A letter from a reader:
“I’ve just finished Every Word. I’m 52 and really enjoy YA fiction. My youngest (13) put me on to your books. They are well written, have a great plot, move quickly and are appealing to readers both 13-18 and beyond. I know it is not my place to ask you for anything. But if I could I’d ask you to leave out the swearing and the pre-sex touching and feeling. Your books are great without it. I feel uncomfortable knowing that my daughter has already read the Every series. It’s not something I encourage or condone here. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’d just feel more comfortable knowing that my daughter was reading ‘safe’ books. It’s great to have more Aussie authors, with Aussie dialogue, themes and places. Well done. Don’t think too harshly of me. Kind Regards”
Thank you for writing, and thank you for your lovely compliments on the series – positive feedback from readers is what makes it all worthwhile.
Although I don’t usually respond to comments from readers on language or content in my books, I thought I’d say something on the issues you raised in your email. I certainly don’t think harshly of you for raising them. Every YA writer I know considers these issues deeply, and is aware of the range of ages within the YA category – 13 to 18 years of age is a broad spread. I do think carefully about the language and content in my books, and it’s something I consult with my editors about as each manuscript goes towards publication. It’s wonderful that you’re attentive to your daughter’s reading, and I certainly understand your concerns, as I’m not just a writer, but a mother with teenagers of my own.
For this reason, I feel that it’s important to write representations of language and intimacy that are honest, and that reflect young peoples’ experiences, and offer a place for teenagers to figure things out. This means that while I understand you would prefer your daughter read ‘safe’ books, it is not my obligation to write them – in fact, I believe that teenagers talking and learning about language and sex and relationships through reading books and having conversations with people they trust is pretty much the safest thing there is. When I notice my own teenagers reading a book that I know contains language or sexual content, I know that questions will follow, and we can have a conversation about it. I would much rather they had these conversations with me than go online, or search elsewhere for the answers.
I know this response may not satisfy you, but it’s the best response I can give. It might comfort you to know that research has indicated that teenagers are excellent at self-selecting literature. If they find something they’re not ready for, they’ll generally put it down. I also suggest, for further information, that you read this article below, on a statement by Malorie Blackman, the former UK Children’s Literature Laureate:
I hope your shared reading with your daughter provides an opportunity to discuss these important topics and equip your daughter to make the right choices for herself. Good luck with your reading and all the best.
*I would like to thank the numerous other writers I contacted when asking for advice on responding to this letter. Their suggestions were invaluable, and some of their words and phrases directly informed the content of this letter.