, even a little homicide doesn’t bother me so much…I’ll take those any day. I’m talking more along the lines of violent abduction, child-rape, perverted sexual assault, twisted brainwashing…that kind of thing.

My question is this: Who is the audience? If we are writing for teens, should we be providing stories that are so perverted, so far out there, so disturbing, that they become afraid to leave their houses or ever make eye contact with a stranger? It’s one thing to write a story about, say, suicide, which in my opinion is something every single teen on the planet is somehow touched by. But some of these stories are about such random and rare issues, I just wonder exactly who is relating to them. Now, I realize we do not have to relate or see ourselves in every story we enjoy. But I’m telling you, I’ve got a stack of YA books that seem to lack any ente rtainment value at all. In fact, the only hook I can imagine is one of shock value. Although, I have to worry about the person who enjoys this kind of shock.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe not. My dear friend, Barbara, gave me an ARC, that is getting good reviews, recently and said, “I just want to see what you think.” When I asked what she thought of it, she said, “Oh! It made me barf!”

Guess what. I read it. And then I barfed.

- Eve


Anonymous said...

I'm with you. That kind of stuff brings me down and then I walk around for the whole day in a bad mood wondering if the person in front of me is a molester or something.

When I see movies advertised dealing with the same issues, I ask why would anybody want to see that? I mean, watching the news is more than enough for me.

I say change your stack. :)

Danette V.

Heather said...

To me, reading should be an escape from the harsh realities of the world. Sure there can be bad stuff because it's unavoidable in order to create conflict. But I don't think kids should necessarily have to read about things that you hear on the news; vile things like the ones you listed. I have a hard enough time reading those things as an adult. (I had to stop reading Dean Koontz because his stories were so warped) It's one of the reasons I stick to mainly fantasy when I read YA - at least for the most part, I can tell myself "it's not real".

It's one thing to have drama and real-life situations, such as what Jay confronted, but the really bizarre stuff....well, to further your question of "who is the audience?", I ask "what's going on with the person who wrote it?"

Christy Raedeke said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't get through her stacks of books. What I need are a few recommendations of books that people absolutely could not put down...I've been looking for months for a non-fantasy, non-vampire YA book to get lost in. Anything come to mind?

And did Madapple have too much of the ick factor for you?

Suzanne Young said...

Yeah, I have a stack too. And honestly, I've finished a few YA books lately and said, "That was so mean!" So I'm not into the overly cruel stuff. It just makes me sad. Thought provoking is one thing, but shock value doesn't do it for me.

Then again, I'm a happily ever after type girl. Can't they all just make out?? lol.

Great post, Eve.

Disco Mermaids said...

Hahaha, Suzanne! Can't they all just make out? That's going to be my new motto!

So glad you guys agree with me on this! I was a little worried that I'd get some hate mail after this post.

And, again, I have NO problem with bad, sad, scary stuff, but some of it goes off the deep end with its perverted imagery, and I don't find a lot of that stuff entertaining, enlightening, or educational. And I can't imagine a teen would either!

A friend recently argued that "these" types of books often examine extremely brutal situations to show how the human spirit can overcome great obstacles and emerge stronger and healthier. And maybe the warped child-abuse books illustrate how the cycle of violence needs to be broken. So, that, I get.

But maybe there's a way to write YA Lit like this that is authentic and gets its point across, but tones down the icky-ness.


Disco Mermaids said...

Oh! And, CR...I HIGHLY recommend "Audrey, Wait!" by Robin Benway. Funny, original, fast-paced and realistic without any icky-ness!

And, shoot, Madapple is tame compared to the ick-ness I'm talking about. I'm really liking it.

Danette- I'm changing my stack as we speak! :)


Tim said...

One of the issues I've got with popular culture is the idea that seems to have taken hold that for something to be "real" it has to be negative. And that's just as big a problem as pretending that "everything" is hunky dorey and bathed in a rose colored hue.

In real life there is positive and negative, good and evil, yin and yang. I would think the trick is to find a good balance in a plot, a character, or a novel. To me it seems like authors are continually trying to one-up each other on the "keepin'-it-real-o-meter" and losing site of the inherent tension provided by a well-balanced good vs. evil story.

I mean, a roller coaster isn't any fun if all you do is fall down hill, right?

Christine said...

I thought maybe it was just me, too. Glad it's not! I recently read an ARC that was humorous, but even it had a "squicky" problem for the character to solve that bothered me...

I've been sticking with middle-grade more lately. That's relatively safe, except for the bullying storylines.

Disco Mermaids said...

Hey! "Lapped Catholic" guy is back! Good to see you, Tim. I like that quote about the roller coaster being no fun if you only go downhill. So true!

And, Christine, I'm curious about what the book was with the "squicky" problem. Love that word, squicky!

And a few of the books I was referring to are ARC's, so I can't wait to see how they are received when they hit shelves. If kids love them, then I'll know I'm the one with the problem!


Freedom Star said...

Now I'm curious as to which books these are. Can you offer any hints as to what they are? Or could you e-mail me some of the titles?


Rita said...

Maybe we're getting some of the same recommendations, because my reading stack's been getting heavy lately, too.

Fascinating post, Eve!