Friday, August 25, 2017

6 YA Taboos and Selling Your Book, Discussion With Author Julia Day

Julia Day joins us today to share her experience with the sales of her YA novel, The Possibility of Somewhere, featuring an interracial and interfaith couple. Surprisingly, she may have tripped over a taboo in her own home region. After reading her post, she'd love for you to share your thoughts on whether there are still taboo subjects in YA.

And be sure not to miss Julia's next release, Fade to Us, coming in February!

A Multicultural P&P by Julia Day

Years ago, my daughters and I were discussing the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice. I’d always wanted to write a modern P&P retelling, but my daughters didn’t think it would make sense in a contemporary American high school setting. They both attended urban magnet schools where racial, cultural, and economic diversity were the norm.

But the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I convinced my girls to help me brainstorm elements that would work, and my latest book was born. Set in a rural North Carolina high school, the story is told from the POV of a poor, white, “trailer park” girl who falls in love with her academic rival—the son of wealthy Asian-Indian immigrants. (The choice of hero and heroine comes from my own experience. In the 1980s, as a poor college student, I had a crush on an Indian classmate—except I never let him know.)

My multicultural P&P has been out nearly a year now, and I’ve been surprised at how it’s selling in the South. I’m a Southern writer. The book is set in the South. Yet according to data from BookScan and WorldCat, the book sells least well there.

I was telling my brother about my surprise over the book’s performance in the South, and his response shocked me. “There’s no way your book will ever do well in the Deep South. Parents don’t want their kids reading about an interracial/interfaith couple. School librarians and teachers aren’t going to suggest it.” I told him that school librarians in Missouri put it on their summer reading list, and he said, “Missouri isn’t the South.”

Are there any YA taboos left?

One of the things that makes me most proud of YA contemporary fiction is its willingness to tackle tough issues, such as violence, disabilities, mental illness, suicide, domestic/sexual/substance abuse, and diversity of all kinds. Teens today have greater access than ever to books that reflect their lives and the world around them.

Perhaps YA’s openness is what led to my naivete about subjects that might be uncomfortable for some areas. For example, my brother still lives in the rural area where we were both raised. He found the interfaith aspect of my story to be the most problematic—even though religion is barely mentioned in the book. But the very idea that a Christian girl might be dating a Hindu boy made the book “too controversial for teens to read.” In retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t realize religious diversity would be a problem for some. I might have been tempted to water down the story, instead of keeping it realistic for the characters and the community they lived in.

In today's political climate, it’s hard to spend any time on social media without being bombarded by how polarized people have become or how dangerous it can be to exchange differing opinions. For authors of YA fiction, I hope that we hold fast to our commitment to write the tough stories that need to be told.

Do you think there any taboos left in YA fiction? Do controversial subjects change based on the region of the country? Are they different in urban versus rural areas? Join me in the comments to share your thoughts.

About the Book:

Together is somewhere they long to be.

Ash Gupta has a life full of possibility. His senior year is going exactly as he’s always wanted-- he's admired by his peers, enjoying his classes and getting the kind of grades that his wealthy, immigrant parents expect. There's only one obstacle in Ash's path: Eden Moore—the senior most likely to become class valedictorian. How could this unpopular, sharp-tongued girl from the wrong side of the tracks stand in his way?

All Eden's ever wanted was a way out. Her perfect GPA should be enough to guarantee her a free ride to college -- and an exit from her trailer-park existence for good. The last thing she needs is a rivalry with Ash, who wants a prized scholarship for his own selfish reasons. Or so she thinks. . . When Eden ends up working with Ash on a class project, she discovers that the two have more in common than either of them could have imagined. They’re both in pursuit of a dream -- one that feels within reach thanks to their new connection. But what does the future hold for two passionate souls from totally different worlds?

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Julia Day was born in Tennessee, raised in Mississippi, and now calls North Carolina home. She lives mid-way between the beaches and the mountains, along with two twenty-something daughters, one old husband, and too many computers to count. When she's not writing software or stories, Julia loves to travel to faraway places, watch dance reality shows on TV, and chip away at her TBR pile. Her teen contemporary romance, THE POSSIBILITY OF SOMEWHERE, won the 2017 Booksellers’ Best Award for YA. Her February 2018 release, FADE TO US, tells the story of a teen girl, her new stepsister on the autism spectrum, and the boy they both like—in different ways. Julia also writes YA magical realism as Elizabeth Langston.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


  1. I was so enthused when Julia shared her idea for this post with me. I had just followed a thread on Twitter where another North Carolina author shared her experience of life and readers in rural NC and was amazed at how totally opposite it was from mine. And I'm NC born and bred. But she was speaking of rural NC and I live near Raleigh (though outside it).

    Like Julia's character, I also met and fell in love with a man of a different ethnicity and religion. My husband is from Turkey, and I have always celebrated the richness and diversity that these differences have brought to our marriage and family. It's surprising to me that others may still view our relationship as wrong.

    I thought we were beyond that, and certainly the people I associate with feel the same way. It's so surprising to me, then, when I see what's going on in the world and realize that there are still people who think so differently.

    I applaud Julia for her wisdom in stating at the end of the article that she was so glad to not have known the opinions she might encounter while writing about Ash and Eden's love. If there is one thing we can be certain of as writers, it's that our voice does matter. And, though sometimes scary, we never want to water it down. Thanks Julia!

  2. Thank you for hosting me today, Susan. Like you, I live near Raleigh. I work at a global company for my day job as a corporate trainer, so I spend much of my time with people from all over the world. My daughter leaves tomorrow (sniff!) to move to New England for graduate school in Interfaith Dialogue/Intl Peacemaking. I live and work in a diverse world. My brother's comments forced me to remember that the anger and mistrust I see on the nightly news or in social media are not isolated.

    That's why I hope teens can make the difference. If they read stories where diversity just *is*--where people are people no matter their ethnicity, gender/orientation, race, faith tradition, economics, abilities--perhaps we can change. But we have to get those stories into their hands first.

  3. Thanks for such a thoughtful and honest post about a difficult topic. The diversity of YA literature has expanded so much in the past few years, and it's fantastic that we're getting to tackle so many different and difficult topics as authors. But yes, it's hard to fathom that there is still such a lack of tolerance out there in the country--that it seems to be growing--is shocking to me. My parents and I moved to this country from the Czech Republic to escape communism--we came for free speech and all the other freedoms that we used to take for granted as part of the American experience. But lately, it seems no one can read about other people's experiences or speak to each other civilly. It's heartbreaking.

  4. I agree; it is heartbreaking. I really hope that my daughters and their generation can break the chain.

  5. I hold some pretty unpopular political opinions amongst the YA community, and I definitely feel like my viewpoints are considered taboo. People label me as a bigot and even a Nazi when they barely know anything about me. It's so sad to see this behavior from a community that claims to fight for tolerance and unity. Fortunately, though, for every close minded person who unfairly judges, there are several who are willing to listen to/read about experiences different than their own. You can never please everyone, and attempting to do so is a waste of time. So I choose to focus on pleasing the people who are willing to listen.

  6. Yes, I worry about that too. In some forums, I've seen authors attempt to offer a different/thought-provoking opinion (or perhaps playing devil's advocate)--and they get shouted down or even drummed out. Unless the opinion is egregiously bigoted or hate-mongering, it should be examined civilly. I often want to comment back, not necessarily because I agree, but because I feel like there are kernels of truth worth hearing. But I usually don't respond for fear of being attacked myself.

    Your comment sounds like something that would make a YA good story. I know of several books, like SPEAK or SOME BOYS, where the heroine is not believed when she's stating the truth/facts. But I don't know of any where the MC is ostracized for stating an unpopular opinion.


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