Home2 Forums Brainstorming Violence in YA books

  • Violence in YA books

     Fayge Y. updated 5 months, 1 week ago 5Members · 10 Posts
  • Meira

    August 3, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    Hi everyone. I wasn’t sure where to put this … so it’s just going here.

    I’m an avid reader of anything: fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, memoirs, mystery, both Jewish and non-Jewish – literally everything!

    So that brings me to my question. Violence or scary or sad things never fazed me, I read it all, but I know a lot of people are very sensitive. Especially people who only ever read Jewish books (I’ve found they’re generally tamer).

    I’m currently working on a YA Jewish book (or possibly even younger). It’s historical fiction … and, well, our history was rough.

    I want to get opinions on the points below. Do you think they’re too violent? Do you think they’re not appropriate for a YA book? Also, I don’t really want to sugarcoat these things, because then I feel like it’s not real ….

    1. People being poisoned

    2. Sword fights (practicing and to the death)

    3. A parent who would beat his kid, and the kid now has scars down his back

    4. People being hanged

    5. General roughhousing and beatings between kids


  • riva pomerantz

    August 4, 2020 at 12:02 am

    This is a good question, Meira. Before I give you my own opinion, I would just recommend that you check out your intended market to see what the norms are. Better yet, if you have a couple of publishers in mind whom you’d like to pitch to, maybe ask if they have guidelines on what their standards are for graphic/violent detail.

    Okay, now my own personal taste: I abhor violence. I am a very sensitive person and I literally read Holocaust books only on Tisha B’Av–I cannot handle anything graphic at all. And I am a 42-year-old woman ;-). I screen my kids’ literary fare for violence the same way I screen it for anything iffy religious-wise. I feel that violent content is damaging to the nefesh and must be handled with care. You are correct that our history has been gory, but that does not mean that it all needs to be transmitted–even to an adult audience, never mind to children who lack the maturity to properly process evil, darkness, and death.

    On a totally different note, yay YOU for writing a YA book! AWESOME! 🙂 Hatzlacha and keep us posted on how it’s going!!

  • Meira

    August 4, 2020 at 2:26 am

    Okay, I hear you …. I didn’t realize how sensitive of a topic this was.

    I think what I wrote may have come off wrong: in no way would I describe any of those subjects in all their gory details. (But they wouldn’t be sugarcoated down to nothing either.)

    The topics can be incorporated into a story without actually writing it out as well. Like someone reflecting on another’s death or a character reflecting on how a different character used to treat him/her when they were younger…

    I still hear your opinion, and I would never want to put in too violent material.

    Do most people feel that way? Do most people think those subjects shouldn’t be in YA books at all? I would really appreciate your opinions! Thanks!


  • Bookworm

    August 4, 2020 at 8:26 am

    I would like to add my two cents here, but before that I need to know: What on earth is a YA book? Can someone please explain?

  • Meira

    August 4, 2020 at 11:30 am

    YA is young adult. For ages 12-18. A lot of people think it’s just dumbed down adult,  but it’s not. The characters and plot have top be just as developed. The main characteristic of a YA book is a teenage protagonist. It’s written for teens about teens. 🙂

    • riva pomerantz

      August 4, 2020 at 11:44 am

      Just want to add one more point here, in light of the age range you just posted. Although, technically speaking, YA is classified for ages 12-18, anyone who knows kids in that age range will immediately realize that 18 year olds are not reading YA fiction and 12 is probably pushing it, with kids much younger reaching for YA more than teens. I had a mother just call me up to ask about her 12-year-old daughter reading my book Charades, which is my darkest book that discusses domestic violence! The daughter told her that the librarian told her that ALL the girls her age take out the book and read it! 🙁 Just to put a little perspective on what I wrote above. Eighteen-year-olds are obviously much more capable of processing and handling more sensitive material, but it’s also important to know your readership and cater to someone, whether it’s the lowest common denominator or maybe average expected age.

      And it could be that I misunderstood how much information and gore you wanted to include, Meira. From your post it seemed that you would be giving a good dose of it, but if you are talking about referring to an incident in passing so it’s more of a “blip on the radar” than describing it blow-by-blow, that’s obviously very different. To get a better answer to your question, I would suggest that you post a paragraph or two here and have ladies weigh in on how it hits them on the gore meter :-). Especially members who have kids in the YA readership range!

  • Fayge Y.

    August 4, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    First of all, secular YA isn’t the same as frum YA. Secular YA might be Aark, but also replete with very problematic social issue stuff.

    So the question, I assume, is the frum YA market. As a school librarian, we have 3 classes of books, maybe 3 1/2. We have books that are available to all readers, books that have stickers for middle school and up, and books that are high school only. We’ve also started putting “parental supervision suggested” labels on books that have no restriction label but we do want parents to know that there is potentially disturbing stuff there. (I should mention that I don’t set policy but I heartily endorse it.) There are also restricted books that have the parental label.

    All libraries have gedarim. The frum non-school lending libaries might have a ladies only section, or h.s. up.

    Now of course you’re not writing for libraries, you want to sell lots of books, not just get read. The point is, this is how mechanchim and parents think.

    There are different kinds of violence. There’s what we older people might call Road Runner or Elmer Fudd violence, where the cartoon character finds him/itself treading air and then falling off the cliff, then getting up not too much worse for wear than a few bandaids. Some thrillers have this kind of violence that’s really caricature. But read enough, the cumulative effect is rough on the psyche and neshama. And then of course, there’s the realistic, gut-wrenching stuff.

    I’m looking at your list. What is essential to the plot? Can you write it in and walk it back a bit if it seems gratuitous (despite your saying that you wouldn’t get too graphic, etc.) and if it’s true to the style and voice of your story thus far?  By the true to style etc., I mean, either way. Including it if it’s true etc. or walking it back in a way that’s still true etc.

    I’ve been rambling but I’ve got to go soon. To answer your questions.

    1. People being poisoned isn’t that done all the time?

    2. Sword fights (practicing and to the death) I think M. Kenan had a few. That can be gripping and historical and authentic.

    3. A parent who would beat his kid, and the kid now has scars down his back For  a YA audience, this takes some serious trigger warnings, maybe even on the cover. Like Riva said, remember that older middle school kids might be reading. Get a lot of professional input, not just professional writers but mental health professionals.

    4. People being hanged see 2. Though unlike 4, this strikes closer to home. We may know of more real people getting hanged than fighting with swords.

    5. General roughhousing and beatings between kids Lighthearted or more? If this gets dark, see 3.

  • HappiWriter

    August 4, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    I feel like a lot is about context and intensity.

    How do I explain it…?

    How wild is it? What’s the feeling of the violence? Is it like: argh — get em’ — let your dark side run loose…?

    What is the message in the violence? You say “our history was rough.” That’s true. Showing a Nazi beating a Jew is very different than petty fistfights.

    Take the Auto-de-fe scene (burning at the stake etc.) in “The Marrano Prince” (Avner Gold). Though it’s dark, and the reality is not whitewashed, it’s portrayed so well. You finish the book feeling not corrupted, but uplifted. (BTW, as a kid, I loved reading Avner Gold, but some of my friends said it was too gory for them — for some reason…)

    Why is there violence? Just to make things exciting? Why did the parent beat his kid? What did the kid do wrong? Is it because the parent is teaching something, or is it a dysfunctional home? What do you expect the readers to gain from that? Y.A. is a lot more sensitive than adult…

    In “The Outcast” (M Kenan), Mahalalel is abused by his foster father. If I remember correctly, the gory violence was not played out —only inferred and discussed. Mahalalel talks to Abaye about ducking from the objects his foster father threw at him. He shows Yekavel his scars. Also, abuse is also shown through non-violent means — especially in the prologue where Mahalalel practically risks his life to make money and is pulled away by his foster father before he even receives it.

    As an aside, many frum comics books do have lots of weapons involved.

    The main things to remember are: kids are more sensitive than adults, and you want your writing to be accepted by frum publishers.

  • Meira

    August 5, 2020 at 1:17 am

    Before I say anything – I apologize that this response is so long, but I just kept rambling and responding and bringing examples … so yeah. Please bear with me

    Okay … Wow! Thank you so much everyone for your numerous thoughts and opinions. I really appreciate it. It’s given me a lot of food for thought.

    So, Riva, yes the book is not for the whole range. It’s probably for about 15 or 16. That’s the age I had in mind and is also around the age of the protagonist.

    Fayge, I think the way your library is run is genius. Thanks for sharing. It gave me an idea of what schools and parents think. And thank you for your input on the specific topics. I am definitely going to have to talk to other professionals to make sure my characters act and think the right way.

    Happiwriter, thank you for your input as well. I’m not just writing these things “to make it exciting”. The violence is either imperative to the characters or plot. Everything has a reason ….

    I don’t want anyone to feel corrupted, for sure! Which is why I’m having this problem…

    I wrote the story starting Pesach, just a little fun I was having over corona. And then I realized, it was pretty decent story and I liked the characters … and maybe should I try for a book? So I wrote it out. Right now I’m in my “destroy everything and totally rewrite and edit” phase, so that’s why I’m trying to figure out what to do about the violence aspect.

    On Riva’s suggestion, I’m going to include four instances where you see different kids of violence. If you could just read one or two (cuz I know it’s a lot…) that would be great! Please keep in mind that this is a very raw version of the story. I know it needs help! 🙂

    1. This is one of the times hanging is referenced.: The man running the stand, known as Mordechai, saw her and immediately turned his attention to her. Esther was a regular in the market, all the Jewish stand owners knew her and her mother. She knew they gave her special care because of Papa’s death. Even though it had been so long ago, his death had been so horrific, the whole town still spoke to her as if she were a delicate china doll. Papa had been hanged in the town square, accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Most of the town had been out that night and had seen it happen. Esther had been in her house, but she’d heard enough gossip. Even after eight years, anytime someone saw her, it was as if that was the picture they had in their minds. Her father, hanged in the town square. It had been the most horrible thing that had happened in their town for decades ….

    2. This is a second exert – nothing that I mentioned above, but just something I pulled out. I guess this could be violent for some people

    At the last word, the man with the beard and mustache grabbed Esther’s arm, and she stumbled toward him. Esther took a sharp breath, and she bit her lip so as not to cry out. She looked at Mama fearfully. Mama ran forward and tried to pull Esther back, but the man had an iron grip.

    The man looked down at Mama with scorn. “Guards,” he called. The two extra men outside of the house came in, now filling the entire room. They grabbed Mama’s arms and held her back. Esther tried to put on a brave smile, but she worried it might have looked more like a grimace. She looked into Mama’s eyes and took a deep breath trying to hold back tears which were threatening to roll down her face

    “Please!” Mama cried. “I beg you!” Her voice quivered as she spoke, and her eyes began to fill with tears. Once Esther saw Mama crying, she couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. They started running freely down her cheeks. “Don’t take Esther! Or, or, give me more time. I can gather the money!”

    The guards scoffed at her words. The man holding Esther began dragging her away. She braced herself on the floor, trying to pull away, but the man was far stronger than she was. He pulled her easily. “Mama!” Esther called, tears streaming down her face. Her arm felt as though it was going to be pulled off her body.

    “Esther,” Mama cried after her. “Be strong! Never forget who you are!”

    “Mama! NO!” Esther struggled against the man gripping her, but it was no use. With tears rolling down her face, the man dragged her out the door. Esther craned her neck trying to see her mother. The guards in the house dropped Mama, and she crumpled to the floor like a ragdoll. Esther screamed and tried to pull away, but the man continued to drag her. She was forced to turn forward, so she only heard the snap of her house door closing. The sound echoed in her ears. It felt like her home was being ripped from her. Esther promised herself she would get back home. Whether it be in five days, five weeks, five months, or five years, she was going to return home to Mama.

    3. This one is some “roughhousing between boys”

    Luka nodded and turned to leave.

    “You can’t go.” A big boy blocked his path, a large rock balanced in his hand.

    Faddei came forward. “Sacha, let him go. He’s a friend of Al. You heard him.”

    Sacha shook his head. “No. We can’t trust him.” He glared at Luka. Luka grasped the hilt of his sword, ready to pull it out.

    “I won’t betray you,” he said with a strong, steady voice.

    “No,” Sacha said. “I don’t believe you.”

    “I agree with Sacha.” A second boy stepped forward, blocking Luka’s path.

    “Let him go!” Faddei demanded. He stepped between Luka and the other boys.

    “No!” Sacha threw his rock at Faddei. It hit him in the gut. Faddei dropped to the ground, groaning. He rolled over to his side, coughing up blood. Luka knelt down beside him. Luka stared at the boy, Sacha, his eyes smoldering.

    But before he could do anything, the other boys rounded on Sacha. “What are you doing?” one yelled.

    Two boys pinned Sacha to the ground.

    “What’s wrong with you Sacha?” a second demanded.

    Luka looked down at Faddei now, still coughing up blood and clutching his stomach. Luka’s eyes widened. He turned to a boy who had called out against Sacha.

    “Take me to your healer,” he said. Luka lifted Faddei up and motioned for the other boy to take Faddei’s other side. The boy nodded and they draped Faddei’s arms over their shoulders. Together they hobbled through the forest.

    4. (For the poisoning – the character who is poisoned tastes something funny. He doesn’t realize he’s poisoned. (The reader knows). Then his kids are called to his bedside because he’s dying.) The person who poisoned him is executed – that paragraph is here: this is the last one – I promise!!

    Dimitri snarled at Alik, as he was forced to his knees before him. Alik stared down at Dimitri, hand on the hilt of his sword. Anna watched Dimitri as well, wide-eyed. She had barely moved the whole time. She wouldn’t have been able to move much anyway. She was using the side of Alik’s throne for support and balance for her leg. Luka stood beside him on the right, staring at his father. Alik returned his attention to Dimitri.

    Dimitri tried to rise, but Marluck placed his foot on the back of Dimitri’s calves, forcing him to stay kneeling. The room was silent.

    “You must take such pleasure in this.” Dimitri hissed.  Alik’s face hardened.

    “Pleasure?” he asked. “I’m looking at the man who killed my Father. I’m not feeling any pleasure.”

    Dimitri scoffed. “Someone needed to kill your father. He was too soft. Too kind to his people. People need a strong leader.”

    Alik pulled out his sword and stuck it in Dimitri’s face. “Don’t you dare talk about my father in that way!” he screamed. Then, he calmed himself. “Of all people, you are the worst. You betrayed my father’s trust. You pretended to be his friend, and then committed the worst act of treason. You killed him. There is no one worse than you.”

    Dimitri didn’t react to his words.

    Alik stared at him and knew what had to happen. The next part would be hard. But not for him, for Luka. He turned to Luka now, silently asking his permission. Luka’s face was stoic. Alik knew Luka hated his father, but some things were just too deep in your heart. Dimitri was Luka’s father. Even if he was a horrible father, he was still a father. Luka turned away, and Alik took that as a sign to just do it.

    Alik held his sword high. “Czar Dimitri, you betrayed my father’s trust. You poisoned Czar Artolious and tried to poison me. I hereby sentence you to death.”

    He motioned to Marluck.

    “I would turn away,” he whispered to Anna. She shielded her eyes.

    Alik returned his eyes to Dimitri. Dimitri’s fierce expression didn’t waver as Marluck drew his sword and slashed.   – So I decided to end it here – no gory details. (But I’m sure the reader has a picture…)


    So there are some other instances. But I think I found the “worst” of it.

    If you got to the end – thank you for reading!!! I would love your feedback on the violence aspect and if you have any other feedback on the writing, that would be appreciated as well!

    Thank you!!!

  • Fayge Y.

    August 5, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    All in one book? This is heavy. And roughhousing I thought was brothers lovingly beating each other up.

    I really  need to read this over and again and think.

    I do want to just mention the library and how it’s run. BH while I make suggestions I don’t make all the decisions. But I do tell the girls that if they go to any lending library they’ll see that there are some standards, whether h.s. or ladies only. Schools have to be stricter.

Log in to reply.

Original Post
0 of 0 posts June 2018
Skip to content