It is a huge pleasure to have the amazing Alexia Casale here today. Her debut novel The Bone Dragon came out earlier this month and it is amazing. I honestly can't recommend it to you all enough. It is just... whoa. Ok, I'll stop fan-girling now (best save that for the review!) and let you enjoy Alexia's awesome guest post instead. But don't forget to pick up a copy of The Bone Dragon - you won't regret it!!
There are regular furores over what is appropriate in children’s and YA literature. Is it OK to talk about sex? How about actually having sex scenes? What’s the score on swearing and violence? Are there themes that are off limits? These are important questions, but I’ve never understood the view that there are (or should be) clear-cut answers.
Jacqueline Wilson has come in for more than her fair share of disapproval, but her critiques seem to have become fewer – or at least quieter – over the last few years… or perhaps they’ve just not been given as much ‘air time’ in the media. I suspect this is partly due to the comparatively recent explosion of YA as a literary category and partly to the fact that understandings about what children, and particularly young adults, can and should read have also undergone enormous change and development. The debate is now becoming more nuanced, but also far trickier.
I believe it is important for all children to be able to find characters whose lives are not unlike theirs. It is peculiarly alienating for there to be ‘no one like me’ in any book out there, as Tanya Byrne recently argued. As a teenager, it’s easy to feel your problems are unique: that no one understands, that you’re odd and isolated. That there’s something wrong with you. Seeing yourself reflected from the pages of a book can be incredibly affirming.
Even if you know other people in similar situations in real life, it can be hard to empathise: sometimes the differences between you seem so much bigger than the similarities. The intimacy of the relationships we have with characters in our minds – especially when we see through their eyes – has the power to dispel a surprising amount of this loneliness. Children in difficult circumstances arguably need the company of fictional characters like them even more than children living the comfortable, generally happy lives that some parents seem to think Children’s/YA books should focus on.
For me, the question comes down to whether we should shy away from writing about abuse, abandonment, parental alcoholism or the care system because it exposes children to traumas they would other remain innocent of. This presupposes that children don’t learn about these things anyway: surely a fictional murder of a child – or a fictional story of abuse, as in The Bone Dragon – is less horrifying than a real one discussed on the news? For many, fiction may be a way of understanding people who’ve had terrible experiences without the heart-wrenching knowledge that the person in the story is real: that everything in the story has actually happened. Knowing you’re reading fiction offers the possibility for emotional distance, as well as a degree of comfort. It’s probably the safest and most cushioned ‘way in’ to these issues that’s available. Surely that makes it the ideal way for children and young adults to learn about these things and think them through.
Children who have been exposed to these issues also need the emotional distance that fiction offers: it affords a way to re-evaluate what such experiences mean in their own lives. Through fiction we can live alternate lives and that is hugely important for young people in difficult circumstances: it’s often the only safe way to explore the consequences of the options they see before them, many of which are risky and frightening. Fiction can offer insights into both how certain choices may make things worse and how others might make things better. If stories look at the detail of how things change for the better, that can be a powerful guide for young people looking to mend problems in their own lives. So one of the things I wanted to do in The Bone Dragon was show how some people deal with certain aspects of PTSD, without ever spelling out that this is one of the things Evie is dealing with.
While The Bone Dragon does touch on some very dark themes, there’s nothing on the page that is graphic or violent: all the most harrowing elements need to be ‘read into’ the book. It’s all between the lines, but it’s there all the same and I think that is important, especially for this age group.
I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did! And I totally agreed too - we all see far worse things on TV every.single.day, so why do people freak out so much?!
Anyway, before I start ranting,I want to thank Alexia so much for writing this for us!
And I also want to steer you all towards...
Now, read and enjoy and have a great rest-of-Monday everyone! :D