Discussion: Violence in Literature

Yes, today I want to talk about violence in literature.  More specifically, my thoughts on it in YA literature.

I personally think teens are capable of handling much more than most people give them credit for.  Yes, violence in a story can be awful but as long as there’s justification for it in the narrative I don’t see what’s wrong with including it.  If it becomes gratuitous (i.e. there’s no real reason for it other than to gross the reader out) I think that’s a little too much for Young Adult literature.  It’s too much even for adult literature when it becomes gratuitous.

Basically, as long as the violence is ‘justified’ (makes sense in the context of the story and either conveys character or plot elements) I’m generally okay with it.  Sometimes I have to put a book down because it’s so disgusting, but in general I don’t think I’ve ever come across that in YA.

So what do you think of violence in literature?  Do you think the amount of violence in YA should have limits simply because of the target age group?  Or do you think it’s the parent’s job to monitor what their kids are reading?


  1. Diantha Jones (@DianthaJones)

    You know me as an author almost better than anyone…if someone ain’t bleeding out in my books, I’m not doing my job. I totally agree that young peeps are way more capable of handling violent books than their over-sensitive parents are. I think it’s because younger generations were raised in a much more violent real world that violence in a book isn’t going to shock them. I personally am a fan of books with a good deal of justified violence. But like you said, I have my limits and sometimes authors just go overboard with it.

    • Margaret

      I agree, but I’d say we young folks have been raised in a more violent media environment, not necessarily a more violent environment. Violent crime in the U.S. has been declining since the 1990s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States. But in the meanwhile, a lot of the taboos on what you can talk about in books and TV have been lifted. I think a show like the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, which is critically acclaimed, would have had people getting out the torches and pitchforks back in the 1960s.

  2. Tammy Sparks

    I have two teens and I’m often surprised by the things they hear, read and discover when I’m not around. I think with the prevalence of violent video games, many teens are just unfazed by violence. But I do agree, as long as the violence makes sense for the story and isn’t gratuitous, it’s fine.

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  4. Carla J. Hanna

    What I think we are all noticing in YA currently is hypocrisy. The publishing industry is confused. The language teens speak in young adult fiction and the subject matter are unbalanced. Editors frown upon cussing and encourage violence in the inciting incident. They encourage sex in the climax of a young adult romance. For example, John Green’s TFIOS, which I loved, featured teens who didn’t talk like teens and get to have sex as part of their coming-of-age maturity. This is a typical “a teen can’t swear but can get some” in ya romance. I felt the confusion in Hunger Games as well: no cussing, teens don’t talk like teens, and tons of violence. In my novels, my teens don’t talk like teens, either – but the teens are children of celebs who grew up isolated and privileged. But I wish I could have had them cuss like Hollywood teens – that would have been so much more realistic. The problem is that as soon as an F-word is in a book, it is rated R from the autobots. Interesting that a YA book can have rape and murder, kids killing kids, but can’t reflect a teen’s natural discourse.

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