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Skate Parks and Other Obscure Metaphors

New YA Highway contributor Kristin Briana Otts joins us from Teens Writing for Teens, a seriously stellar group blog penned by teen writers of all ages. For more about Kristin, visit our Who We Are page.

In my small rural town, there is a skate park. This skate park was built about a year ago, and it is the center of much scandal. (Actually, in a small rural town pretty much everything is the center of scandal – but I digress.) Parents fought tooth and nail for that skate park, raising money for years so our town could provide kids with a safe place to hang out.

But somehow, in the minds of a few local townspeople, this skate park is no longer a safe hangout. It’s hell. People have threatened to shut down the park based on “lewd and destructive behavior” (i.e. kids who swear and throw empty bottles on the grass. Shocking, I know.) They’ve suddenly stopped seeing the park as a safe place and started viewing it as the designated human landfill.

And for some reason, this whole scenario reminded me of YA literature.

It seems like there’s been a lot of scandal surrounding YA writers recently. Lots of censorship. Lots of controversy. What is acceptable in YA? Don’t we have a responsibility to young readers? How far is too far? Can I write about sex? Can I write about drugs? Can I write about death?

I have mixed feelings on this subject, but I’m not going to talk about them because they’re irrelevant right now. The point I’m making is this: That section in your local Barnes & Noble? The one labeled “young adult” and plastered with posters of vampires and zombies?

That’s a skate park.

That’s a safe place.

I don’t mean it’s a tame, happy little land of butterflies and unicorns. Books aren’t tame. Sometimes they’re wild and unpredictable and dangerous. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, The Shadowmancer by G. P. Taylor. All young adult books. All very dangerous in their own way.

No, YA is safe because, like the skate park, it is a place where young people can come together and figure themselves out. They can pick up a book about losing a first love and let the main character’s pain help heal their own. They can find a novel about suicide and suddenly understand what a good friend is going through. They can meet characters who resonate with them – characters that are genuine and laughably fake; relatable or otherworldly.

Yes, they’ll run into “lewd and destructive behavior” in YA literature. This is the real world, and unfortunately, it exists. But when you close the park because one kid was smoking a joint – where do the rest of them go? The skaters go back to the streets, where the police track them down, suspend them from school, make them pay a fine. The would-be readers go back to video games or TV. When they want to know about suicide they go to YouTube and watch a kid cut his wrists open on camera. When they want to know about sex they go to the school jock and listen to every lie about his conquests.

You’re not going to like every YA book. Some are going to be controversial; some are going to be stupid; some are going to be terrifying or revolting or just plain wrong. But teens need their little slice of the bookstore. They need their skate park. They need that safe place.

--Kristin Briana Otts
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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11 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Kristin. Thank you for reminding us that even the edgiest of YA literature can be a safe haven.

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  2. This is awesome, Kristin! And so true. I love your skatepark metaphor, too.

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  3. Kristin, thanks for this! What a thoughtful post. YA truly is a unique genre.

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  4. Wow, what an insightful post! If only more people would view the YA genre this way.

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  5. You are amazing Kristin! You should write books.....oh, wait. You do!

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  6. Love the metaphor and I guess I never thought of it like that. My thinking was "Why pick up a book that talks about real life issues when you're already trying to deal with those issues in real life?" but this makes sense and I understand. Which is why I'll let other authors "deal in the real" and stick to the entertainment aspect.

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  7. Just to be nit-picky, but how is YA dangerous? There's nothing dangerous about a story of a rape or drug abuse, etc. Unless these stories go on to promote such acts, saying teens should run out to their nearest drug dealer and shoot up today.

    To me, ideas are dangerous. The stuff that the reader will carry around in their head for years to come and may even shape how the view the world. A dangerous book is one that gives a solid argument behind a line of thought or proposes a philosophical question that not even the reader can answer. Ayn Rand's novels achieved this effect most clearly as being both controversial and revolutionary. Even after 50-60 years, people still argue over her ideas of egotism. That's pretty powerful stuff if you think about it.

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  8. I think ideas in general are dangerous, whether they are controversial or not. I remember some of the most life-changing books for me were A WRINKLE IN TIME and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. Not what most people consider "edgy" or thought-provoking books, yet for me, they influenced my life and thought processes for the next ten, fifteen years.

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  9. I guess if you view "dangerous" not necessarily as a bad thing. I'm trying to think of a word more powerful than "powerful".

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Item Reviewed: Skate Parks and Other Obscure Metaphors Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard