We are honored to have YA-writing rock star Ellen Hopkins joining us today to talk about controversial young adult books. First, we need to put why we love Ellen into perspective (beyond her amazing writing, of course). Martina and I were fortunate enough to meet Ellen at the SCBWI NYC conference last year through our dear friend and firecracker Tracy Clark. Picture Ellen enjoying a peaceful dinner with friends and then graciously greeting two complete strangers out of nowhere. Nevermind the fact that Martina and I were pretty much peeing-our-pants excited.
Now add on top of that my latest antic- emailing Ellen an S.O.S. note on an MFA assignment of mine last week. She responded and helped me out right away from her middle-of-nowhere island vacation off the coast of Australia. Yep. I’m that girl, ruining Ellen’s trip and once again, she kindly comes to my rescue. For these reasons and more, we love her!
Now the official bio: Ellen Hopkins is the New York Times bestselling author of Crank, Burned, Impulse, Glass, and Identical. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, with her husband and son. Hopkin's MySpace and Facebook pages get thousands of hits from teens who claim Hopkins is the "only one who understands me", and she can be visited at ellenhopkins.com. You can also find here on Goodreads, blogging, or on Twitter.
Why do you believe some of your YA novels are deemed controversial by certain audiences?
Fear. People fear what they don't understand, or what they believe is threatening to them or their children. Who wants to believe their teen is thinking about sex, or might be struggling with his or her sexual identity? Somehow, they confuse the knowledge found in books with "giving people ideas." What they fail to see is that at some point kids decide to follow their hearts, find their own way. Books can only empower them by giving them the knowledge they need to make better choices.
What compels you to keep writing when you know that a portion of readers may view some of the content as controversial?
I write what's important to me, and what I believe is important to my readers. I've never written in fear of critics or censorship. Life is not fantasy, and there are enough writers telling those stories. Few enough of us choose to write real, but somebody has to.
How has the public’s reception of your novels that include controversial topics changed over time, if at all?
Certainly people now expect my novels to include some sort of "controversial" topic. But I do believe people are starting to understand the need for books that illustrate the results of certain choices. By writing realistically, readers truly understand this. I see the biggest change in acceptance by librarians, who for the most part have always wanted "their kids" to have access to the books they need. As time goes on, more of them are seeing the need for books about sexuality, addiction, etc., because more and more lives are affected by these things.
In your opinion, why is it important for teens (and other readers, for that matter) to have access to books that include controversial content (LGBTQ, sex, drugs, violence, bigotry, etc.)?
Again, it goes back to arming them with knowledge, and teaching them without condescension or didacticism, but rather a respect for their generation. You can't prettify life, but you can help them choose a more positive path by illustrating outcomes in a very realistic way. They want to read about people like them, but also people unlike them, who they want to understand. So many young people only hear what their parents or preachers or certain pundits/news channel personalities tell them. They need to hear the other side in some cases, so they can make wise decisions.
Thanks, Ellen! How about a giveaway? Fill out the form below and leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of CRANK. Contest closes July 17th at midnight EST. U.S. residents are welcome to enter.