General Market YA Fiction: Marked

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

I read this book a little while ago; it’s not one of my most recent reads, but I want to use this book to comment on the YA market. This story is somewhat like Harry Potter. A teen girl, Zoey, learns she’s something special and goes to a new school that’s specially-designed for others like her. She is, of course, a little more special than the others in her class and has a crush on another student, who is already in a relationship with a girl. Typical love triangle to create that teen angst. :)

I picked this book up because I had heard from some teen girls that this series was “awesome” and that they loved Zoey. I had also seen these books in every bookstore in town (not the Christian one), and I was wondering why they were so popular. I like to keep up on the YA trends.

I did not like the book, and I was shocked by the content. The teens in the book participate in seances, there are sexual moments, and  foul language. The seance scenes were actually really creepy!

The sad thing is that this book isn’t just one of a kind. The YA shelves are full of books like this. I don’t mind a good teen fantasy and I’m not bothered by books with strange characters like vampires and werewolves, but when the characters in the book are really bad examples for teens, I get upset! There’s no reason a teen should read a book with foul language or explicit sexual content, but books like that fill the shelves. It seems that teen books keep pushing the line of what is appropriate.

I’ve also noticed that nearly every cover in the teen section is black these days. I guess black covers increase sales? I think it’s a visual for us all to see how dark the content of teen fiction is getting.

Are books like this really what teens want to read, or are they the only books available? What do you think?

I don’t recommend this book; this is another series I won’t be reading more of. I would love to hear your opinion of the book if you’ve read it, and I won’t be offended if you enjoyed the story. A lot of people have enjoyed it! I’m probably in the minority here.

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24 Comments

  • Sue Harrison says:

    I think these types of books allow teen readers to live forbidden fantasies. Unfortunately, many parents assume the subject matter will stay as a fantasy, and with some teens it does, but with others not.

    My husband was a high school principal for many years. He once had a parent bring in a YA book about cutting. The parent suspected that the book had made the practise of cutting “allowable” to his own teenage daughter. The book DID have a very moral theme, but showcased a very sad practise. Parents and educators and writers find themselves in a very gray area concerning limiting access to books. (Which with teens is sometimes impossible.) I don’t have the answers, but I do know that as a writer, I try very hard to let God lead me toward proper subject matter.

  • This is the second time this topic has come up this week, so it must be on people’s minds. This blogger took it from a slightly different angle than this post, and I shared my comments there, so I’ll post a link, which is http://lbelow.blogspot.com/2011/01/gritty-topics-in-young-adult.html

    My role as a parent is to filter what my kids read. Do I find it depressing, scary, and disturbing that these books relate so well to today’s teens? You bet. But if they are popular, is it the fault of the authors? What does it say about today’s society that books of this nature give our teens characters they relate to so well?

    Like Sue, who posted above me, I let God guide what I write. And like she, I have seen books that deal with these gritty issues, but have moral themes. It’s Not About Me by Michelle Sutton is a good example.

    I don’t believe that’s all that is out there, but there is only so much shelf space, so if these books are selling, that’s what you’ll see in stores. You have to look harder to find the books you feel are appropriate for your child. I have the same issue with clothes. I don’t want my daughters at the age of 9 and 7 dressing like they are 16. Clothes for girls have turned from being fashionable into being ways to make them look sexy–all with the premise that it is good for their self-esteem. Thanks, I’ll hang out at Lands End and buy clothes that are age appropriate.

    Great topic!

    Cheryl

  • Rachel, I have been pondering this issue very much lately: the choices of books offered for teens. I wish I had a clever insight to offer, but I got nothing. I do agree with you: is this what teens read because they want to or is it because it is what is being written? Or both?

    And I know what you mean about the black/white/red cover with a photographed face on it! Good observation!

  • It is scary that this is what teens are leaning towards. I have to admit that when I was a teen I had a wide variety of genres that I enjoyed reading. I crossed a line where I knew that if I kept reading books, like the one you mentioned, that I would be going down a path that was against my beliefs. I don’t think that those strong Christian beliefs are being instilled enough in our younger generations.

  • Lindsay Franklin says:

    I love writing for the YA market, and yet I feel like I’m walking a very fine line sometimes. Certainly, I’d never include foul language or sexual content in my Christian books. That crosses an obvious line. Indeed, foul language and explicit content don’t need to be in adult books, either! But I find myself struggling with the “appropriateness question” – how real should my characters be?

    I’ve read varying opinions across CBA. Some say characters should be very good and not necessarily struggling with a whole lot of sin. Role models and heroes. Others say that this very practice is why some people (maybe particularly teens) find CBA fiction to be unreadable. They can’t relate to any of the characters because they are simply TOO good and they don’t struggle with anything, ever. At the end of the day, I just try to take my stories and my characters in the direction God leads me. So far, it seems to be a balance of both types of characters – some who are struggling with dark issues, and others who are great role models. You know, the extra-sanctified ones. ;)

    As for the General market, it’s a jungle out there. I wouldn’t allow my own children to read much of what’s on the shelves these days. Especially my daughter!

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    I agree 100%, Rachel. I’m dumbfounded by many of the YA books on shelves and with some of the television shows pushed at teens. I’ve seen a commercial for a new MTV series, Skins, and wanted to throw up. Is this really what adults think is the reality for teenagers??

    I know many teens are dabbling in iffy lifestyles, but just as many aren’t. I personally know a lot of normal kids who aren’t growing up to be on an episode of Intervention.

    I remember loving Harlequin’s teen romances when I was in high school. I’m so glad to see they are bringing this line back; I just hope the new books don’t reflect our current state of dark covers and reckless behaviour.

    Sorry to rant, but I want more clean books–Christian or mainstream–for our young adults. Let’s give them some credit.

  • I think the current teen generation is bombarded with themes and language that are too adult for their own good. Has it just become the norm? I hope not. It is my impression that many parents of teens these days are too indulgent with them, not standing up or putting a foot down on what they watch on TV and read. Media pushes the limits time and again and who pushes back? Remember what kind of content used to be in a PG-13 movie years ago? Now, sometimes I am shocked with what is in a PG-13 movie. Parents must stand up for their children’s innocence and not allow it. Eventually, the difference in sales will speak. Supporting media that promotes morality will also speak volumes. Look and the Chronicles of Narnia. Great books still popular after all these years and really good movies too. Sorry to rant a bit. It’s a bit of a soap box I’m afraid. :)

  • Voni Harris says:

    For Christians whose teens like the darker side, there’s always Frank Peretti. He has several YA books out, and even a movie made from at least one of them. The Christian message comes out in the end without having been sacrificed to dark side. In fact it comes out stronger, having been through the dark. I think Peretti is one of the few able to write a story that teaches instead of writing a story in order to teach (who likes that?)

    Blessings,
    Voni

  • I think this is why it is important to know what books are out there, especially for our children and teens. I started writing fantasy years ago because I became tired of putting down a good, well written book that crossed the line (my line of what I’ll let in my head). Personally, I enjoy darker, intense, character angst books and it seems this is a trend teenagers are going for. As Christian writers, we have the Light of the World that we can shed in the dark books that are out there, without crossing lines.

  • I think the same thing happens to the publishing industry that happens in Hollywood. A “hot trend” pops up and everybody gets on the bandwagon until it fizzles. Meanwhile, individual producers brainstorm variables that can keep new products fresh, but — without a moral standard — there are no limits to the craziness or depths one can travel to. The time limit seems to be about three to five years before the buying public gets so tired of it, they quit funding. Then things swing back to more moderate levels, again. The go back to producing the “sure shots” or remakes of older successes. Things usually based on some form of moral premise.

    Such changing times are prime moments for break-out books (or movies) that become the next trend-setters. I believe we are in such a time as this, right now. And as a Christian, I am encouraged that not only are others becoming alarmed about our YA (and children’s) literature becoming darker and darker, but I also believe that faithful Christian writers have been working away on better stories that will be ready when the timing is perfect for them to be received. Each night I pray that the “break-out novel” that will turn the tide might finally be released into the marketplace, and that those who are “writing as the Lord leads” will be ready with their work in time to back up the forerunners.

    Really, really appreciate this post, Rachel. Thank you!

  • Tanya,

    TV is another great example. My girls were watching a show last night, I can’t even remember what it was, but the commercial that came on for a PG-13 movie was not appropriate for them at all. It had very sexual overtones.

    The continued popularity of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery also leaves one with hope that eventually the market will shift back to these more appopriate titles. You can still find them on the shelves in many bookstores, though I personally buy 95% of my books online.

    Cheryl

  • I think most authors in the CBA find themselves in a struggle between presenting realistic characters/situations and avoiding offensive content. The sad truth is that teenagers are bombarded with foul language, sexual pressure, and spiritual messages from their peers every day. Writers seem to think that teens won’t read their books unless the stories feel “real”, which seems to require most of the things CBA writers are trying to avoid.

    It’s a dilemma, but I wonder if this dilemma bothers the writers more than the readers. I’m sure that some teens would roll their eyes when a character stubs her toe and says, “Shoot” instead of the four-letter alternative, but would the majority of those teens stop reading the book because of that? I don’t think so, but then, I’m a Christian and not a teenager.

    I’d love to hear from teens with their opinion about this. Any teens out there? If a book doesn’t show realistic language/sexual situations, will you still buy into the story?

  • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

    What a great conversation. Thank you, everyone!

  • I agree Frank Peretti’s books are awesome. I read them as a teenager. They are a great mix of dark and light, but with the key of showing that the light will win. As a teenager and now I am repulsed by a book that has to resort to foul language. A great story doesn’t need the sexual overtones and language. My husband has been enjoying reading a series by Donita K Paul called the Dragon Keeper Chronicles (meant for YA, but he is still one at heart) that he has really enjoyed. It is Christian fantasy.

    I think an important part of the problem is setting the example to our kids in what we watch and read. But I know here I am definitely preaching to the choir. :) “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Such comforting words, we need to do our part and God will take care of the rest.

  • Voni Harris says:

    I think James hit the nail on the head. Do we need the nasty, dark stuff in order to be real as writers? Because we all agree, stories are better when they’re real. How about if we define “real” as organic to the characters or the plot, rather than dark or laden with sexual overtones? Can we do real without the other stuff? Of course! Tolkein, Lewis, Peretti, etc. prove it.

    Blessings,
    Voni

  • The last time I went into B & N I was shocked when I faced a wall full of black covers. And so many of them seem to be about forbidden love. Maggie Stiefvater says her NY best-selling novels are about werewolf nookie. And Bella says over and over that she’s obsessed with Edward. She sneaks off to meet him, afraid that he might kill her–she’s that obsessed. So even when there is no premarital sex it can be very unhealthy stuff.

    I think lust and sexual activity is pretty common in YA books, and in real life.

    On the other hand, the Mormon writers keep putting out books and doing well with them I think. And most of them don’t have the sexual tension or forbidden-love angle that Twilight had. Most of them are sweet romances if they have any romance at all.

    Teen girls do think about romance and even sex quite a bit. But what they want is to be loved. What an opportunity we have to show them what real love is and to push them toward hungering after Christ, who alone will love them perfectly.

    I’m with D. Ann. I think in this market that is so overrun with dark sexy books, books that honor God will feel fresh and they may be the next big trend.

    We can hope and pray, anyway.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Today’s teens have a postmodern worldview, possessing an innate spiritual/mystical craving. (But, not everything that’s “spiritual” is good.) Books (as well as movies and TV shows) about the supernatural and paranormal fill this postmodern yearning, but not always in a positive manner.

    It is largely left to Christian writers to address this felt need in a constructive way, pointing readers to the ultimate source of spirituality – the God who is revealed in the Bible.

  • Great post, Rachel! I am really enjoying all your blog talk about YA. Love YA! I read this book long ago. I wanna say I really enjoyed the voice but the explicit sexual content and language surprised me.
    There was one part–you know which one I am talking about:) that included explicit content which they refer to throughout the book. I kept thinking to myself there are so many young people who are reading this. I hope it didn’t give them any ideas.
    Some serious stuff for teenagers to read about.

  • Kristen says:

    I read a lot of teen books (since I want to write them) and there are many wonderful selections out there. Ally Carter has the wonderful “I’d tell you that I love you but then I’d have to kill you” spy series as well as her new series about art thieves. And of course “The Hunger Games” are quite innocent in the romance department although brutally honest in the war/violence category. Lots of good stuff, but one must pick and choose. Still I have better luck finding a good new book then if I try for something in the adult market.

  • Larry Carney says:

    As has already been mentioned, there is the central question of how to accurately portray sin without it being gratuitous, or even celebrating it.

    If one wants to consider this biblically, there is always what Paul said about being many things to many people; to reach the Greeks, he debated them in the tradition of Greek philosophy, for example. Therefore, since these are issues teens struggle with, writers of faith MUST be willing to speak about them.

    Even teens of faith struggle with their sexuality; to not addressing the issue AT ALL is avoid providing a forum for them to express what they are going through, and to receive proper guidance. Literature has often been one of the places where a culture has expressed the issues it grapples with; to say that writers of faith cannot touch these themes is to be silent on the issue. And a candle was not meant to be hid….

    After all, would teens of no faith be willing to even listen to someone if they are simply being ignored, much less consider what is being said and how it affects their lives?

  • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

    Larry, I agree. We are not to ignore the difficult stuff that happens in real life in our writing, but the content should also be appropriate.

  • Carey Corp says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m sitting at the desk of my day job, weeping over your post, trying to get myself together to go lead a meeting. I feel called to write YA. Not just called but responsible for each reader and how my words could influence them. My writing partner laughs at me because I’m always cognizant of the twelve-year-olds who read YA.

    Not that my stories don’t have heat, or moments of temptation and weakness. They do. But I always think about my sixteen-year-old neighbor/beta reader and my seven-year-old daughter and I write for who I want them to become. Strong, self-assured women.

  • Ada Brownell says:

    Many of these YA books on the dark side are Harry Potter spinoffs and even Christian publishers are doing speculative fiction that crosses the line into the paranormal and even witchcraft and satanism–sometimes without putting it in a negative light.
    It’s also due to schools requiring kids to read Red Sky at Morning and other books about sexuality (I imagine it’s tame now), and Scholastic proclaiming books like “The Thief Lord” which is a book about kids who steal. In college a required text was Hugh Hefner’s biography. I refused to read it, asked for a substitute and got it.

  • Rachelle Rea says:

    There’s a lot of food for thought here, and it really piqued my interest as a writer of YA historical fiction. Thanks for the great read!

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