Published: December 1st, 2015
High school senior Lanny Keating has it all. A three-sport athlete at Lauserville High School looking at a college football scholarship, with a supportive family, stellar grades, boy band good looks… until the fateful day when it all falls apart.
Seventeen-year-old Trevor Ladd has always been a publicly declared zero and the high school badboy. Abandoned by his mother and sexually abused by his legal guardian, Trevor sets his sights on mere survival.
Lanny seeks out Trevor’s companionship to avoid his shattered home life. Unwilling to share their personal experiences of pain, the boys explore ways to escape, leading them into sexual experimentation, and the abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. Their mutual suffering creates a lasting bond of friendship and love.
When the time finally comes to get clean and sober, or flunk out of high school, only one of the boys will graduate, while the other spirals downward into addiction.
Will Lanny and Trevor find the strength to battle their demons of mind-altering substances as well as emotional vulnerability?
Clean takes the reader on a gritty trip into the real and raw world of teenage substance abuse.
Thank you so very much for welcoming me to your blog today to promote my new release, Clean. Clean is what I refer to as an edgy YA Contemporary romance. So, let’s take a look at edgy YA.
When I was working on my first YA LGBTQ Romance, Intervention, I pondered this question continuously: What is too gritty to be included in YA literature? Can I include sex? Violence? Cursing? Excessive cursing? Drug and alcohol use?
I didn’t want to offend parents and guardians, nor did I seek to prematurely educate teens on topics for which they were not ready. I also didn’t want to encourage behavior that is not “desirable” for teenagers. At the same time I did want my YA novel to say something important about something important and to be relevant to readers’ lives.
Intervention is the story of two teenage boys, a senior in high school and a freshman in college who meet and fall in love, but must work very hard to establish a relationship. One of the boys feels broken and damaged and completely distrustful of the world because, for the past several years, he has been sexually abused by an older step-sibling. He does his very best to prevent anyone from breaking through the protective outer shell he has grown. I thought, this is not an easy topic—it is shocking, disturbing, and maybe even controversial to be put in front of teens.
And then I asked myself, is sexual abuse by a step-sibling even a topic that should be examined in YA literature?
So I did what I always do when I’m not sure what is the right way to go: I googled it. (For this college history major, research is where it’s at.)
First, it is important to define what “edgy YA” means according to my research, and this, in itself is not a controversy-free topic, but I will do my best.
Here is an explanation of edgy fiction from S.E. Sinkhorn’s blog Maybe Genius.
“What does "edgy" mean, anyway?
A lot of YA writers seem to ask the question of how "edgy" they can be in YA. There have been many lengthy discussions about what constitutes edgy fiction and how far a writer can go. Over the last decade, the bar has pretty much been abandoned and the rule of thumb has become "as long as it's done well, anything goes." I mean, we have books about incestuous relationships and pedophilia and kidnapping and rape and eating disorders and drugs and serial killers and extraordinary gore and pretty much anything you can dream up at this point. Edgy isn't exactly the catchphrase it used to be.
Even so, I constantly see writers pop into YA discussions to ask if it's okay for their YA novel to have sex, violence, swearing, drug use, etc., or if that will make it "too edgy." This has become what "edgy" means to most people -- something that might be considered questionable content. In reality, this is a very simplistic view of edginess. For something to be edgy, it needs to push boundaries and attempt something risky….”
And I also like what Angela Render concluded about edgy YA fiction: “So the general consensus among my fellow writers was that “edgy” was a fluid label that meant dark—darker—darkest. As dark as you could get without crossing over into adult.”
Okay, so it seems that even the darkest of topics are on the table for YA literature as long as they are “done well.” My next challenge was clear—I had to determine what it meant to do justice to these gritty topics? From my research, I learned that doing justice to these topics means simply to deal with them realistically. If the teen characters respond authentically to the realistic circumstances, and true to life consequences are provided to both their good and bad choices, then this is realistic.
In a blog called Pub Crawl, Mandy provides us with an example.
“Example? Say you want to write about drugs. Your character can get into cocaine or meth or any number of hard drugs, and for a while, he can be on top of the freakin’ world. But at some point everything’s going to come crashing down—just like it would in the real world—and therein lies why it is okay to write these things for teens. Because you’re showing the real life repercussions of some truly hard topics.
Does that mean you should preach and focus on “teaching lessons”? Heck no. Teens will see through that a mile away and toss it in the garbage. But for YA, your character’s internal growth and journey are perhaps more important than the external plot changes. Your character must grow and change throughout the book, and by throwing in some heavy stuff, you’re dealing with tough topics head on, and your readers will naturally grow and learn right along side your characters. That is why it’s okay to go as deep and dark as you need to write your story.”
Teens need to have access to books that matter. In the Ooligan Publishing blog, Rachel Pass states, “Teenagers—like readers of any age, really—want the good stuff. The juicy stuff. The stuff you don’t want someone reading over your shoulder on the bus. No! Not because it’s obscene, but because it’s…personal, because someone observing closely might see you actually feel something.
Teens, just like adults, want to read books that matter.”
I believe that the content of Intervention contains “the good stuff.” It is juicy and it is personal. The story of how Jamie arrived at the point where he could open his heart enough to let someone inside matters very much. And the manner in which Kai embraced the part of himself that cares enough to nurture a friend in desperate need is a human journey of growth and change that counts for something. Reading Intervention provides teen readers with a safe way to explore an “unsafe” topic.
My new release, Clean, is very similar to Intervention in this way. It deals with two high school seniors who turn to alcohol and drugs to make their difficult lives tolerable. Did I toss in drug and alcohol abuse, sexual experimentation, and plenty of cursing to merely spark an interest in a teen audience? Or did I set up some tough life circumstances that two teens must deal with authentically in order to grow, and thus we see the emergence of some negative behaviors? Check out Clean to discover the answer.
So, my plan with Intervention, The Red Sheet, Not Broken, Just Bent, Come To My Window, Us Three, Inclination, Love Spell, A Hard Day’s Night, and Clean has been to write edgy YA fiction, by doing justice to it. I write of realistic problems that teens must face, and drinking, drugs, and sex are very real issues in teen lives. The reactions of my teenage characters are realistic—which includes making both good and bad decisions. Real-life consequences occur as a result of their actions, with no glamor involved. The teen characters embark on a journey where they grow and learn and change—a journey that the reader will go on with them. I wrote a story that will interest both teen and adult audiences because it is simply a raw and gritty, but mostly interesting and relevant, story that takes readers on a journey, which is of the ultimate importance.
About the author:
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.
Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.
Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.
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