Here's the first in what I hope will be a regular AS IF! feature: interviews with our members. First up, Tanya Lee Stone. Tanya is the author of the terrific, yet definitely sexually provocative, teen novel, A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL (which is just now out in paperback!).
Why did she write it? What has the reaction been from both adults and teens? What does she think about sexual content in teen books?
Well, let's ask her
, why don't we? AS IF!: A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL is a book about teen sex: whether or not to do it, what the consequences of doing it are. Why this book? Why do you think this book is appropriate for teenagers?
I guess I should start by saying I'm hoping I achieved the "whether or not to do it" without judgement, as that was my intention. Every teen has to make that decision for him/herself and what I was really interested in exploring are the emotional ups and downs and realizations that go along with heading into that new and uncertain territory of intimate relationships.
Why do I think it's appropriate? Because I take my responsibility to my readers extremely seriously and I wanted to speak to girls about these real and difficult and confusing issues they are dealing with. It's very easy to get emotionally swayed from what feels right to you--and who seems right for you--when you're in the thick of grappling with hormones, desires, common sense, and all the rest of the swirling chaos that goes along with falling in love, or getting turned on, for the first time. I wanted to reach out and say, "Hey, this happens to all of us at one point or another--and pay attention, because this is how it happens, so if you can learn from these fictional girls' experiences, I hope it can help you avoid some pain and make you smarter about who you are and who you want to be." AS IF!: What was the reaction from the publisher? I know it's just now out in paperback, but what was the response upon intitial publication? Any challenges or bannings? Any negative feedback?
My editor and publisher were wonderful from the beginning. There were a few phrases here and there I was asked to think about, in terms of how necessary they were--which I did. In one or two instances, after putting myself in a 14-year-old girl's shoes (which hurt, as my feet have grown considerably since then), I made a change. In others, I didn't. I'm actually a little surprised that it hasn't been challenged yet. In fact, one extremely positive review included a line about waiting for the inevitable challenge.But I was extremely careful not to include anything gratuitous.
In terms of feedback, I've gotten such overwhelming responses from teen readers, as well as parents and librarians. I get so many emails from teens thanking me for being honest and telling me the book helped them either avoid a pitfall or cope with how they felt about a bad experience. One mother even wrote to thank me for helping her repair her relationship with her daughter. That brought tears to my eyes. The power of words, eh? I remember books that touched me in that way, and there's nothing more gratifying than realizing that you've written something that reaches someone like that. AS IF!: There's a wonderfully clever subplot in the book about the girls in the school warning each other about a particular "bad" boy by writing the information in the back of the library's copy of Judy Blume's FOREVER. Why this book? I hear you've since been in contact with Ms. Blume herself, no?
I was looking for a vehicle for the girls to quietly communicate with each other, in part anonymously. Once I settled upon a book as that vehicle there was only one choice for me. Forever was a huge book for me growing up. One that opened my eyes to a lot of the things I was feeling at the time. Yes, Ms. Blume and I had breakfast and talked and talked. And let me tell you, she is absolutely as fabulous as I expected her to be. AS IF!: One of the themes of the book is that boys and girls view sex very differently. (In fact, as a guy, I found myself occasionally frustrated by the jumping-to-conclusions that one of the girls did, which made the book seem particularly real.) What's been the reaction from girls? From guys? From adults?
I haven't had much feedback from guys in general, except the ones who chuckle at the title and don't get its full meaning at first. I'm not sure how many guy readers I actually have for this book; I suspect it's mainly girls reading it. However, I scripted a play based on the book that has been performed at a few book festivals and schools now, and that has been a really interesting experience in terms of feedback from guys. In each case, both the boy portraying our "bad boy" and the boys in the audience for the after-play Q&A had a lot to say about the things that came up in the book. They recognized certain traits and behaviors--if not in themselves, in a boy or two they knew--and talked about issues of learning more respect for girls, and people's feelings in general. Of course, I'm always quick to point out that I am well aware that many, many boys don't act like the boy in the book, and that I made him particularly bad on purpose, as he represents an amalgam of the worst kind of manipulator.
The reaction from girls has been almost entirely exuberant. As I said, they thank me for being honest and they all relate to at least one--if not parts of all three--of the girls in the book. AS IF!: Why do you think this book and books like it are important for teenagers?
I actually wrote an entire article
on this very subject! It was published in VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) and is called "Now and Forever: The Power of Sex in Young Adult Literature." In it, I review the YA genre from the 70s on, looking at a variety of books that address these topics and discussing why they are important. In a nutshell, they are important because they reflect reality and, if I can quote myself, "books are possibly the safest place for them to learn about sex--not just the physical part, but also the complex web of emotions that accompanies it."
I'm sure there are people who disagree with me, and that's fine. Books exist for the readers who need them. Incidentally (and purely anecdotally), there are plenty of people who do agree that teens are dealing with these issues--just not their teens. And of course some of the time, that's absolutely true. But--and here's the anecdotal part--what explains the large difference between the number of teens who say they are grappling with these things, and the number of parents who say their kids aren't? Check out AS IF! member Tanya Lee Stone!