Thursday, 3 May 2012

Boundaries in YA fiction...with Savita Kalhan

We're delighted to welcome edgy author, Savita Kalhan to the third week of our discussion series on Boundaries in YA Fiction. 

To catch up on the series, here is Week 1 and Week 2. Our poll on whether or not age categories are useful guides for reading closed this week with the majority (of a small sample!) saying that they were useful.

In light of this, today we're chatting about writing for a teen audience, edgy and age appropriate book content. Welcome and thank you, Savita!


The Long Weekend
M: Savita, in your first novel, The Long Weekend, the main characters are teens. Did you set out to write for a teen audience?

S: Not really. I didn’t plan this book, plot it, or know where it was going. The situation and the characters came first, with no intention of writing for a particular audience. I simply wanted to write a good story that could be read by any age group. The book’s main character was Sam, and he was eleven years old. His voice was so strong that the story flowed out of him onto paper.

M: You say that kids demand and deserve a lot from a book. Are these demands different to what an adult reader might expect?

S: The demands are the same for any reader – a good story, engaging, well-written and memorable are things that every reader should find in a book whether they are adults, teens or kids.

M: Your reading experience as a teen sounds similar to mine. Moving from children’s to adult – before you were even a teen. Do you see YA as a bridge between the two?

S: In a way yes it is. YA is a relatively modern phenomenon in the UK, where it really only started taking off over the last ten to fifteen years. In the US it started earlier with writers such as S E Hinton, Robert Cormier and Judy Blume to name a few. I’m not saying that moving straight from children’s books to adult book wasn’t a good experience for me, because it definitely was. But I think teenagers and young adults these days have much more choice with books that give them a voice, explore situations and issues specific to them, and I think that’s a good thing.

M: Your book trailer for The Long Weekend mentions that it is recommended for all secondary school readers and it also has a warning that it is not suitable for younger readers. What is it about The Long Weekend that makes it unsuitable for them?

S: The Long Weekend has been read by kids aged from 10 to adults and grandparents – and what I’ve heard is that adults, particularly parents, have found the book far more scary than younger teens have. For a lot of teens the book is an action thriller, where the suspense for them comes from the two boys being trapped and their efforts to escape. For older readers the suspense and fear element stem from what they are afraid will happen to the boys and what actually does happen.

What makes The Long Weekend unsuitable for much younger readers, in some people’s opinion, is the central theme in the book; child abduction and child abuse. I understand that opinion, but don’t fully agree with it. My son read the book when he was 10, but he was an advanced reader. Personally I would want the parent to read the book first before giving it to a child under 11.

Although having said that, kids are brilliant at knowing what’s right for them, what suits their reading ability, and what kind of book and subject matter they can handle. Younger readers have said that they didn’t really know what happened to one of the characters apart from that it was something bad. So I think they will only absorb and understand as much as they’re ready for. No one censored my reading when I was growing up apart from me.

People have said that any secondary school kid reading this book will benefit more from reading The Long Weekend than attending a talk on ‘stranger-danger’.  They will never ever get in a car or engage with a stranger again without thinking first. The abuse in my book but is only ever alluded to; my book contains no graphic scenes. That in itself seems to make the book far more chilling for the reader – particularly the older reader.

M: Do you think there are any essential ingredients that make a novel YA?

S: I think the essential ingredients of a YA novel are not so dissimilar from novels for adults or younger kids and teens. Voice and story are the essence of all writing and they have to ring true for the reader no matter what age group they fit into. The appeal of YA novels to teenagers and young adults is that suddenly there is a huge choice of books where the voice and story are relevant to them – issues and experiences such as identity, sexuality and relationships, peer pressure, coming of age, and much more, are explored through voices that they can relate to.

I wouldn’t necessarily categorise my writing as YA or teen, but it does hold a great appeal to teen and young adult readers. The voices in my writing are teenage or young adult voices, the stories are told through their eyes, the issues I explore are contemporary, gritty and edgy – abuse, identity and peer pressure, and the loneliness and isolation of those experiences.


Take a look at Savita Kalhan's website to find out more about her and her novels.

And look out for Savita's recommended reading for ages 11-14.  They'll be posted on here this Saturday.

Watch the You Tube book trailer for The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan. Arachnophobes beware!


  1. A really interesting post. As a parent (although of much younger children of those mentioned) I was particularly interested in the comment about self censorship.

    1. Yeah, I didn't 'self-censor' so much as a child reader. Retrospectively, I wish I had because so many books still 'haunt' me from that time. I think there's so much more choice now for children to grow into as older confident readers, young teens,and young adults now.


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