Friday, February 15, 2013

Sex in Young Adult fiction – a rising trend?

With the publication of one of the UK’s first ‘Steamy’ novels imminent, Alice Vincent reports on the rise of sex in Young Adult fiction and the readers who can't get enough.

'Steamies' or New Adult fiction are increasingly popular
'Steamies' or New Adult fiction are increasingly popular 
Irresistible is a girl meets boys story. The debut novel of Liz Bankes comes with a 15 certificate and features heavy petting, a country estate and a Facebook account being hacked. Its publisher admits that Irresistible is an attempt to capture the Fifty Shades of Grey success within the teen market, and in the United States raunchy teen literature has been flying up bestseller lists. But is there any more to so-called “Steamies” than a marketing ploy, and how many teenagers are really getting their hands on them?
Steamies are better known in the trade as New Adult Fiction. The genre was coined in 2009 by the Manhattan publishing house St Martin’s Press to reflect a slightly older group of readers who were indulging in teen, or Young Adult, fiction., which has 14 million members, is an American social networking website built around users’ reading habits. They first noticed users labelling books as New Adult in May 2011, and since creating a New Adult genre page in September 2012, 14,000 titles – a 500 per cent increase in two years – have been listed as such.

Three of the titles on the current New York Times bestseller list have been Goodreads-listed as New Adult: Someone to Love by Addison Moore, The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorensen and Hopeless, the third novel from New Adult author Colleen Hoover. Two of the three titles feature on their covers beautiful young things entwined in passion. Goodreads founder Elizabeth Chandler says: “It’s definitely a trend”.

However, all of this has been happening in America: the birthplace of Young Adult blockbusters Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. According to Dr Lucy Pearson, a lecturer in children’s literature at Newcastle University, it’s nothing new: “Sex has always been an issue in Young Adult fiction, but historically a problematic one,” she tells me. A turning point came, Pearson says, with Forever by Judy Blume. Forever, published in 1975, “is noticeable as a book which tells of teens who want to have sex and do have sex and nothing bad happens”. Pearson continues: “It’s still rare in that aspect – there aren’t many Young Adult novels out there which feature healthy sexual relationships.”
Irresistible falls into a similar trap: Mia, the 16-year-old protagonist, has an inadvisable fling with “toxic” posh totty Jamie Elliot-Fox. She later has her misdemeanours exposed on Facebook, and the first-person narrative suggests a similar situation arose after her previous relationship. Despite announcing itself as “the sexy new thing for teens”, Irresistible remains a cautionary coming-of-age tale with more hot air than bedroom action.

Brenda Gardner, managing director of Irresistible’s publisher, Piccadilly Press, explains that this is the mark of a Steamy. “Irresistible is about passion and love, touching rather than sex.” It is aimed at sophisticated teenagers aged 14 and above, but considering Gardner’s team picked it to capture “the Fifty Shades effect for teens”, the book seems curiously tame.

However, Clare Hall-Craggs from Random House echoes the demand for “safer” teen fiction, “with romance rather than raw sex”. Hall-Craggs cites Beth Reekles, a 17-year-old author and a new signing for the publisher. Her novel The Kissing Booth topped the children’s iBooks chart when it was released in December as an ebook. It has a similar scorned-girl/bad-boy romance feel to Irresistible, and despite its “safer” publishing push, is being listed as New Adult on Goodreads.

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