Banned Books Week: Sex in YA

It’s Banned Books week and to celebrate I thought I’d talk about a subject that many books are banned for – sex! Yes, that three letter word that often throws many adults in a tizzy when they think about children and teenagers being exposed to the natural thoughts and feelings that we all have. There is this thought, especially in America, that if we don’t talk about sex, read about sex, teach about sex, that teenagers will not engage in sex. Unfortunately, this silly myth persists despite evidence of the contrary. And authors have consistently bucked up against this belief and included sex into their novels.

In the past YA novels have been very careful with their depictions of sex, usually alluding to it with a lovely romantic “fade out”. However, I’ve noticed a difference in the past few years as more and more novels are being more umm, specific, in the descriptions of sex. In addition to including these moments, characters have also had discussions about their feelings, whether positive or negative, towards sex and their sexual identity. I’ve also noticed an increase in a discussions of consent regarding sex as the couple in question has a healthy chat prior and often the subject of protection is addressed as well.

It has been refreshing to see this change come about in the YA world as teens are much more sophisticated since they have access to so much information. The experiences and discussions YA characters face mirror many of the feelings teenagers have. Reading about a character who shares the same thoughts, has the same confused feelings towards sex can help many teens understand that sex, and all of its complex messiness, is perfectly natural and a healthy part of becoming an adult. It can also help teens understand the concept of consent, the importance of using protection, as well as help our LGBTQ teens see themselves on the page (see LGBTQ Teens Speak Out where some of my students speak out on the need for more representation). This movement in the YA world to be more open and honest about sex is encouraging to me, not only as a writer, but as a teacher who works with an age group who is starting to question the world around them. And so, I thought I’d finish off this post with two books I loved that handled sex and sexual identity in a beautiful way.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

 

 Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

 

 

What books have you read recently that you think got sex right?

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Banned Books Week

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Ironically, just last week I had an exchange with a parent over the book her daughter chose to read for our first unit. She felt the book had some inappropriate situations and was concerned about a number of books on the list. She wanted to know who vetted the list (me) and then asked me to remove some books because SHE found them inappropriate for 8th graders. I told her no. I said that my students are at different maturity levels and I would not take away their options.  She asked again and my response was the same. After she walked away, I chuckled to myself because I can only imagine her reaction to some of the books we will read this school year. In light of that little chuckle, here are just some of the banned books that I have taught or am currently teaching.

 

bird singsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

 

alexie2The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

 

 

 

 

speakSpeak, Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth.

 

 

 

romeo and julietRomeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together?

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