Q: Quaff

Young adult authors get a lot of grief for putting their characters into so-called “adult” situations. Often the opinion is that if these characters indulge in such behaviors, it sets a bad example for the young people reading those stories and causes their own experimentation.

I think it’s quite far-fetched to believe that every young person who reads about someone their age being violent, having sex, doing drugs or drinking alcohol will immediately think, “I need to get me some of that.” But when adults attempt to ban books that have such content, that’s exactly what they think will happen.

Out of all of the mood-altering drugs out there, I feel alcohol is the most accessible for young people. Typically, we are exposed to it earlier in life before other drugs and it’s quite pervasive in American culture, so it’s no surprise that it turns up in my young adult fiction.

The reasons for drinking are as diverse as the characters. Some of them try it once and never do it again. Some do it to fit in.  Some of them never do it. Some use it to numb themselves. Some do it with the adults in their lives. Sometimes there’s consequences for the behavior. Sometimes there aren’t.

Whether the situations in my stories are implausible or terrible examples is a matter of opinion, but honestly they are only a small representation of what I experienced during my tween and teen years:

  • house parties where parents provided the beer and insisted the drinkers sleep over–boys and girls–so no one would drive under the influence
  • visiting a friend’s house whose entire family had wine with dinner nearly every night
  •  Sunday brunches with a friend whose mother introduced us to mimosas , bloody marys and screwdrivers
  •  adults offering to buy us alcohol in exchange for sexual favors
  • classmates who regularly sipped from tiny bottles of liquor in the bathroom between classes
  • boyfriends who thought getting drunk was foreplay

I was prepared for those situations because my parents talked to me early and often about alcohol. I’m not sure what would have happened if they had buried their heads in the sand; I guess just hoped that everything would turn out okay.

Ultimately, I write about young people who experience things and as a result no longer see the world the same way. What adults tend to forget–and it’s amazing how fast this happens–is that young people are complex and multi-faceted human beings, not just receptacles for their parents’ DNA and values with some cosmic timer that suddenly goes off one day causing them to magically bloom into adulthood. It’s a gradual transition that we all experience as we grow older. How we come out on the other side depends on a number of factors that I don’t have space to describe here, but that journey can either be helped or hindered by the willingness of the adults in our lives to have those hard conversations.

The fact remains that some young people will consume alcohol. It is real life and not writing it down or avoiding the issue won’t change that.

PowerTalk 21, the national day to speak with kids about alcohol, is April 21st. Please, adults and young people, start talking.

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7 thoughts on “Q: Quaff”

  1. Drinking, drugs, sex are a part of teen life so I think they have their place in YA novels. However, I sometimes worry that we make it so common that teens get the idea that ‘everyone is doing it’. I know I went to highschool back in the dark ages, but at that time, very few kids were actually drinking. But if you asked my classmates, they assumed everyone was doing it but them. I think if having those behaviors in your novel adds to the story, then they belong there. However, having them there to add to the ‘real world’ feel of a YA novel as a backdrop for the actual story sends a message that this is what high school should be like.

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    1. I really refrain from adding settings or scenarios to my stories just because. Anything I include should be relevant to the characters, plot, etc. I had a wide circle of friends as a teen and lots of them didn’t drink or swear or make out and I enjoyed them just as much as my friends who did that stuff. I didn’t even do all of that stuff all of the time. The point being that there is no such thing as a “typical” teen experience, but reading about other teens who encountered drinking actually helped me process my own feelings and it was a safe way to experience those issues.

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  2. I’m amazed at how blind parents can be. I know they unconditionally love their children but to think they don’t know/participate in dangerous/illegal activities is akin to being an inadequate parent. Books which are considered YA and have these elements within the plot will likey go far in influencing young minds about the risks in participating in “adult” activities. But then, why are adults thinking it’s okay to get drunk? Do drugs? Have sex with multiple partners? It’s a ‘do what I say, but don’t do what I do’ mentality. How stupid do you think children are? I worked as a paramedic for several years. Children and young adults weren’t the problem. It was the adults that killed each other either deliberately or accidentally from having drank too much booze or consumed illegal drugs. It’s about time adults started setting a good example, parents be better role models.
    Feather

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    1. Full disclosure: I’m not a parent. But I have many nieces, nephews, godchildren & other children that I care deeply for, so I understand the desire to keep them innocent and safe for as long as possible. But it doesn’t do them any good to pretend that these situations don’t exist in the world. Then when they are confronted with these experiences they are woefully unprepared.

      My parents were social drinkers and they were quick to tell us that alcohol was designed for adults, but that even some adults couldn’t handle it, which we knew first-hand due to several family members that struggled with alcoholism. I never saw my abusing liquor or driving after drinking and so they provided a positive example in that respect.

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  3. My daughter is 11 and we’ve had the talk, about alcohol. And we have it frequently. In the sixth grade, kids are already smoking at her school, so I’m sure alcohol is being experimented with as well. As a former kid myself, I know that eventually she will encounter alcohol and I said that my greatest concern is for her safety. If she ever goes to a party and people are drinking, she needs to call me to pick her up at the end. I won’t be mad if she’s had a drink, but I will be devastated if she gets in a car with someone who has been drinking and they all die.
    I don’t think YA has to be squeaky clean. It should be stories that kids can relate to and the problems and situations that come up in their lives. You know, like the “Hunger Games”:)

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    1. Kudos to you for bringing it up sooner rather than later. I know some people don’t want to believe it, but that experimentation starts earlier than you would think. Framing the conversation from a safety issue is a good idea and it’s awesome that she knows you will support her in that situation no matter what. My mother said something similar to me and when I had to call her because my ride was drunk and I had no way home, she said she was proud of me for doing that.

      And alcohol consumption seems like a paltry problem next to fighting to the death! 🙂

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