April 2, 2012

Questioning Trends in YA Fiction

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So today's topic is about sexual assault in YA fiction. I'd really love to hear your thoughts on this.

I noticed in a number of popular YA books released last year a trend that I find sort of disturbing--sexual assault as a plot device. (I'm not talking about issue books, by the way.)

I can think of a number of 2011 YA debuts, two of them NYT bestsellers, that included sexual assault for no discernible reason other than to bring down an otherwise strong female MC and... maybe to show how evil the antagonist could be. I won't presume to know the author's intentions. In both cases, if the assault was removed from the books, essentially nothing would change. In another YA book, there was a similar assault, but it served a distinct, plot-related purpose. It put the entire book into motion.

Should potentially triggering events be written only if it's for a clear, plot- or character-related purpose? I honestly don't know. I just know it bothers me when it doesn't. And sometimes, even when it does.

But the thing is: sexual assault happens all the time, and it's vile and unfair and, oftentimes, for infuriatingly senseless reasons. Some of those YA books could arguably be a reflection of this. So I guess I'm torn.

Saying it shouldn't be written in those situations is like silencing it, denying it doesn't just happen for senseless reasons (and possibly even giving the illusion that those random attacks are somehow less traumatizing than, say, premeditated rape), and that would be wrong.

Two of the MCs in the books mentioned above were strong females who refused to be a victim, continuing on without letting it affect their goals. I admire that. I really, truly do. But on the other hand, I also don't want to read triggering material that sort of felt thrown in just as a way to either challenge and bring down the female MC or as a go-to for showing evil. Because then I feel like the impact of such an experience is lessened, that the emotional pain of readers who've experienced it has been reduced to a plot device or a random point of angst that's quickly tossed aside.

I'm not sure where I stand on this, because I was still able to enjoy--and love--those books in spite of this particular issue.

What do you guys think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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