Today, I am super excited to have the wonderful author of Trouble, Non Pratt on the blog to discuss her debut novel and teenage pregnancy and teenage girls' sexuality for Sex in Teen Lit Month II.
What inspired you to write Trouble?
I don’t really think any one thing inspired me... more a culmination of things. Since I started writing at fourteen, I’ve written stories about the kinds of teens I wanted to read about – people who hang out in the park, drink, get (un)lucky with the people they have a crush on, argue and maybe even fight. Because I wanted to read about teens who had sex, that’s what my characters do, but I am aware that this isn’t without its problems: including judgement from society and from their peers. This judgement is often intensified if a teenager falls pregnant. I wanted to write a character who both lived up to – and subverted – the expectation of ‘the kind of girl’ who does this.
I’ve read that you believe society judges teenagers that enjoy sex. Why do you think this is so?
Fear. Society’s attitude is dictated by adults – and a lot of adults have had children... and every parent wants to protect their child. The problem is that teenagers are not children, they are fledgling adults, trying to find their flight, doing the things that adults do, things that have heretofore been forbidden: staying up late; drinking/smoking/taking drugs; exploring their own – and other people’s bodies; maybe starting fights or pushing against the law in other ways. The thing I don’t understand is that of all these things, sex is the only one that you actively want someone to enjoy as an adult. And that’s the issue: sex is a major step into adulthood. A lot of people think that such a step should be delayed as long as possible, when really, it’s a step that each person needs to take at the right time for them.
You’ve said that you wanted to make it hard for people who haven’t been pregnant while in their teens to judge Hannah for the situation she finds herself in.
There’s a perception that someone who gets pregnant early must fall prey to a checklist of conditions:
Unstable family life
Less affluent background
Hannah appears to meet most of these criteria... and yet not. Her parents are divorced...but her mother is happily married to someone else, comfortably well-off. Hannah may not be top of class...but she’s not without a certain level of smarts when it comes to her outlook on life. Yes, she has a reputation. Does that really mean that she deserves something that can be perceived as ‘punishment’ for her actions? I want her to be someone the reader can empathise with – if it becomes hard to judge Hannah, hopefully it becomes hard to judge real girls too.
Hannah is quite happy and confident with her sexuality, which is something we see very little of in YA, with such confidence normally given to male characters. Why do you think this is?
A lot of YA that focuses on relationships and sexual dynamics focus on a girl’s perspective, so that the boys we meet are observed from the outside. I think a lot of boys appear more sexually confident, but this doesn’t mean that they are - books such as Don Calame’s Swim the Fly, show that bravado isn’t the same as true confidence. Plus there is still a stigma attached to sexually confident women – think of the disturbing development of slut-shaming. One thing YA writers are encouraged to do is to have ‘likeable’ heroines and having them sexually confident could be considered alienating. A number of reviews of Trouble start out by saying that the reader didn’t initially warm to Hannah because of her attitude to sex and boys.
What research did you do for your novels? Was there anything that surprised you?
I’m not really a research kind of person - sometimes researching into other people’s truths can dilute your own. I absorb things like the news, talk radio, conversation on the bus, but most of Hannah’s experiences can be traced back to the dynamics I saw in my own school or in the park on a Friday. Or my imagination – I have a fairly vivid one of those. One aspect of the book that is firmly grounded in fact is Hannah’s pregnancy, since I was pregnant at the time, I made a lot notes... Hannah’s obsession with milk is identical to mine. As a lifelong milk hater, that surprised me.
What do you hope readers get from reading Trouble?
My hope, first, foremost and always is that people enjoy reading it. Beyond that... I hope that the reader gets whatever message they’re looking for. Ideally that message would be one of acceptance. Everyone has to cope with difficult situations at some point in their life – don’t make it harder for them, or for yourself, than necessary.
What do you think about how teen fiction deals with sex, generally?
Teen fiction used to frustrate me. As a teen nothing annoyed me more than a fade-to-black moment, because (for all my vivid imagination), I had no idea what was happening. Although there has been a turning of the tide in the last few years, sex is still frequently treated as an issue or a salacious treat rather than part of the story. I’d like to see more unsensational representations of sex, acknowledging the full range of appetites from the never-been-kissed to the different partner every night - and much more of the stable, satisfying relationships that can occur when you’re both as inexperienced as each other. And yes, we do still need to show that sex isn’t something to be entered into without due care and attention. This generation have more access to porn, something that bypasses the concept of emotion engagement entirely. Writers are uniquely positioned to address the emotional weight of sleeping with the wrong person at the wrong time, we should take that responsibility seriously.
Anything else you would like to add?
Parents are the barrier no one likes to address. Teens have a certain amount of autonomy, but a lot of their access to reading material is determined by what they’re exposed to in schools – and schools fear irate parents. I wish there was a better way of bringing parents and their concerns into the discussion. I might not fully understand their position, but I want to.
Thank you, Non, for such a fantastic and important interview! What do you think about the things Non discusses?