In an effort to understand young adult literature within the context of other cultures, I explored articles that examined some of the common themes of South African YA literature. Judith Inggs brought attention to a very interesting subject in her scholarly article Transgressing Boundaries? Romance, Power and Sexuality in Contemporary South African English Young Adult Fiction. Inggs (2009) throughout her article, she highlights that “adolescent sexuality, and even teenage romance, remains relatively unexplored in South African young adult fiction” (p.101). She examined young adult novels published from 1989 to 2006 in South Africa, while noting that only 11 had to do with sex/romance.
What was even more disturbing besides the lack of literature? In conclusion, Inggs (2009) found that a lot of the novels included themes of “macho patter’ (p. 104), and regret. The regret was almost inevitably displayed after any sexual encounters throughout the novels. She also found that most novels were repressive and silenced the discussion on sexuality while highlighting the consequences. Furthermore, out of the 11 novels only 2 focused exclusively on adolescent sexuality.
Not all was doom and gloom however, Inggs pointed to a novel entitled The Sound of New Wings by Robin Malan for hope. This novel was inclusive also to the LGBTQ community as it followed two young boys while they tried to navigate their sexuality while attending an international boarding school. I was shocked to find out about this novel amidst the lack of literature regarding adolescent sexuality. However, inggs noted that even the novels that were present on the topic did little to encourage an open discussion on the subject. The Sound of New Wings was one of the few outliers.
An interesting correlation was made in the article between HIV which ran rampant in the country, and the lack of literature that was present. I had never considered the pressure that young adult authors in South Africa would have while writing a novel that addressed the topic of sex. Most of the novels promoted abstinence while doing little to teach how to navigate feelings of desire besides stifling them. Inggs (2009) takes a position in which I fully concur with stating “these silences need to be broken if issues are to be dealt with constructively and effectively and if the rate of infection is to be curtailed” (p.112). I truly believe that if South African authors took to literature to display sexuality in a positive and safe manner the youth would become more educated and the HIV rate would drop.
Literature can have a powerful impact on important issues. There might be a theme of avoidance in South African culture in regards to sexuality, especially when it comes to the youth. However, there were a few hidden literature gems as found in Inggs study, and I can only point to those findings as progress being made. As time goes on, I can only feel as though the issue will be confronted and openly talked about in African literature in the future, it is an untapped market with a huge potential to educate the masses.
Inggs, J. (2009). Transgressing Boundaries? Romance, Power and Sexuality in Contemporary South African English Young Adult Fiction. International Research in Childrens Literature,2(1), 101-114. doi:10.3366/e1755619809000519