Love & sex in YA lit: THE COMPLICATED
Our friends, Em & Nora (who we like to call “Em & No”), recently launched a site for grown-ups about young adult literature called LoveYALit.com*, since (according to the New York Times) more and more people 18-and-over are enjoying books originally intended for the 18-and-under set. Of course, books about teens, the most hormonal among us, often deal with issues of first romantic relationships and sexual awakenings — and reading them as adults can emotionally transport us back to our own teenage years, when those things were really new and exciting, dramatic and traumatic. So we asked Em & Nora to give us a sampling of the good, the bad and the complicated of YA love and sex. We published the good and the bad earlier, here’s the complicated:
- The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer (2005-2008) — There’s no denying the boatloads of otherworldly passion in these four fast-paced novels. But the ultimate message — “Don’t do it ‘til you’re married and even then you’ll end up with the horrors of childbirth” — sucked (pun intended). Plus, after the first three thick books tease the reader with relentlessly frustrating sexual tension, the post-wedding union in book four is a total let down in the details department! Also, vampire Edward and werewolf Jacob come across as controlling, possessive lovers while narrator Bella is an insecure, indecisive damsel in distress who needs a lot of rescuing (at least in the first three books).
- Gossip Girl Series by Cecily von Ziegesar (2002-2009) — Most of the sex in these books is casual, devoid of any real emotion, and without consequence, which is a big negative for the majority of people who believe shared sexuality — especially among young adults — should be a little more meaningful. On the plus side, it’s good old-fashioned trash! And, refreshingly, some of the characters are gay, bi, and/or questioning. (We are truly hoping that Chuck and Dan will also explore their bi sides on the TV show; they already hinted at Chuck’s penchant for dudes, but it looks like network TV is only willing to show girls kissing girls at this point.) Check out our full review on LoveYALit.
- 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa P. (2003) — This book is sick! It’s a totally readable crossover title (in this case, adult fiction with Y.A. appeal) about a young girl’s sexual awakening that’s based on the teenage diaries of the author who was only 18 when the book was first released in Italy. While the pleasure from the sex itself can be seen as empowering, the men she has it with are often older, more experienced, and more powerful than she is. Statutory rape, anyone?
- Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick (2009) — When Holly loses her virginity to a popular boy at school, she assumes it to be a one-night-stand but they continue to have secret sex in her bedroom late at night. The sneaking around is exciting, but their relationship is complicated: he’s got a girlfriend whom Holly actually likes, he’s becoming increasingly creepy and controlling, and she seems to be using sex to fill the emotional void left after her mother’s death. Plus, she would do so much better for herself by dating her buddy Nils.
- Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia (2000) — After chasing off her rapists and helping her home, Thulani becomes fascinated with Ysa and seeks her out. His desire for her is complicated by the fact that his dreams of her are more vivid due to his having seen her naked body following her rape. When Ysa and Thulani finally have sex, he worries that he will hurt her. She does feel pain, but it is a pain rooted in desire and consent, as opposed to the pain of violence and oppression.
*As adults writing about sexuality in YA, Em & Nora of LoveYALit.com want to make it clear that they believe if a young adult does have sex, it should be safe, sober and consensual with another young adult.