Alright, this one is tough for me. As an adult, I’m not interested in books about addition and drug abuse–not in young adult fiction and not in adult fiction. I know that there is a whole plethora of teen-themed books that take on the question of drug abuse. GO ASK ALICE by (intriguingly enough) Anonymous is a cautionary tale about drug addiction published in 1971. More recently, Ellen Hopkins wrote CRANK (2004), an odd little book of poetry about one girl’s addiction to crystal meth.
Because drug addiction and the culture around dealing and taking drugs is so bleak, these stories are usually more than just drug addiction stories. ALICE and CRANK each contain sex and rape, ALICE contains homosexuality, and CRANK takes on the topic of teen pregnancy. Clearly, these authors were choosing to tell stories, which, in their opinion needed to descend into the dark places of human emotion. I’m sure they’re powerful.
Here’s what’s interesting to me: as a teen I would have eaten these books up. I was raised in a happy home with pretty mainstream friends and fairly wholesome interests, so reading about darkness and pain was the only way I got a look at that side of life. In that sense, I’m grateful there were these dark books about gritty, hopeless lives. When I grew up and actually saw real people in this kind of pain, I wasn’t so shocked. On the other hand, now that I am an adult, I fully understand a parent’s desire to shield their child from this tone and these topics.
However, drug addiction doesn’t have to be the topic of a young adult book for it to be controversial. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky was challenged because the book doesn’t always present drug use in a negative light. Charlie, the protagonist, smokes marijuana and takes LSD. Marijuana he likes, but LSD he doesn’t. There isn’t ever any threat of addiction and there aren’t any real negative repercussions to the drug use. It’s a realistic look at drug experimentation.
Or what about THE HUNGER GAMES series? The brilliant thing about this series is that the characters have emotional fallout for having killed other characters. The adult champions of The Hunger Games drink or take drugs or abuse themselves in some way. Even Katniss becomes addicted to morphling, a fictional drug with very realistic addiction and withdrawal. I loved the drug use in this book. People who have gone through such a traumatic experience would be at high risk to self-medicate. It’s painfully realistic to the characters.
Since I don’t, and I’m guessing that most of us don’t, intend to write a book about drug addiction or drug experimentation, maybe we should look at drug use in more practical terms. Would you write a young adult character that smokes? I did and then I thought the better of it. What if it got published and some kid admired her enough to try cigarettes? So, even though the swearing and some mild violence stayed in, the smoking came out.
What about teen drinking? It’s true that many teens drink before they reach a legal age to do it. There’s drinking in GOSSIP GIRLS, EVERMORE, and SPEAK (probably among a million others). I had an easy out with my last book: the characters were vampires and, therefore, couldn’t drink alcohol. My main character, a girl who lived with them didn’t have any access to alcohol. Easy. Problem solved. But even if it was possible, I would have a very, very (very, very) hard time including teen drinking in a book I wrote.
So, there you have it. I would be willing to put a sex scene in a young adult book; I commonly have swearing; violence and even death may find its way into a book I write. But I’d have to dig pretty deep before I included a scene with drug use. I’d think about it a long time before I ever even had a character that smoked.
What about you? Would you be interested in writing a book about drug addiction? Would you let a major character experiment with drugs? How about the lesser drugs? Smoking? Drinking? Would you draw any lines for a book you wrote? And how do you feel about the topic if you’re a parent?