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June 13, 2017

Reading Clean Teen Fiction --- Guest Post by Teen Board Member Rachel A.

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Hi, my name is Rachel A. and I read clean fiction. Unfortunately, there are an abundance of misconceptions, misunderstandings and inaccurate stereotypes surrounding clean fiction readers. More often than not, people think we are religious zealots, prudes or ridiculously sheltered. This is simply untrue. Today I hope to shed some light on the subject and answer some common questions.


Contrary to popular belief clean fiction is NOT a genre. Oftentimes people mistakenly believe that clean literature and religious fiction are the same thing. While a lot of religious fiction is clean, there are still a good amount of clean books published which don't feature a faith element.

So what exactly is clean fiction? The simple answer is that it's a content level, much like a film rating. Everyone's comfort levels are different, so clean authors have quite a bit of wiggle room, but even so, there's still a standard base level that must be met for a book to be considered clean. To put it in a film analogy, take Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or Disney's Tangled, for instance. Both are rated PG but Harry Potter has more content than Tangled. It is important to note here that not all the material that is considered clean is written specifically by clean authors. A work of literature is believed clean as long as it DOES NOT contain graphic sex and/or sexual talk, explicit gore and violence or excessive foul language.

One common misconception about clean fiction is that it is ONLY about light and fluffy themes. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell, for instance, is by no means a fluffy book, but it's still a clean one. Clean literature has just as much variety as any other novel out there in that it can be cutesy, dark, or something in between. It features a wide range of themes (including but not limited to) friendship and relationship drama, family drama, substance abuse, depression, various mental and/or health issues and teen pregnancy. I think the young adult imprint Blink said it best when they said that “clean literature isn't about shying away from tough topics.”

A question that is often asked of the clean fiction community is: why do you choose to read or write clean fiction? There are dozens of reasons why someone would choose to go this route. People do it for religious beliefs, or to add variety to their reading, or because they're bored of all the other works out there. And then there's people who just don't like to read that kind of content. Chanda Hahn, who has written several successful self-published works, most famously the Unfortunate Fairy Tale series, wrote the following about her clean fiction: "After moving to the Chicago suburbs with my husband, I became a children's librarian. I was often asked by parents to recommend books for young teens that had action, fantasy and maybe light romance, but were clean. They didn't want to have to worry about what their kids were accidentally reading. I saw a great lack of books that fit the bill and I wanted to write books that readers wouldn't be ashamed to recommend to others because of inappropriate content. So I wrote UNENCHANTED, followed by the rest of the Unfortunate Fairy Tale series for this purpose."

Another example is Elizabeth Eulberg, author of several titles including THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB, BETTER OFF FRIENDS and PROM AND PREJUDICE (one of my personal favorites). A Goodreads user once asked her this question: "Why did you make most of your books cussing-free for the most part (thank you for that, by the way) when most YA books are saturated with foul language?" Her response was this: "Hi Hannah! Thanks for your question. I don't have a lot of swearing in my books for a few reasons: 1) I want my books to be available to as wide of an audience as possible, 2) My parents wouldn't be happy with me, and 3) I think young people are exposed enough to cussing and other adult topics that I don't want any young reader to think there's something wrong with them because they don't swear or drink or have sex (I didn't do any of that in high school…well, sometimes I would curse!). All that being said, the sequel to THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB, WE CAN WORK IT OUT has my first real swear word. I couldn't help it, the scene won't have read as real if I would've tamed it down."

Now that I've talked about what clean literature is and who reads it, I feel there's one more question that needs to be answered. How does one find clean fiction? There are many ways in which to do this. There are lists on Goodreads, clean fiction bloggers (I personally follow Kathryn Cooper from kathryncooperwrites.com, her blog has been very helpful). You could also try looking through the Swoony Awards list (SA is a readers’ choice clean fiction award). But the main way I locate clean literature is through extensive research. I start by reading reviews on the title I've chosen, then I research the author and their other works. If I still need more information I read samples and I check content sites like www.commonsensemedia.org. But there are still times I just have to start reading and hope for the best. If the book doesn't fit my standards then I dump it and move on to the next one. I personally have gone through dozens of titles before I find even one acceptable read --- it's just par for the course. Looking for clean literature requires perseverance, patience, discipline and diligence. It's not easy, but the books are out there, just stick with it.

To help you get started I have included some clean YA titles that I've really enjoyed:

  • 5 TO 1 by Holly Bodger --- This dystopian takes place in a futuristic India, where women have created a city that puts them in power so they will no longer be oppressed by men. We follow a boy named Five and a girl named Sudasa as they struggle with the gender equality issues of their society.  
  • DON'T DIE, MY LOVE by Lurlene McDaniel --- This is a contemporary novel about childhood sweethearts Luke and Julie. Both are nearing the end of high school and looking forward to their future together, but everything changes when Luke is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. This is a powerful and emotional story.     
  • SPELLED: Book One in The StoryMakers Series --- Princess Dorthea, having been cursed by the evil gray witch, is done being trapped in her own home. As if house arrest wasn't enough, she then finds out her parents have betrothed her to royal-pain-in-the-rear Prince Kato. In anger she wishes on a cursed star and everything goes wrong sending her kingdom into complete and utter chaos.
  • HOW TO KEEP A BOY FROM KISSING YOU: Book One in the Aurora Skye Series by Tara Eglington --- Sixteen-year-old, never-been-kissed and self-proclaimed matchmaker Aurora Skye is saving herself for a worthy "prince" of a guy and she's not going to settle. But her careful kiss aversion plans may have been for nothing when Aurora gets cast opposite Hayden Paris (aka the bane of her existence) in her school’s production of Shakespeare's “Much Ado About Nothing.”         
  • CATALYST: The Deception Game, Book One by Kristin Smith --- This is a dystopian novel about a 17-year-old thief named Sienna Preston who has a lot on her plate. First, a routine exchange goes awry and her ailing mother gets kidnapped leaving her to take care of her 5-year-old sister alone. Then the people behind Mrs. Preston's kidnapping start blackmailing her. She is also falling for the gorgeous leader of a local extremist group and the equally handsome genetically-modified son of a scientist who happens to be betrothed.    
  • The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer --- This modern classic is about 17-year-old Bella Swan and her romance with a gentlemanly vampire named Edward Cullen.
  • The Sweet Valley High Series by Francine Pascal --- This classic YA contemporary drama series follows twin sisters Elizabeth and Jessica and their friends as they deal with a variety of issues ranging from simple misunderstandings, catty backstabbing behavior and jerky guys to underage drinking and drug abuse.
  • THE LOST GIRL OF ASTOR STREET by Stephanie Morrill --- This jazz age mystery takes place in Chicago and follows novice detective Piper Sail as she tries to find her missing best friend. 
  • I WAS JANE AUSTEN'S BEST FRIEND: Book One in the Jane Austen Series by Cora Harrison --- Told in diary format, the book follows Jane's cousin Jenny as she chronicles her time with the Austen family. This novel was a delightful dance between fact and fiction. I was shocked to find out just how many elements of the story were real!
  • KEEPING THE CASTLE by Patrice Kindl --- A blend of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and the fairy tale of Cinderella, KEEPING THE CASTLE tells the story of 17-year-old Althea as she tries to find a rich husband in order to save her decrepit family estate.  

In conjunction with the aforementioned titles I'd also like to recommend the previously mentioned Unfortunate Fairy Tale series by Chanda Hahn and PROM AND PREJUDICE by Elizabeth Eulberg, as well as the following authors:

  • Shannen Crane Camp --- I've read and enjoyed all her YA contemporaries.
  • Kiera Cass --- THE SIREN and the first three Selection books.
  • Janette Rallison --- I'm only recommending her My Unfair Godmother series and her Slayers series. Please note that Rallison uses the pen name C.J. Hill for her sci-fi and fantasy novels.
  • Jenni James --- The Jane Austen Diaries series and the Jenni James Fairy Tale Collection are great choices for young teens.