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Many of the most popular YA novels are pretty brutal, rape and murder are a common ingredient. Many show teenagers having sex. But how far can you go, before you cross the line into adult fiction, simply by being too detailed or too extreme?

I'm writing a novel about a young woman who gets drawn into a terrorist network and commits some atrocious acts before she turns from this path. I attempted to describe what she does in a way that makes the reader experience some of the distress the protagonists feels witnessing he own deeds. I feel this is integral to the development of the character and the direction of the plot. It may not be, but this question does not aim at what is necessary, but what is allowable. Do I leave YA fiction with this?

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Does your definition of YA means: for young adults or about young adults? "About" would not mean implicitly that the main audience are young adults also. – John Smithers Dec 1 '13 at 22:55
Related, not quite a duplicate but might answer the question: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/2240/… – Lauren Ipsum Dec 1 '13 at 23:02
@JohnSmithers for young readers – what Dec 2 '13 at 9:12
I'm going to write an actual answer, but I just wanted to say that I really want to read this story. – Seanny123 Dec 2 '13 at 12:43
@Seanny123 You'll have to learn German for that. – what Dec 4 '13 at 20:09

My sense (as a reader, not someone who's published a YA novel) is that you kind of want to liken it to a PG-13 movie. If it's too graphic for a 13-year-old to be watching in a movie theatre, it's probably too graphic to be published in the YA category.


1) as John Smithers points out, that doesn't mean your protagonist can't still be a teenager. It just means you may have to change the marketing or publishing niche.

2) you can go into great detail about her emotions and thoughts without going into great deal about the acts. The atrocities can happen off-camera, as it were, and that would make the text still suitable for the YA market.

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A sensible comment. Still, watching a person getting slaughtered on screen and reading about it in a book don't quite have the same effects on most readers. Or another example: You can write: "She kissed his penis", in a YA book, but showing that in a movie would probably get you an adult rating. – what Dec 9 '13 at 8:17
@what Mercy, you can write "she kissed his penis" in a YA book? I guess I'm out of touch with what's considered "YA" these days. I'd consider that too graphic. – Lauren Ipsum Dec 9 '13 at 11:14
I guess you are, lol. We are not talking teen literature here, but young adult. Here's a quote from a short story in a YA erotic anthology: "I caressed her breasts. Feel her warm wet cunt on my legs. She bends forward and licks on and under my glans a bit. I almost explode. ... Then she sits on my dick and rubs her pussy against it." But I admit this is a German book. Highly praised in the media. I guess you won't find this in the US ;-) – what Dec 9 '13 at 14:22
@what Holy CATS! That would be rated mature (over 21) in the U.S. And "teen" is what "young adult" means in the U.S., so far as I know. I can't imagine an advisory board approving that language for teenagers here. – Lauren Ipsum Dec 9 '13 at 19:06

In Québec, we have Patrick Senecal who writes YA books (or the French Canadian cultural equivalent, «romans jeunesses»), and eh is known for his gory and disturbing stories. I think it's an author's decision whether or not to be graphic, and a reader's choice whether or not to read books with very graphic and or disturbing description.

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