This is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve seen it crop up in quite a few places. Other authors have posed this question, and I’ve seen readers discussing it on various forums I visit, and I think it’s one worth considering.

I don’t think there’s one right answer. The field of “Young Adult” literature is vast, and tends to encompass literature written for ages somewhere between 12 and 20. One issue is that outside of the intended age group, Young Adult literature runs the gamut of genres — it can be fluffy paranormal romance, adventure stories, gritty, realistic memoir … each change in genre probably brings with it whole different parameters for the level of “steam” one might expect.

So, for the sake of simplicity in discussion, for today I’m really thinking about steam for the sake of steam, in lighter, romantic, fictional YA, whether realistic or some form of fantasy.

These kinds of romances have really steamrolled their way into the mainstream with books like Twilight, which definitely had some “steamy” scenes, although there were definitely lines that Stephenie Meyer strayed away from crossing.

I recently finished reading Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, which is essentially the same genre as Twilightย — YA Paranormal Romance, where a teenage girl falls in love with a werewolf, and while Ms. Stiefvater never went into descriptive detail of any “steamy” scenes, I was a little surprised by how far she took her characters, especially since it wasn’t actually essential to the plot. Looking at the reviews for this book on Amazon, there are reviewers who have concerns about this, and even parents who have mentioned to the reviewers that they appreciate the forewarning, especially parents of children at the younger end of the “YA” age range.

One thing worth noting is that these books are very much marketed toward the younger end of the age range. Now, Scholastic’s marketing practices in schools are a whole ‘nother eighty blog posts’ worth of discussion, but the fact is that books like Twilightย and Shiverย appear REGULARLY at book fairs and in book catalogs in ELEMENTARY schools.

Now, obviously, steam sells. It just does. Noting the success of books like Twilight, both publishers and authors have to be looking at the potential of a book that appeals to an age range from 12-99 (a more-than-fair amount of Twilight’s commercial success was a result of its appeal to the so-called “Twi-Moms”).

The question is — what kind of obligations do writers of Young Adult literature have in the messages they are sending to these youngest readers? ย Sure, parents should be responsible for monitoring content and discussing the values of their own families with their children, but should there be some kind of expectation for what you WON’T find in literature marked “young adult?”

Television and movies have rating systems, so that consumers have some idea of what they’re getting into. Parents don’t have anything like that when it comes to books. In fact, parents are often deliberately misled by both publishers and authors in how the books are labeled and distributed — when something appears on the shelf at an elementary school book fair; most parents have no idea that it might contain that level of questionable content.

Anyway, before this post becomes a book in itself … I’d really like to hear your thoughts. How much is too much? What is appropriate in Young Adult literature? What are you, personally, looking for content-wise, when you pick up a book that is labeled YA?

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