This is one of those (many) questions with no right or wrong answer. It’s more of a discussion starter.
Let me tell you what made me start thinking about it and see if it prompts any thoughts in you.
I recently discovered a new author whose work impressed me and I quite enjoyed. I did my usual trick of ordering all her books from the library and found them quick and easy to get through.
You knew that was coming right? But I didn’t recommend her in one of my “Another Great Book” posts. Why? Well, every single one of her books referenced drunk driving. Every single one. There were a couple of instances of people being killed by drunk drivers but mostly they were passing references like “she knew she had drunk too much and she knew she shouldn’t be driving but she drove off into the sunset with the man of her dreams anyway.”
To be honest, I felt like it was treated sort of like “she knew she shouldn’t have another slice of cheesecake but it was a special occasion so what the hey?”
And it bothered me.
I have a real thing about drunk driving. I don’t do it. I don’t drink if I’m driving. I don’t drink if I even think I might have to drive. Which means, pretty much, since having kids I don’t really drink at all because what if I have to drive one of them to the hospital in the middle of the night? (Lest you think I’m a total killjoy I should make it clear I don’t really enjoy the taste of wine or hard liquor so it’s not like I’m denying myself one of life’s big pleasures).
The point is, I think drunk driving is just a majorly bad, dangerous thing and, no matter how good a book is, I have trouble recommending it because of the light treatment of drunk driving.
Now, to me this seems totally reasonable but I realize to others it may not. I know LOTS of people are upset by swearing and / or sexuality in books – particularly YA. To me, in context, these aren’t such big deals. But to others they clearly are.
Let me give you one more example. I once received feedback from an agent that she was troubled about something in the manuscript I had submitted that seemed, to me, quite small. In fact, if you had asked me I would have said it was the least controversial thing in my whole book (practically). The next YA book I opened had the protagonist talking about killing herself for the first four paragraphs. I could hardly believe it – how could my little nothing incident cause such worry when published books were talking up suicide?
But, hey, it’s all perspetive right? I mean, who knows what a person (agent, editor, reader) has in their background? Who knows where their sensitivities lie? It’s a tough one.
So, I guess I’m throwing the question back to you – where do you think a writer’s responsibilities lie? Are there subjects that should be off-limits? Or does it matter how they’re handled?