Jo Talks Books: On Required Reading In Schools and Why It Needs To Change

Hi everyone! I know it’s been absolutely ages since I last did one of these, I’m sorry about that, it’s exam time at the moment so I have been crazy busy revising (it will all be over next week thankfully!) and haven’t had time to sit down and write one of these, but I’m finally getting around to it. This week’s topic was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine about the books that we were forced to read at school & it got me thinking about required reading for exams.

We all remember the books that we were made to read for our exams, if you’re like me, it will be with less than fond memories, though I’m sure there are people out there who enjoyed them! Still if you’ve done your GCSE’s in the past few years, you probably know the formula: Shakespeare, 2 19th/20th century novels, usually by old white men, a modern play & poetry. All this sounds perfectly fine, until you talk to your parents and their friends and realise that the texts that you’re studying are almost exactly the same as they did when they were at school.

Now whilst I’m sure it makes sense to exam boards and the government to be assigning things that have been tried and tested and proven to get good results over the years, by sticking to the same old body of literature for exams, we’re missing out on introducing teens to a wealth of equally amazing contemporary literature. The assigned reading for GCSE’s also tends to be very Western focused, on British and American literature mostly, and I find that rather sad when there’s a world of great books out there for different cultures that we only stick to the one that’s most familiar to us.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with classic literature. It’s not to my personal taste, but clearly there is something about it that has resonated with people in order for it to last so long, & it does make sense to want to teach teenagers about issues of the past through these kinds of books. But teenagers nowadays face different issues, and it would definitely be worthwhile to offer them some contemporary choices, that they might be able to relate to more. It’s not as if there aren’t contemporary books on the same themes as some of the books already assigned for English Literature, teens could always be given the same books currently on the syllabus, but alongside more contemporary options, exploring the same themes, and compare and contrast, as an example, Lord of The Flies and Beauty Queens, books that pretty much explore the same situation, just gender flipped and that might make the tedium of reading Lord of The Flies a little more fun!

I also think that getting the opportunity to study more contemporary books, might engage students who are more reluctant readers. I mean, I love books and yet I hated English Literature, so I can’t imagine that long, stuffy classics would necessarily appeal to those who aren’t as keen on reading. It seems a shame that teens could get put off reading because they are assigned stuff that isn’t engaging.

There are also so many retellings of classics nowadays, which is an area I don’t think is explored often enough at school, I mean you can find a retelling of basically any classic book if you look hard enough and comparing and contrasting the original to it’s retellings would definitely add something new to simply studying the same old classic over and over again.

And whilst I certainly understand why we are made to study Shakespeare, I didn’t exactly find studying Macbeth thrilling, and I’m sure that a lot of teens probably feel the same way. But again, there are many modern retellings of Shakespeare, movies like She’s The Man & Ten Things I Hate About You for one, and even books that are modern retellings of his plays, like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (a modern Romeo and Juliet), there’s no reason why Shakespeare can’t be updated for a modern teenage audience.

There’s such a push for diversity in books for teens at the moment, which is great and absolutely necessary, but shouldn’t there be a push for diversity in the authors, playwrights and poets whose work we assign teens for exams as well? We didn’t read anything from any non-white authors for GCSE, & only the one woman, there was nothing by anyone with a disability or a mental illness and aside from To Kill A Mockingbird, there was nothing with any POC characters (even then, TKAM is still a white centred story). We want to make sure that our teens are reading diverse books and yet their exam syllabus is anything but diverse? That just seems wrong to me, we should get as much diversity as possible into our exam syllabuses. It might not be possible to represent every single marginalised person, but it would be great if at least some more diversity was shown in the choices for exam reading.

I also hate that there’s such a snobbery surrounding classic literature. Like that’s what assigned because it’s seen as somehow “better” than contemporary fiction. Sure there are some great classic books out there, but just because these books are old, doesn’t instantly make them better than contemporary books, in the same way that being new doesn’t make those books automatically better. There are both great classics and great newer fiction and it would be great if the fact that there are socially relevant and engaging books for teens out there was acknowledged in exam syllabuses.

Obviously, it’s not possible for all teens’ reading tastes to be taken into account when the syllabus is being set, and it’s not likely that you’ll love everything that you’ll read in school, but you would think that it would be possible to offer teens some choice, so that they read something they are interested in for their exam, after all, you’ll do a lot better writing about a book you love than a book you hate!

I have outlined just a few different ways that the current English Literature syllabus could be modified in order to include more contemporary literature alongside the classics which are already studied. It’s probably not likely that it will change anytime soon, given how long they’ve had the same syllabus for, but you have to hope that one day, contemporary literature will be incorporated into English Literature exams, or else I pity the poor students of 20 years time who will still be studying Lord of The Flies! In an ever changing world of literature, it seems awful that our literature GCSE has remained somewhat stagnant. There’s so many wonderful books out there to experience, let’s hope that someday, someone chooses to take a step outside the same old structured box and try something new!

What do you think? Do you think more contemporary fiction should be required reading for exams? Did you enjoy your English GCSE? What did you have to study for it? What do you think is the best way to get teens engaged in reading? Let me know in the comments!

I will have a new Jo Talks post up at some point in May (I totally meant to do more than one April one, but I just ran out of time!), although I have no idea what it will be about, so I can’t tell you! If there’s anything you would like me to talk about, then please let me know. In the meantime, I’m hoping to have a new review up in the next few days of my most recent read Paper and Fire, so stay tuned for that!

 

Jo Talks Books: On Parents In YA Fiction

Hi everyone! Happy Mother’s Day to all my UK followers, I hope you have had a great day with your mothers/children & for those who do not have mothers/children to celebrate with, I hope your day has not been too difficult. Anyway, I figured since it was Mother’s Day today, it was the perfect time to talk about a topic that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while: Parents, or rather, the lack of parents in YA fiction.

We all know the drill, in a lot of YA fiction, though I’ll admit, I probably have a skewed sample because I read mostly YA fantasy and parents tend to take more of a backseat in that than in contemporary YA, but still, in a lot of YA fiction, parents play little to no active role in their children’s lives, and are generally only very minor characters, if they are even mentioned at all.

Now on a practical level, I can see the appeal of this, especially in Fantasy. Heck in my own WIP, my heroine’s mother is dead and her father is a complete bastard whom she runs away from. It’s much easier for your teenage character to have adventures when their parents are not around, hovering over them to tell them to do their homework! I suppose it’s also a good way out of having to develop the parents of your MC too much if they’re rarely around/dead, although it doesn’t have to mean this, I mean think how much we know about James and Lily Potter from the HP books without them ever making a physical appearance. But still, it’s a lot more believable to have your teen characters running around having adventures if they don’t have parents than if they do (I mean can you really see any present parent wanting their kid to possibly get killed taking out bad guys?). I’d say this is probably also why you’re more likely to find present parents in Contemporary YA, you don’t have the same danger factor as you do in fantasies, so it’s much easier to include parents.

However, by not including parents in YA fiction, a huge part of teens lives are being excluded. Sure, there are teens with dead parents or with neglectful/absentee parents and this should absolutely be recognised, but for most teens, parents are a huge part of their lives, so it stands to reason that they would be a part of their stories. Yes it does make it easier if the parents are out of the way for the hero to have adventures, but at the same time, your dynamics with your parents when you are a teenager are probably the most interesting of your entire life. On the one hand, you love your parents but on the other hand, you’re dying for more independence. The dynamic is constantly changing and shifting and I think that far from pushing parents into the background, it’s a very interesting dynamic to explore in YA novels, the balance between wanting your parent’s advice/involvement in your life and wanting to find out who you are as a person and it would be nice to see that more (obviously if it’s right for the book).

And even if on a practical level, excluding parents seems appealing, because it makes it easier for kids to have adventures, having parents there gives the kid another obstacle because they have to save the world and get home in time to do their homework. This was one of the things I enjoyed most about the Skulduggery Pleasant series, Valkyrie’s parents are around, they would inevitably notice that she was gone, so she has to come up with a way of them not noticing that she’s not there when she’s off to save the world, this adds another layer of conflict within the story. So far from just being an annoyance that it is easier to get rid of, having the MC have present parents adds conflict to the MC’s life and a conflict that more teens can relate to than having to save the world!

You could also argue that parents are not relevant to the plot in a YA book, because it’s about the kids and not the parents but I would argue that parents are always relevant. They are an integral part of shaping who we are as people, who you become as a teenager is in no small part due to your parents and your upbringing. Seeing where our MC came from is yet another window into understanding who they are, by seeing how they interact with their parents you can tell a lot about what matters to them, where certain personality traits came from etc, far from being irrelevant, it could add another layer to an MC, understanding who their parents are. Whether they are absent, helicopter, dead, supportive etc, an MC’s parents will always be relevant to their character development because who their parents are will have helped shaped their character. In my WIP, my MC’s mother is dead and her father is very cold & distant, this has very much shaped who she is as a person, as her father’s distance has shaped her frosty and distrustful personality and her anger and fiery nature very much resembles her mother. Even if the parents aren’t physically present in a YA book, I think we should still be able to feel their presence through the character’s actions and personality, like in the Throne of Glass books, Celaena’s parents are dead, but we get shown, both through flashbacks and Celaena’s actions how they have shaped her. There needs to be a reason for missing parents. It can’t just be that you want your character to have adventures and so we’ll kill the parents because it’s easier that way. It needs to have shaped your character, changed them in some way, to help push the plot forward, otherwise what’s the point? Like oh, they’re dead or neglectful because I need them out the way. NO. Using this as a force for character growth? Yes, I am all here for that.

We can also understand a lot about character’s motivations by seeing who their parents are and this could help shape your character’s arc, for instance, if your character is very rebellious, it could be due to their overprotective parents. Sure, a dead or neglectful parent could also go a long way to explaining character motivations, but it has also been very overused, by having parents with an active involvement in their child’s life, it could be an interesting, different, angle on exploring character motivation.

It would be great if instead of seeing parents as an obstacle in YA fiction, they could be seen as an opportunity for deeper growth, deeper delving into character motivation, exploring different dynamics. Parents don’t need to be a noose around an MC’s neck, they  can bring a different dynamic, different ideas and different perspectives and that’s not a bad thing, in fact it can be a very good thing.

I am not saying that all parents must be perfect, supportive, loving parents. Far from it. I want to read about supportive parents yes, that’s been my experience growing up, I love my parents, they have always been there for me and I’m very close to them, so naturally I like seeing that reflected in books, but that’s not everyone’s experiences. Equally, it’s not everyone’s experience that they have neglectful parents or dead parents. There are a myriad of different types of parents out there and I just think that we should be able to see this in YA books, parents should be allowed to be realistic characters as much as the teenagers are, and just like teenagers, there are a lot of different types of parents out there and it would be great to see that reflected in YA.

Basically, I just don’t want to see the archetypal dead or missing parent anymore. Parents aren’t archetypes anymore than teenagers are and just because they aren’t the main focus of YA books, doesn’t mean that they should be pushed aside. Parents have an important role in teens lives and I would just love to see that acknowledged more. I want to see parents who are as varied and interesting as their children, the MCs of the stories that I love so much. When parents are dead or absentee or neglectful, I want to see the impact that this has had on the teen and even when they’re not, I want to see how MCs have been shaped by their parents. Whoever our parents are, whatever they’re like, they will have an impact on us and I want to see this. I don’t want to see parents being written out of the narrative because they’re inconvenient to have around. If it’s inconvenient for your MC have their parents around, then explore this. Explore the conflict. It could make your story even more interesting, add a different dynamic. Just as we should explore the myriad of diverse, interesting, flawed, relatable teens, we should do the same with their parents. Because whether they’re around or not, parents are an important part of everyone’s narrative, and YA books should reflect this.

What do you think? Do you like present parents or absent ones? What should a parent’s role be in YA fiction? Who are your favourite fictional parents? Have you read any books where parents have an interesting role? Let me know in the comments!

I will have a new Jo Talks post up at some point in April, but I can’t say what I’ll be writing about as I haven’t worked it out! As always, if there’s anything you’d like to hear about from me, please let me know! In the meantime, the next time you’ll probably hear from me will be on Tuesday for my regularly scheduled TTT post, so stay tuned for that!

Once again, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in the UK!

Jo Talks Books: On What World Book Day Means To Me

Hi everyone! I wasn’t planning on having my first official Jo Talks post of March up so soon, particularly as I only posted my last one on Wednesday, but I was inspired by World Book Day yesterday and I thought it would make a great discussion post for this month.

World Book Day in the UK falls on the first Thursday in March. It’s a day where reading is celebrated and kids all around the country get to go to school dressed up as their favourite characters, and do activities based around reading and get a book token to spend on books. In other words, it’s basically heaven for young bookworms.

As a young bookworm, this day was my favourite day of the year. I remember being so excited to go to school on World Book Day, I couldn’t wait to get dressed up and get to pretend to be my favourite character for a day. It was a chance, if only for a day, to get to be a part of one of the stories that I loved so much, to share my love of that character, of that book and as a bookworm that’s one of the best feelings in the world.

I was talking to my friends today and we still remember the characters we went as for World Book Day at school. One year I was Hermione Granger (my biggest character role model when I was a kid), another year Little Red Riding Hood (I think she may have made an appearance multiple years), I think I might have even been Ariel one year, but I can’t quite remember! But you get the picture, even years later, we have fond memories of getting to go to school dressed up as our favourite characters.

It’s more than just getting to be one of your favourite characters for a day though. World Book Day lets young bookworms be themselves, without fearing that their love of books and fictional characters will be ridiculed. This is not so much a problem I remember facing at primary school, it was more at my first secondary school (I changed schools, so I went to more than one), that I realised that some people saw my obsession with books as strange, but still, as a young bookworm, it was amazing to have this day that celebrated the thing which I loved so much, a day totally dedicated to books and the wonderful characters in them.

I also remember being so excited to get my World Book Day token and go to a bookshop and spend it, bookshops have always been such magical places to me, so full of possibilities and I wanted any excuse I could to be in one, still do.

There were obviously kids when I was at school who were less enthusiastic about World Book Day than I was but that was the great thing about WBD, it brings both readers and non readers together to share in the love of books. The costumes were a fun conversation starter but it was this feeling of community that was the best part of WBD.

Events like this are so important for kids. It both shows young readers that their love of books is a great thing and that you’re not odd or strange for loving books, a stereotype that is unfortunately all to often applied to bookworms, and those kids who may not be as in love with reading that it can be fun. They foster a love of learning, a love of knowledge and kids need that.

It was events like this that shaped me as a young reader. Events like World Book Day, and Scholastic Book Fairs (Scholastic provided books for these fairs and we’d get like a bundle for a £1. I always came back from school with super heavy bags on those days) and the mobile library that came to our primary school, these things not only encouraged my love for reading but gave me an outlet for it.

Just looking at all the photos of kids dressed up for World Book Day on Twitter today made me feel so nostalgic. It’s so great that this is a tradition that has continued and today’s kids get to enjoy it, the same way I did when I was their age and it’s so cool to get to see kids dressed up in costumes from some of my favourite books, and think about who I would dress up as now, if I still got to do that for World Book Day (totally would have considered dressing up for it, if I’d had an outfit).

Reading is such a wonderful thing and I think it’s so great that we have this day to celebrate it and to get young people into reading, allowing them to experience the magic and wonder of books. World Book Day also supports charities Book Aid International and Readathon which provide books for children in third world countries who don’t have the same access to books as we do and gives them a chance to discover the magic of reading as well, which I think is pretty amazing.

My dad reading to me as a child is what started my love of reading, but it is experiences like World Book Day at school that sustained it, that turned me into the reader and blogger I am today, I can’t possibly imagine not loving books, but I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as obsessed with books if I hadn’t been encouraged and given outlets when I was at school.

The book loving kids of today, could be the authors, bloggers, publishers of tomorrow and we need to do everything we can to encourage this, especially when they are young and celebrating reading in any way we can, showing them what a wonderful world the world of books is and that’s why events like this are so important. And I hope that when they grow up, they will have been as inspired and have as fond memories of World Book Day as I do.

So to UK bloggers, do you remember World Book Days from your childhood? What did you use to dress up as? Who would you dress up as for World Book Day now? Let me know in the comments!

I will have another Jo Talks post up later this month but again, I don’t know what I’m going to write about, so if there’s anything that you’d like me to talk about, then please let me know. In the meantime though, I will hopefully have new posts for you all next week.

Jo Talks Books: On Actual YAs in the YA Community

Hi everyone! Since Top Ten Tuesday is taking a break this week, and I didn’t want to leave you without your weekly Tuesday post, and as it is the last day of the month, it’s about time for another Jo Talks post anyway! I was amazed by the response to my last discussion post, I was so pleased that the post seemed to resonate with so many of you and that I had so many positive responses to it. But anyway, on to today’s topic, I’m going to be talking about bloggers, specifically actual young adult bloggers in this community. There has been a lot of noise on Twitter about teen bloggers being afraid to speak out, feeling undervalued by the community that is meant to serve them, feeling outnumbered by older bloggers, cut out of conversations, not listened to and so I wanted to talk to some young bloggers myself, to find out what they had to say about it.

First off though, I’m going to talk a little about my own experience as a YA in the YA blogging community. I was 17 when I first started my blog back in 2014 (though it was the year I turned 18) and I have to admit, I was slightly overwhelmed at first. My first year of blogging, I didn’t really interact with the community much at all. I mean I think part of this was being a new blogger and just feeling a bit nervous to get involved, but I think another part of it was that I was surrounded by bloggers who were quite a bit older than me and had been doing it for a lot longer and it was all a little intimidating.

However, when I actually did start really interacting with the community, in 2015, I realised several things. First, that the community was not as scary a place as I had originally thought, that the older bloggers who I had felt intimidated by were actually incredibly friendly and welcoming people but also that it did seem the majority of the YA blogging community were adult bloggers.

I’m not sure if it’s just because I’ve become more active on Twitter in the last few years, but I have noticed more young bloggers now than there seemed to be when I first started blogging, which is a wonderful thing. After all the YA community is for them, their voices should be heard. However, sadly, I have also noticed more young bloggers feeling sidelined and afraid to voice their opinions in their own community, which is not what should be happening.

So I decided to speak to a group of young bloggers about their experiences in the YA blogging community, in particular their experiences of Twitter, to see how they felt and I was actually pleasantly surprised with the responses I got, the bloggers I spoke to all seemed to feel that the community was a very welcoming place to be and that adult bloggers were welcoming and willing to listen to their opinions. Here are some of the responses I got:

“I definitely feel like adults in the community listen to me. Whenever I’ve spoken to bloggers older than me, they’ve all been very lovely and helpful. But then again, I haven’t spoken to all adult bloggers and I think that some teen bloggers may not listen to what you’re saying. I think it depends on the person more than the age” -Jemima, 17

I have noticed that (to me) some adults seem more welcoming to the community than some teens (not all though, as most teens and adults are equally lovely)” -Megan, 18

I think the adults in the community are really lovely and inclusive to teens. I’ve chatted to and met quite a few, and they’ve all been very friendly” -Jess, late teens

I do think that adults have a say as well, teens do listen to us (depending on how big the age gap is)” -Rebecca, 21

I also found that none of the bloggers I spoke to felt like they couldn’t voice their opinions, they all said that they felt they had a voice in the community, they felt welcome to share their own opinions online and that adult bloggers were very encouraging and they all felt very comfortable discussing books on Twitter. That is not to say that there aren’t young bloggers out there who don’t feel willing or able to share their views with the community, there are, but I did find it encouraging that the teens I spoke to feel like they do have a voice in their own community.

I also asked them about the adult/teen proportions in the blogging community and if they felt like they were outnumbered in the community and their responses were very interesting:

I feel more teens are getting into blogging, but it does seem predominantly adult. I assume however that’s because many adults started out as teens and have stayed blogging” -Megan, 18

To be fair, I see a lot of teens blogging and have made friends with lots of teen bloggers. I think it’s good that young people are gaining more of an independent voice and interacting with their peers, most of whom they would have never met otherwise. But adults should be involved in the YA community, particularly if they are younger as they are inherently young adults, but also so that adults can engage more in what younger people are thinking and discussing. I’ve never got the feeling that the YA community is overcrowded with adults” -Jemima, 17

Yes, while the adults are great, I do think the adult/teen balance is probably weighted a bit more towards the adults. Obviously I wouldn’t want to get rid of anyone, so the obvious solution to me would be to get more teens blogging about YA! I do like to know teens opinions on books, being a teenager myself” -Jess, late teens

I found Jemima’s response particularly interesting, as at 20, I am an adult, but I’m closer in age to a lot of teen bloggers than I am most adult bloggers, which has always left me wondering a little what my place in all this is, so it was interesting to see her response about younger adults role in the community, it really resonated with me.

Speaking to Jemima, Jess, Megan and Rebecca had me both encouraged, as well as realizing that there is a lot of work still to do. It is great that these young bloggers feel involved in their community and that they are listened to and respected, but there are still young bloggers out there who don’t feel this way. Twitter is a great place for connecting over books, but at the same time, it can be a very toxic place sometimes as well. Discussions can get incredibly heated and it can be scary to speak out. Especially over the last year or so, I have noticed the atmosphere on Twitter getting increasingly negative and people getting attacked over their favourite books and authors.

The common thread in Jemima, Jess and Megan’s responses is that they’d all love to see more teen bloggers in the community. I would also love that, for the teens now, who deserve to have their voices strongly represented and heard and also for the teen I was when I started blogging, who didn’t have other teen blogger friends to connect with. It seems like having Twitter is an integral part of being involved in the blogging community, but we are not going to encourage more teens to take up blogging if we continue with the negativity that has been going on in the last year. We need to be the welcoming community that Jemima, Jess and Megan became a part of, not a community that teens are scared to speak out in.

That is obviously not to say that everyone in the Twitter community is nasty, there are lovely bloggers out there, wonderful people who make being part of the community worthwhile. But there has been an awful lot of negativity on Twitter in the past year, and whilst this negativity is linked to important discussions about diversity and problematic books, I can’t help but feel like there are better ways to have these conversations. Ways that wouldn’t mean some teens feeling scared to voice their opinions and feeling ostracised from a community that is meant to be for them. We should be having these important discussions, yes, but we should be allowing teens to be included, we shouldn’t be scaring any of them away from voicing their opinions. We should make Book Twitter a safe place to be and shouldn’t villainize anyone for their love of particular books. By all means, point out their problems, but don’t villainize the people who do like them.

We want to be the community that Jemima, Jess and Megan have seen. The community that I saw when I first joined. We want to be welcoming and accepting of different views and we need to make sure that the teens in this community do not feel afraid to speak out. This community is a wonderful place, it was so welcoming and encouraging when I first started out and it saddens me that there has been so much negativity around of late. We owe it to the teens of the community, to be a positive place, where they feel free to voice their opinions, in a world that increasingly devalues the opinions of teens, to be a space where their voices are valued, appreciated and respected, and where they feel free to speak out. It is only by doing this that we will get more teens involved in the community.

I will have another Jo Talks post, my first of March (though this will technically be published in March, as it’s after midnight as I’m writing this, but I wrote most of it whilst it was still February, so I’m counting it as a February post), hopefully soon, but I’m not sure what I’m going to write about yet. If there’s anything that you would like to see me cover in my Jo Talks posts this year, then by all means, let me know! In the meantime however, I will have a new #RockMyTBR update for February up very soon, so stay tuned for that!

 

Jo Talks Books: Where Are All The Single Characters in YA?

Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these, I’ve been very busy what with being back at Uni and applying for work experience placements for the summer that I haven’t had time to sit down and write another discussion post! I was thrilled with the reaction to my last discussion post, it was something I was a little nervous about writing, so I’m very glad that it seemed to be well received. But anyway, back to the topic at hand, with Valentine’s Day coming up on Tuesday, I thought I’d do a romance themed discussion post…..well ish. I saw a post on BookRiot on this topic last year, and it really made me think, so I decided I wanted to put my own two cents in on the issue. So today I’m going to be talking about being single and particularly the lack of single characters in YA.

We all know that nowadays romance is pretty much a prerequisite of YA books. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of YA books that I’ve read that had no romance in them at all in the last few years. That’s all well and good, after all first romances are a big part of some teens lives. However the key word there is SOME. Not all teens have found their “one” at age 16. Heck most of them haven’t and I think it’s very dangerous to perpetuate the idea that all teens have found love by age 16/17, because it runs the risk of making teens who aren’t in a relationship/have never been kissed/haven’t yet found love feel abnormal.

This is an issue that is quite close to me personally because I was one of those teens. I was single throughout all of my teen years (I still am), I hadn’t even been kissed up until about two years ago and my teenage crushes (on actual people that I knew, not just celebrities) were few and far between. And I would read these books, where all of these teenage characters were falling in love, finding their perfect relationships and I would feel abnormal. Because I hadn’t had any of that. I kept thinking “Is there something wrong with me?”. I didn’t have this perfect ship-worthy relationship. I hadn’t been kissed, I hadn’t even ever been on a date. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am a huge shipper, but just seeing all of these characters in books that I loved get together made me feel like there was something wrong with my life, because I hadn’t found something that all these characters in books I loved seemed to have found so easily, and I’m sure I’m not the only teen that has felt this way.

By having all YA characters paired up, a huge part of the YA audience is being erased. We talk so much about representation in this community, about race representation, disability representation, sexuality representation, mental illness representation etc but no one ever seems to talk about the lack of single representation. I know that singles are not a marginalised group in the same way that some of the other groups I’ve mentioned are, but we still deserve to be represented don’t we? Why should only people who’ve had relationships get to see themselves in books? Shouldn’t people who are single, whether we be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, aro/ace/demi, pan etc get to see ourselves in books too? I know I certainly get enough people making me feel bad about being single in real life, I don’t need it from my books too.

It’s just not realistic to have every single one of your main characters paired up, that’s not how life works. Not everyone finds true love and that’s okay. It’s unlikely in a group of 6 or 7 teenagers that absolutely every single one of them will be paired up. Is being single as interesting as following a couple through the ups and downs of first love? No probably not. Is it important to show it anyway and show it in a positive light to encourage single teens? Absolutely.

Having single characters in YA would allow more characters to be developed on their own rather than as part of a romance. You can have the same storylines as you would if your character was in a couple, the character discovering who they are, their ambitions, their passions and in fact if you have a single character, you could focus on these things a lot more because your character isn’t being swept away in a romance. I have definitely found when writing my own YA story, I have been able to explore my MC’s ambitions, passions, and show more of her personal growth because I haven’t had to focus on a romance storyline.

I’ve also found that in books where there is a romance, that relationship becomes the main focus and all of the MC’s other relationships seem to get pushed into the background (I’m not saying in all YA books, just some). It would be great if instead of always focusing on romance, we could get some YA books that focus purely on friendship and family relationships without focusing on romances. For me anyway, my family and friends have always been more important to me than boys and it would be great to see this reflected in YA books rather than the constant focus on romance.

Having more single characters in YA would also allow for more male/female platonic relationships to be explored, which are sorely lacking in my opinion. Why can we not just have a single guy and a single girl who are just great friends? Oh I forgot, because singledom is the devil! Can we not have two happy, single, platonic girl/guy friends? Is it too much to ask for? So many great potential m/f platonic relationships have been ruined by romance and again it sends a bad message to teens. It makes it seem like if you can’t be just friends with a guy, which is obviously totally untrue. Obviously characters in a relationship can also have platonic girl/guy friends, but that’s another topic for another time!

So overall, I just want to see singleness normalized in YA fiction. To show teens that it’s okay not to have found your special someone in your teen years. That you’re not strange or unlovable if you don’t have someone. I’d love to see YA characters discovering themselves and who they are before jumping into a romantic relationship with someone. To see characters who are single by choice and happy about it. To see aromantic, asexual and demisexual characters. To see singleness portrayed as a good thing, not as something to be avoided at all costs. Single characters are sadly mostly invisible in YA fiction and that’s not a good thing. They need to be seen. So that teens like I was, who hadn’t had a boyfriend or even been on a date or had a kiss don’t feel abnormal. So that they can see themselves in the books they read. Isn’t that what all of us want? To be able to see ourselves in what we read? By not showing single teens, a significant proportion of teens are not being represented, this is not right or fair. We should embrace singleness as part of the teen experience as much, if not more, than we embrace the first love narrative. Just because it may not seem as “exciting” as the romance storyline, doesn’t mean that singleness should be erased altogether.

I have another Jo Talks post in the works which I’m very excited about, but I’m going to keep it under my hat for now, so you’ll have to wait until I post it to see what it’s all about! In the meantime however, I will have a review of my newest read, The Crown’s Game and a new Top Ten Tuesday post for you in the next few days, so stay tuned for those!

 

Jo Talks Books: Should There Be Sex Scenes in YA?

Hey everyone! I hope you’ve been having a good week, mine has been relatively quiet, just settling back into Uni for my Spring Semester, enjoying the calm before the inevitable storm of assignments in a few weeks. But anyway, that’s enough about me, on to the topic at hand, today I’m going to be talking about sex. Specifically, sex scenes in YA fiction. Now for those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, this might seem like a weird topic for me to talk about, as I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned multiple times that sex scenes in books make me uncomfortable, however surprisingly, I’m not going to be arguing today that sex shouldn’t be included books (though it would be pretty weird if I did really, just because something makes me uncomfortable doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there), in fact, I’m going to be arguing quite the opposite.

Obviously not all teens have sex, I didn’t have sex as a teen (still haven’t), but equally, there are some teens that do and pretending that all teenagers must be virgins is just not realistic. Young Adult books are all about reflecting the real teen experience right? Or at least they should be if they’re doing their job right. So why should sex scenes in YA be fade-to-black? I mean it doesn’t need to be porn level sex but not acknowledging that teens have sex makes it seem like there’s something shameful about it, which of course, there isn’t.

I’m not saying that every YA book should have sex in it, as with everything, it should fit with the storyline and the characters and it shouldn’t be shoehorned in just for the sake of it, it has to be natural for the characters. For instance, in a YA fantasy novel, if two characters start having sex in the middle of a huge battle for no apparent reason, it’s probably not the right time or place for a sex scene, but if it adds to the storyline, if it develops the relationship between two characters then I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be there.

Besides, lots of TV shows contain sex scenes, movies too, so why is it okay for them and not for YA? Plenty of teens will watch sexually explicit shows and movies, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t read books with sex in them. In fact, books are probably a better way to learn about sex because it’s not as if the well lit, well costumed etc scenes in movies and TV shows are at all realistic (I assume anyway!), there’s not the same need for perfection in books, so authors can explore the more messy aspects of teen sex and the emotional impact perhaps more than a TV show or a movie can. Books are a great way for teens to learn about things like consent, safe sex, gay/lesbian sex, STIs, etc. You might argue, “but you’re supposed to learn all of this at school” but the reality is, not everyone does. And whilst the internet is a great resource for learning, so are books, which is why it’s important for things like sex to be portrayed in YA books.

Also why do all girls in YA who do have sex have to be virgins? I mean of the few YA novels I have read with sex in them, the girl is pretty much always a virgin, but the guy never is. How is it that fair, or realistic? Not all teen girls are virgins, equally not all guys are experienced. I’d love to see more stories where the guy is the inexperienced one and the girl isn’t, because it seems that the few stories that do include sex scenes, it’s mostly the girls who are the inexperienced ones. This is one of the many double standards in YA that I’d love to see less of! (but that’s another post for another time!).

It seems wrong that violence, drug taking etc is perfectly accepted, but sex is shameful and something that shouldn’t be seen in YA books. Why are those things perfectly acceptable, but sex, a natural part of the human experience, is not? Does that not say something royally messed up about our society that something that is perfectly legal and enjoyed by most members of society is considered shameful for teenagers to read? (Not that I’m saying I haven’t read or enjoyed books with violence and/or drugs, I just wanted an example of illegal things to compare). We don’t want to teach teens that sex is shameful, we want to show them that’s it’s natural and fun and how to do it safely because they are going to do it and it’s better that they’re informed. I’m not a parent so obviously I can’t speak to the likely perfectly valid reasons they may not want teens to read about sex, but I was a teen (I only turned 20 last year, it still feels strange to say was rather than “am” a teen!) and I know how much I appreciated (and still do appreciate), authors being honest about all parts of the teenage experience, sex is a part of that, and despite general awkwardness around reading sex scenes, I still appreciate it when authors strive to reflect all parts of the experience of being a teen (as long as it is in keeping with their characters).

I’m not saying that sex scenes need to give all the graphic details, because personally, that’s not what I want, I know what sex is and how it works, I just want more than “and they disappeared under the covers” (not an actual quote from a book, but you get what I mean). I get that YA authors have to be careful, because YA covers such a range of ages, and some scenes that might be appropriate for older teens, might not be appropriate for younger teens but I think even younger teens can handle slightly more detail than just the fade to black that is normally present in YA fiction. I mean we had sex-ed classes at school at age 9-10, younger than the usual YA reader is, so I think young teenagers can understand and handle far more than they are given credit for.

I also don’t want to see too much of the catastrophic sex narrative, where having sex ruins the protagonist’s life because sex is evil and if you do it then bad things will happen to you. I haven’t seen this too much in books, more on TV, but the idea is the same. I get that teens need to see that sex has consequences, but not every sex narrative has to be a bad one. We can show teenagers having sex and enjoying it in books, it’s not necessarily going to make them go out and do it. Equally showing sex in a negative light is not going to stop teenagers from doing it. I think the key is to show realistic, healthy depictions of sex and relationships instead of trying to cover it up and pretend it doesn’t happen. Seeing healthy depictions of sex in the books they read can only help teens, not hurt them.

So in summary, whilst I may have my own personal awkwardness when it comes to reading sex scenes in YA books, I don’t think it’s a bad thing if they’re there. Books are a wonderful tool for learning and I think the best ones are the ones that reflect the experiences of their readers which means there needs to be all different experiences of sex in YA books, first times, experienced teens, virgins, people of different sexualities having sex, you get the idea. As long as it’s true to the characters and fits with the story, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be sex scenes in YA books. If authors want to reflect all aspects of teenage experience in their books, then missing out on the aspect of teenage sex if there is a storyline where it is appropriate to do so would be a mistake and doing a disservice to teens who do have sex and want to see that reflected in their books.

 

Jo Talks Books: 2017 Bookish Resolutions

Happy 2017 everyone! I hope you all had a great New Year’s Eve, mine was pretty standard really, dinner with my parents and their friends and then watching the fireworks over Stirling castle at midnight. Before I go into today’s post, I would like to thank all of my followers, and everyone who supported my blog in 2016, it was the best year for my blog since I started it in 2014, and I’m hoping that this, my third year of blogging will be even bigger and better than the previous two years!

Anyway, onto today’s post. I thought for my first discussion post of 2017, that I’d draw up a list of bookish/blogging/writing related New Year’s resolutions for myself, as there isn’t going to be a Top Ten Tuesday post involving resolutions this year. I’m not usually big on making resolutions, but I made a list of them at the beginning of 2016 as part of Top Ten Tuesday and I actually did surprisingly well, better than I had expected to, so I thought it might be nice to start 2017 in the same way. I prefer to think of these as goals rather than resolutions really, resolutions for me have lots of connotations of giving up, whereas goals seem more like things to strive for. I’m going to try and have a mix of blogging, reading and writing goals on this list, which should keep me busy throughout 2017. So here we go, my bookish resolutions for 2017:

  1. Complete first draft of my novel and start edits

As you guys will know, I’ve been writing my first novel this year, This Is Not A Love Story. I completed the 50,000 words I needed to complete NaNoWriMo in November, but I still have a bit more to write before I have a complete first draft. I’d also like to try and get some edits on the story done through the year, though obviously, it would be too ambitious to have completely edited and finished the thing by the end of the year, it’s going to take me a lot longer than a year to do that but I’d like to at least start the editing process in 2017.

2. Complete my Goodreads 2017 challenge

I’ve set my challenge this year at 24 books, aiming for 2 per month. Obviously I’d love it if I could do more than that but I wanted to set my challenge at something easily achievable so that I can put it up if needs be. If I could read more than 24, I’d love that, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to enjoy reading, like I did in 2016, not put pressure on myself and feel guilty about not reading enough like in 2015.

3. Complete my #RockMyTBR 2017 Challenge

I managed to read everything on my list for my 2016 #RockMyTBR challenge, so I’m hoping that I’ll do the same this year. Twitter put together a great list for me, so I’m really excited to get started on it!

4. Read more diversely

I don’t just mean in the sense of reading books with more diverse characters, although obviously that is part of this, I want to read books from more diverse authors, with more diverse settings (not just set in the US or UK or Western cultures in general), read more equally between male and female authors if I can, read widely across age groups, MG, YA & Adult etc. Basically this is a very open goal and there are numerous different ways I could achieve it.

5. Read some 2016 releases that I missed out on

This is the same as one that I had last year, but there were quite a lot of 2016 releases that I was excited for that I didn’t get to, so I want to try and catch up on these this year. I feel like this is a constant bookworm resolution, we want to try and read the stuff on our shelves, so we miss new releases and have to catch them the next year, or we read all new releases but miss the stuff on our shelves! It’s a never ending cycle!

6. Discover more new to me authors

I love my favourites, and I will always want to read whatever they put out, but I discovered some fabulous new authors for the first time in 2016 and I want to keep up this trend in 2017, I don’t just want to stick to the same favourites and never try anything new, so in 2017, I would love to have some new to me authors to add to my favourites.

7. Read more of my YALC books

Okay so confession time. I’ve been to YALC two years in a row now and the number of books I’ve read that I got from there? 3. And one was a reread. It’s ever so slightly pathetic. So this year, I want to try and get through more of the books that I acquired at YALC. I was even thinking of running a YALC Reading Challenge, perhaps through June or July, for people with books to read from YALC, or books by YALC authors who will be at the next event, so if anyone would be interested in doing this, then let me know!

8. Keep growing the blog

I want to keep things new and interesting, I don’t want to fall into a blogging rut, so I’d definitely like to see if I can introduce some new features this year (not sure what yet, I haven’t thought of anything!) and hopefully gain more followers, more views etc. I could actually use your help on this one, what would you like to see on this blog in 2017? After all, I write for the enjoyment of my readers, so if there’s anything you would like to see more of, then please let me know.

9. Read more standalones

60% of what I read this year were series books, whether that be start of series, end of series, sequels. Much as I love a series, a good standalone book is just what you need sometimes, so I want to try and read more standalones this year. This will probably be a very hard one for me to keep because I love series books a lot, but I think if I can just get the number of standalones I read this year up a little from last year, I’ll be happy. Even if it’s just one more standalone than I read last year.

10. Write more

Writing the first draft of my novel this November, reminded me of how much I enjoy writing and I want to try and write more this year, whether it be fanfic, or my own original work, I just want to write! This blog is obviously a regular source of writing for me, but I’d like to write more outside of it, as well.

11. Take a break occasionally

Reviewing books, whilst incredibly fun, can also be very tiring. This year, I’d like to thrown in some books that I don’t review, whether it be rereads, or just a book that I don’t feel like reviewing for the blog. I am obviously still going to review the majority of books I read, but it would be nice to take a break from the note-taking every now and again, and just read a book without constantly analysing every little detail! It’s okay to reward myself with an occasional break, I work hard to keep this blog going and I deserve a little time to just relax and read purely for enjoyment rather than enjoyment + reviewing.

12. Keep enjoying reading and blogging!

This one is easy! I just want to continue having fun doing what I’m doing, I don’t want reading or blogging to become a chore, I want it to remain fun and as great as all these goals are, the most important thing to me this year is that I enjoy myself.

I think that’s more than enough goals to be going on with, since I have two more goals for myself than last year! Do you set bookish goals/resolutions for the year? If not, then why not? What are you bookish/blogging/writerly goals for this year? Do we share any? What would you like to see more of on the blog to help me with goal #8? Let me know in the comments!

I have yet to plan out my Jo Talks schedule for 2017, so I’m unsure as to what my next discussion post will be, or when it will be, but the idea is roughly the same as last year, I’m aiming to do two discussion posts a month, most likely one at the start and one at the end, though this could change throughout the year. If there’s anything specific that you would like me to talk about in this feature, then just let me know, I’m always open to ideas! Otherwise, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see what I decide to discuss next. In the meantime, my next post will likely be my Top Ten Tuesday post tomorrow so look out for that.