Thursday, September 18, 2008 do we feel about this?

So. HarperCollins's YA division acquired rights to at least two books by Candace Bushnell (the Sex and the City author) about Carrie Bradshaw's teenage years. Here's the article, via Bookninja.

There are mixed blog reactions thus far. Normally I know exactly how I think about these kinds of things, but I'll admit I myself am a little confused by this. It seems like a solid money-maker either way, and basically will probably be a very strong seller. This means Bushnell has an excellent opportunity with these books to do a classy, smart YA book about an ambitious young woman who suddenly gets herself into a position of privilege and realizes her dream.

However, from my current perspective, there seems to be some considerable risk that the book falls short, or in fact plays into some of the truly malicious themes and trends in YA literature these days (my least favorite by far is all the sexualized back-stabbing in books that are so popular with teenage readers--why do female YA authors all seem to want to write about girls tearing out one another's eyes and betraying one another over boys? Aren't there other topics that are far more interesting, never mind more feminist?).

How will you play it, Candace? Which way will you go?

I'll admit, for the most part, I love Sex and the City. The movie was pretty appalling for about 1500 reasons, but the show was sharp, incisive, and often shaving-the-bone true. I think it was frequently misunderstood as a catalog of rich bitches who were also sluts--I know my father, for one, thought of the show that way for a long time. But as any devotees know there was a lot more to it than that.

But a YA version?

Ok, so we're getting comfortable with the idea that adults have sex, and that there are issues to talk about--pros, cons, mistakes to avoid, healing mechanisms to study, real life that gets in the way of what we want. Fine for an adult tv show, mostly. But what about a teen book that feeds into the adult tv show? Are young readers smart enough to pull the wisdom out of it all? Or--as some bloggers seem to worry about this book--are they going to be blinded by the bling and the sex, and will this just be another spoke in the wheel of trash that keeps going around and around the YA section these days?

There's a lot on ya, Candace.

GalleyCat readers might remember some conversations from a couple of weeks ago about a morality clause Random House has for its children's and YA books. (Here's the article that started it, "Are You Pure Enought to Write YA?") The clause:

"If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and [sic] we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement."

You'll notice this conversation deals with an author's behavior, not the book's content. There are a lot of points to be made about whether or not it's fair for a publishing company to judge an author's (so, essentially, a freelance employee's) behavior, and also about what standards they might use to judge. But I really think the more important conversation by far with YA books is the content.

As I've talked about before, I am not a prude, and believe that young adults (and children) will seek out books about sex (umm, at least, if they're anything like I was). The trend that bothers me in YA fiction these days isn't sex--sex sells, we get it already. It's irresponsible sex, especially antifeminist sex in books that are directly marketed (almost exclusively) to young girls. It's sex that glorifies casual, unsatisfying encounters and implies that girls need to rely on their looks and bodies to be worthwhile or appreciated. It's also sex that tells girls repeatedly that their female friends are only ever going to let them down, and that they need to lock themselves a man.

So anyway. I'm waiting on you, Candace. Let's see what you come up with.

What do you think, my blogging friends?


Jeanie W said...

Forget about the sex. What kind of ideas is Carrie Bradshaw going to be giving these girls about what's a reasonable price to pay for shoes?

Kate Lord Brown said...

I'm with you on this one - yes, as YAs we all remember passing round well thumbed copies of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Flowers in the Attic etc - but we knew these were adult books (of course that was the allure ..) If we're going to raise bright, confident and well adjusted members of society books, TV shows, films specifically targeted at YAs have a moral responsibility. It's bewildering enough growing up these days - let children be children for as long as possible.

Sharen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wheelmaker said...

That clause is only in RH UK contracts, though, isn't it?

Precie said...

I'm a little afraid. I was a huge SATC fan...I have most of the seasons on DVD. I love how the show depicted modern relationships and independent women.

But I'm less afraid of how Bushnell will handle sex in these YA books than how she'll depict Carrie. Already she describes a different Carrie than the one I thought I understood:

Bushnell said she had always been interested in exploring Bradshaw's teenage years. "Carrie in high school did not follow the crowd - she led it," she said. "It was there that she began observing and commenting on the social scene."

Please. The Carrie I "knew" wasn't a leader. Yes, she was a thinker and observer, but I just don't see her as the Alpha girl of her high school.

I think how sex is depicted in these YA novels, if Bushnell even includes it, will depend entirely on how realistically and thoroughly she deals with Carrie's character.

Having said that, I'm still kind of afraid.

writeidea said...

Very well said. Sexualization of young adult women seems so rampant right now. Let's hope Candace doesn't reinforce the idea that the best thing for a female is a man. And that she should stab her female friends in the back to get one.

Jolie said...

It's also sex that tells girls repeatedly that their female friends are only ever going to let them down, and that they need to lock themselves a man.

Don't even get me started on the heterocentrism that dominates YA (and the friggin' world).

I'm not well-read in contemporary YA, but I don't see an inherent problem in the books about teenage girl cattiness--as long as readers can learn something from the characters' struggles, without the book having to resort to didacticism. Still, I'd rather see books that show how girls and young women can have healthy friendships. I didn't have many of those relationships in high school; I learned how to have them in college, and found myself wishing I'd known as a teenager how simple and solid friendship can be.

Jill Corcoran said...

I think if Bushnell writes it well, and why shouldn't she, it will be a fun read, a great seller (pumping $$$ into HC to fund other, lesser known authors), and a boost to YA.
I wish everyone can put away their little green monsters and be happy for a fellow writer. Hey, if Bushnell can do it, we can do it. But if you believe Bushnell is taking your spot on the NYT bestseller list, chances are you won't be making the list anyway because you eye is on the wrong prize. Simply,it goes back to ...It's all about the writing. Good luck Candace!

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess I sort of thought of the show as "rich bitch sluts" but I never watched it so I really have no idea. Glad to hear there was more to it. I'm a little on the cautious side about a YA version, though.

Merry Monteleone said...

Umn, small point, the book Bushnel wrote and the series are two completely different things. The characters are not at all the same. At all. I loved the series. I hated the book - maybe not a popular opinion, but it's true... the characters in the novel were far more catty and less likable to me than they were in the series. Maybe I need to go back and reread the book, it's been a while, but the characters in the series were a creation not only of the original author, but the screen writers, actresses, director, and so on...

So, the reason Precie's not seeing Carrie the same as the author is is probably because Candace is referring to her own character, not the one portrayed in the series.

I think, though, if she goes in a vein that the YA character maybe writes a column for the school paper and discusses her perception of relationships, rather than having her hop in bed with half the student body, it might be a really worthwhile series for girls to read. I don't mind there being sex in YA - I only mind when it's a means to sensationalize the story without adding anything to it... yes, it sells - but at what cost?

pilot said...

YA literature. What the heck is that?
Fifty years ago, as a pre-teen, I started by reading Twain and Defoe, May and Verne. I graduated to London and Homer, Dumas (pere) and Cooper. Please keep in mind that in the Eastern Europe of the fifties and sixties not much ‘decadent’ Western literature was available. So, by the time I became a teen-ager I have been exposed to the Russians (WOW!.... do they have some great ones), German, French, even Greek, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian and yes, a few English writers.
Those were the days.

Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. So, back to the subject.
What is YA literature?
Why not call it teen-ager’s literature?
Maybe because it’s written by adults, using adult vocabulary, to help teens grow up faster? Maybe because it’s depicting adult issues, under disguise, to help crack another niche of the market? Maybe because coining another genre sub-division increases the chances of a best-seller? Maybe, maybe, maybe…. I’m getting tired of maybes.
Education worldwide (the US included) stinks. Pre-teens and teens don’t read. Why should they? They parent didn’t, their teachers didn’t, their schoolmates don’t. My teen son gets headaches if I make him read Feuchtwanger, but if I’ll let him play games on the PC, all ailing miraculously disappears.
What’s the world coming to?
It took humanity ninety thousand years just to get from Paleolithic to Neolithic, only sixty to get from Bleriot to Armstrong, but just a few meager years for a writer of adult (sexual explicit) literature to tap the young, gullible market. These days changes occur fast. Granted! But at what cost?

moonrat said...

interesting point, Merry, and thanks for remindng me--i've never read the book.

CT said...

I couldn't agree more. I'm actually quick interested to see how Carrie progressed to becoming a full-time writer. But I am concerned that it's going to try to be SATC in high school, which just will not work.

I, for one, am sick and tired of the rampant swearing and indiscriminate sex found in most of today's YA novels. I love Gossip Girl the TV show, so I recently checked out the books. The characters in the books are one-dimensional and have no redeeming qualities--quite different from the characters on the TV show (in my opinion).

So, I'm with you moonrat. I hope these will be good, but I'm not going to get my hopes up TOO high.

Merry Monteleone said...

Crikey, the sky's not falling, Pilot - they've been saying the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket forever, it hasn't actually happened yet.

YA is short for Young Adult. Marketwise, it's that middle place where they're no longer interested in children's or middle grade characters but not quite ready for adult literature... some, perhaps many, YA readers readily bounce back and forth between YA and adult fiction. YA typically deals with main characters who are teens and therefore more identifiable to the 'YA market', but many adults also read YA and yes, YA is written by adults - as all fiction and non-fiction published is written by professional writers who are, most often, full grown and well educated.

YA is not a toss out because there are some books within the market that may not emphasize the type of literature that some of us would like to see - it's a viable market that serves a distinct purpose. That doesn't mean that the teens (and often pre-teens) who read in this bracket are under educated - many of them flow back and forth between the classics, contemporary literature, and current YA. Why? Because fiction is, at its core, entertainment.

By the way, I hate Russian Lit. always have. That doesn't make me uneducated - it's a preference of taste.

Christy Raedeke said...

Like Merry, I loved the series, hated the book. I think this prequel series would only be worth publishing if the staff writers on the HBO show wrote the books and Michael Patrick King edited them! Bushnell’s life may be entertaining but her writing is anything but.

JES said...

Merry's "small point" raises another question. Which is: when they make the TV series and/or movie from the prequel -- as they inevitably will -- what will the YA audience see? Which Carrie? And what are the odds that a film or show for that audience will be at all deeper than its source?

(Note implicit assumption that if it's a movie, its rating will allow the YA audience to see it at all. "Legally," anyhow.)

cindy said...

tough one, moonie.

from a personal view point, i could never write anything (be it YA or not) that made me feel irresponsible or uncomfortable. and themes arose in spirit bound unplanned, because they were themes that were resonated with me.

everyone thinks differently. what one believes irresponsible another may just call entertainment. it'll be interesting to see how these books pan out--will it be another gossip girl?

J.P. Kurzitza said...


As a male aspiring writer, I find it very unfortunate that most of the female YA authors perceive our teenage girls to be stupid. I mean 'cmon, "boyfriend-sex-breakup-revenge, boyfriend-sex-breakup-revenge." Let's cover some new ground here people. Is there some unwritten template that I've overlooked here with regards to how to write a YA novel? Or maybe our girls are just stupid, 'cause they keep buying 'em. Or maybe it's the lazy authors that have found that uranium mine in their backyard, and just keep churning out those high profits rather than taking a risk and actually submitting something that may not top the bestseller list, but is truly great.

Maybe the mothers of these girls should get a little more involved with the stuff that's being brought home in their kid's bags. Oh, wait, they're watching Sex and the City on TV.

Poor girls. :(

writtenwyrdd said...

I cannot picture this translating to a good YA series. But I bet it sells millions. Uranium mine indeed. Radioactivity that kills common sense, perhaps?

Ghost Girl said...

However, from my current perspective, there seems to be some considerable risk that the book falls short, or in fact plays into some of the truly malicious themes and trends in YA literature these days (my least favorite by far is all the sexualized back-stabbing in books that are so popular with teenage readers--why do female YA authors all seem to want to write about girls tearing out one another's eyes and betraying one another over boys? Aren't there other topics that are far more interesting, never mind more feminist?)

AMEN! Why is this whole "sex sells" mentality seeping into YA lit in the name of the "edgy" novel? I'm no prude, but frankly, it's less about the sex than it is about the bitchy attitudes and lack of emotional morality (and maturity) that gets me.

I loved the show, but I'm dubious about the YA approach. Please don't water down Carrie and lose that sense of her as a character in her formative years for the sake of tapping into a new audience. I think there are plenty of adult women who would love to see the evolution. What is the reason for aiming at the YA audience?

I agree with precie, too.

Merry Monteleone said...

Wow... I might be a little sensitive here because I write middle grade and am currently working on a YA, but what I'm hearing is a lot of animosity toward the genre itself, rather than saying, "I dislike this book's treatment of sex, stereotypes, etc..."

Now, don't get me wrong, I think a YA audience can handle meaty literature with indepth themes - and if you're looking, there's quite a bit of it out there. But I also think that labeling this or that book as 'bad' smacks a bit of censorship. As a parent, I'm perfectly within my right to read what my kids are reading and have a handle on what they're exposed to. I'd much perfer to let them go ahead and read it and then discuss the themes I agree or disagree with than hide my head in the sand and forbid them to read a 'bad' book...

Unfortunately, too many parents don't make the time to get into their kids' world, or read the books they yell about (that kills me, how can you oppose something you haven't even read? Hearing one snippet or passage doesn't nearly clue you in to the work as a whole, but that's how many people form their opinion...)

But again, you can't blame the writer or book for any of that. The author's job is to tell the story to the best of their ability, and to make it sell (otherwise the publisher wouldn't take it, let's be realistic here). They can't write to the specifications of parents who won't even read it, and I'd be very afraid for the state of literature if they tried.

Molly B. said...

Ghost Girl wrote:
Why is this whole "sex sells" mentality seeping into YA lit in the name of the "edgy" novel? I'm no prude, but frankly, it's less about the sex than it is about the bitchy attitudes and lack of emotional morality (and maturity) that gets me.

And I will say AMEN to that. But: I can identify most of those books by their blurbs (and sometimes by their covers, sadly enough), and I don't buy them. I read a few that sounded interesting early on, but then figured out that I didn't like them--I'm an adult, but I suspect a lot of teenagers do the same thing. The teenagers I know are more discriminating readers than a lot of adults, and also more careful with what they spend their money on.

There are still plenty of great YA books by writers like Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Andersen that portray positive relationships and thoughtful, realistic teenage characters. My nieces and the other teen girls I know like those books and YA fantasy better than the light, bitchy, junior chick lit anyway.

As far as SATC goes, all I can picture when I think of Carrie Bradshaw in high school is Sarah Jessica Parker's character in Square Pegs (Patty, I think?), with glasses and braces and frizzy hair. But I'm sure Carrie was NOTHING like that. ;-) Wouldn't it be interesting if she was, though?

D.J. Cappella said...

As a Sex and the City fan I was mortified to hear that this process was going on. Is this going to be the Carrie of the TV Show or the Carrie of the Book? I hope the TV show but wouldnt it make more sense to be the underdeveloped Carrie of the book? I do have a high level of concern that these books wont be the girls as life long friends but the backstabbing I have to have the hot boy scene that most of her books do. Lets have hope for Carrie?