If you’re keeping track of trends in young adult publishing then it has been pretty hard to miss the rise of the ‘steamies.’ There was an article in The Independent. And The Telegraph. And The New York Times. The steamy, or ‘new adult’ novel, is similar to a young adult book in length, subject matter and emotional impact, but a steamy contains more detailed sex scenes than a typical YA title.
New adult is acknowledge as a genre by Goodreads, the American social networking site for bookworms, and several titles are creeping up bestseller lists in the US. UK publisher Piccadilly Press published the first steamy this side of the pond earlier this month.
Although the books are creating something of a quandary for booksellers, (Where do you shelve a book written for a young audience that contains sexual details and how do you talk to parents about it?) it is hardly surprising that teenagers are interested in sex.
Sex, sexuality, sexual identity, relationships – they’re all normal and integral parts of growing up. Authors and publishers producing books for teen and new adult audiences would be silly to ignore the facts of life, but in some ways, the inclusion of more explicit sexual content feels dated and mono-dimensional: all of the new adult novels the above articles mention are about guy/girl couples. Where are the books about non-heterosexual couples exploring sex and their sexuality? If you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teenager or new adult what’s being published for you?
These are some of the questions that panelists and audience members sought to answer last week at an evening hosted by Booktrust at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon entitled: Young Adult Fiction: Coming Out of the Closet. You can read more about the inspiration behind the event here, but in a nutshell, the discussion focused on why there are so few books that feature gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered characters published in the UK.
The panel included young adult authors James Dawson and Haley Long, Publishing Director at Hot Key Books Emily Thomas, and Catherine Hennigan, a graduate of the Stonewall Young Talent Programme and active volunteer for LGBT causes.
Both Dawson and Hennigan spoke about how difficult it was to find books about the types of relationships they wanted to learn about and experience when they were growing up. Dawson’s own novel Hollow Pike and Haley Long’s What’s Up With Jody Barton? both feature LGBT characters, so things are changing, but the panel agreed that the availability of LGBT fiction needs to grow. It is important for young people to recognise themselves in fiction. The panelists stressed that means books both need to explore the issues that LGBT readers might face like coming out, handling difficult questions about their sexuality, depression, etc. but also that books need to have LGBT characters whose sexuality isn’t the major focus of the story.
Speaking from a publisher’s perspective, Thomas cited the problem of some manuscripts being too issue-centric, and said that the narrative must strike a balance between exploring character’s sexuality without being too preachy. Dawson agreed that not every book needs to tackle every issue, sometimes sex/sexuality can be an incidental part of the story.
Of course, being straight or being gay doesn’t mean you can’t read about a couple that is different than you – I read Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind at university and being straight didn’t stop me from appreciating the well drawn characters and a good love story, but as same sex marriage is being voted on in Parliament and gay rights are advancing in the US it’s disappointing that books haven’t quite caught up.
Leslie Kaufman wrote of new adult books in her New York Times article: Providing more mature material, publishers reason, is a good way to maintain devotion to books among the teenagers who are scooping up young-adult fiction and making it the most popular category in literature, with a crossover readership that is also attracting millions of adults. All while creating a new source of revenue.
By not publishing a variety of books that explore ALL teen relationships and sexual identities are publishers missing out on profit and dedicated readers?