Edginess and YA

13 03 2012

This post is part of C-Summers Week, a weeklong spotlight on Courtney Summers and her titles.

First, I’d like to start off this post by asking: what is “edgy”? Edgy in itself is extremely hard to define. The dictionary definition is this:

.daringly innovative; on the cutting edge.
thank you to dictionary.com for the definition
There are a few other definitions, but they don’t apply to the context we’re putting “edgy” in. So the dictionary definition, the one that we would break out if we needed to be formal, would be that edgy is daringly innovative, on the cutting edge (of society, of the world, of whatever metaphor you would like to put here).
But what exactly does that mean? Society has changed the term “cutting edge” as well — now it’s almost like you’re so far ahead you hide in the distance, a la the nerd stereotype. And then there’s the other way to look at cutting edge, like dangerous — people plummeting themselves of cliffs and hurting themselves, which at the same time is another thing that people think of when they think of “edgy” books.
And you can see already, just by looking at the dictionary definition, that defining edgy in itself is confusing and complicated.
And what about when you think of “edgy” books?
There are many YA books coming out that are considered “edgy” for their subject material, like drinking and cutting and other materials that are considered “intense” and hard to read. Teens have responded well to these types of books.
On many blurbs, I’ve seen books called “edgy and intense” or “edgy” or “gritty and edgy” and any form of “edgy” alone or combined with another word in a similar connotation to “edgy”. It makes for a good descriptor, but what does it really mean?
Are these books truly on the cutting edge? Are the truly changing society and how we look at books? Some yes, some no. Then are these books truly edgy?
When publishers call books “edgy” it seems like they are heading more towards the second idea of what an “edgy” book is: the second term: the dangerous part. Many “edgy” books, by a simple search on Goodreads, are full of many intense topics: drinking, swearing, cutting, sex, all kinds of tough topics that aren’t easy to write about or read about, either. 
A good example would be Courtney Summers, and here’s why I’m getting to the reason why this post was scheduled for C-Summers Week. Courtney’s books have been defined as “edgy”, every single one of them, both by the publisher, review journals (think School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly) and reviewers on sites like Goodreads. But her books have also been described as “realistic” and “intense”.
So are edgy books simply realistic? Teens do drink, have sex, and smoke. So is “edgy” simply a silly term, that should be replaced with “realistic?” Should we simply get rid of the term “edgy” for all? Some think that it is a silly and unnecessary term.
It’s a hard question to answer, and “edgy” is very hard to define. But there are many, many great “edgy” books coming out, and we need to either define what “edgy” means or trunk the term, it seems. What do you think “edgy” is? How should we define it? Or should we simply throw the term away, and never use it again?
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