Love & Sex in YA Lit: THE BAD

Our friends, Em & Nora (who we like to call “Em & No”), recently launched a site for grown-ups about young adult literature called LoveYALit.com*, since (according to the New York Times) more and more people 18-and-over are enjoying books originally intended for the 18-and-under set. Of course, books about teens, the most hormonal among us, often deal with issues of first romantic relationships and sexual awakenings — and reading them as adults can emotionally transport us back to our own teenage years, when those things were really new and exciting, dramatic and traumatic. So we asked Em & Nora to give us a sampling of the good, the bad and the complicated of YA love and sex. We published the good first, here’s the bad, tune in next Thursday for the complicated:


Sometimes in YA, the darker, more depressing and horrifying side of sex is explored – molestation, incest, rape, STDs…. You name it, and you’ll likely find it in the YA section.  These books are often challenged by would-be book banners but, fortunately, the freedom to read usually reigns supreme. Please note: just because the sex in these books is bad doesn’t mean we think the books themselves are.

  1. Identical by Ellen Hopkins (2008) — This novel in verse is told from the perspective of twin sisters, one who is sexually molested by their father and the other who deals with their father’s “favoritism” by seeking out sex with drug dealers and random, scummy guys. Sex scenes in YA are not frequently written with much detail, but the sexual assault by “Daddy” is some of the more graphic sex we’ve come across in YA.  Disturbing with a capital D. Check out our full review of Identical on LoveYALit.
  2. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (2008) — When “Alice” was 10, she was kidnapped by Ray, a nondescript middle-aged man, and forced to be his sex slave.  Now that she is 15 and going through puberty, he’s starving Alice to slow down this process while forcing her to look for her “replacement.” This means trolling the playgrounds and choosing a suitable target.  It’s a chilling yet fascinating look at the vulnerability of children to power, control and violence — and the subsequent dehumanizing effects of such abuse. Check out our full review of Living Dead Girl on LoveYALit.
  3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2006) — Melinda Sordino was raped at a party over the summer break and now, as a result of her trauma, rarely speaks. She enters her first year of high school as an outcast, known by most as “the girl who called the cops at the party.” Obviously the sex itself is not empowering, but the story ultimately is, as Melinda finds her voice and speaks out.
  4. Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (2007) — A young girl is being molested by an older man, and she deals with it by doing the same things to her best friend.  The friend is confused, and doesn’t know if she likes or hates what is happening to her.  The book deftly addresses the complications and manipulations of friendship, while exploring how and why the abused often become the abusers.
  5. Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis (2005) — This is the book everyone loves to hate, since it gave credence to the myth of rampant teen blow-job parties all across the nation. But can you really hate tons of love-less, one-sided oral sex followed by a school-wide outbreak of throat gonorrhea? It may not be great literature, but it is a great case against abstinence-only education.

*As adults writing about sexuality in YA, Em & Nora of LoveYALit.com want to make it clear that they believe if a young adult does have sex, it should be safe, sober and consensual with another young adult.

This post is a part of Sundance Channel’s Naked Love Blog
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  1. Um…isn’t that exactly what Em and Lo are doing here? The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated…?

  2. To be fair Mme, it is a list of YA books with bad sex. Not a list of YA books with sex. You could probably just as easily made a list of books with Good sex in them. Or neutral sex. Or whatever.

  3. Any of these bits of literature NOT have Victim Sex as their core?

    Damn. Not my idea of what I want my young adult kids to think sex is about; Victimhood.

    One book would have been fine, but ALL of them?

    No thanks.

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