What “Should” and “Shouldn’t” be in YA Books

On 2014-04-21 by Karen M. Dillon


There’s a lot of people around who are giving out lists of things that shouldn’t be included in YA books.

The list includes things like:

– Sex

– Drugs

– Violence

And other subjects which are considered to be adult themes or too controversial for a YA audience.


My personal stance on the matter is this:

Don’t let anyone and I mean anyone tell you what you should and shouldn’t have in a YA book. If you’re writing it the odds are you also enjoy reading it, and if you read it you understand your audience because you’re a part of it.


What should be included in a YA Book:

Anything and everything


If your story takes you somewhere considered to be too “controversial” for YA readers, go for it. Write the story as it comes naturally to you and don’t try to edit it because you’re scared of what other people may say, it’s your story, they’re your characters, if they want to murder each other, let them do it. If they want to go hide out under the slide at the playground and get high, let them do it. If they want to tear others clothes off and have sex, let them do it.

Because when it comes right down to it, if you leave out anything you felt you should have put in, you’re going to be the one to regret it. You’re going to look back on it in 10 years and think “God, if only I had written it how it was supposed to be…”


At the end of the day YA readers are NOT children. They’re teenagers.

And anything you can think of, they’ve probably done, experienced or heard worse. So don’t patronise them by cleaning it up. You want to write the life of a teenager do it right, write it as it comes naturally don’t try to force your characters to be clean for your audience’s sake. Because if you clean it up too much, they’ll notice. And you’ll give your characters an unrealistic and unrelatable aura.


What shouldn’t be included in a YA book:                                              

There isn’t anything that can’t be included.


I started writing YA books when I was 15 years old, which was about a year or so after I started reading them. One of the reasons I decided to start writing my own books was because something was happening more frequently. I was reading books about people my age and older, and they did none of the things that regular teenagers did. They were all very proper. None of them so dared to utter a profanity, if they were with someone of the opposite sex, they never went further than a make out sesh. While I was reading I felt like I was reading an adult’s idea of what a teenager either was or should be, and not like I was reading an actual teenager. Which is a bad thing.


I started writing because I thought: You know what, I’m 15 I know what teens are like I know what they think I know how they act so I’ll show these writers how to do it properly.


Since then I’ve had a lot, and I mean a lot of time to practice my skill and get my writing to a stage where it no longer reads like a really bad English essay, and sounds like an actual story. But the one good piece of advice I stick to is what I thought when I was 15.


Teenagers are crazy bastards. They swear like there is no tomorrow. They drink illegally every chance they get. While they’re drunk they do other things like drugs, and have sex with people they just met 30 minutes ago. Sometimes, things like that get them pregnant. They don’t always keep the baby. They don’t always do well at school. They fight over the most ridiculous things. They’re emotionally all over the place. A lot of them suffer from depression. A lot of them kill themselves. A lot of them take out their anger on other teens. Some of them drop out of school all together.


That’s what teenagers are really like, if you observe them (in a non–creepy way) you’ll see that for yourselves.

So there is NOTHING you can write into a YA book that will shock or disturb a member of your audience. (Unless the person reading it is the parent of a teenager)


For more of my rambling on teenagers in YA books see:




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