Or is it OK to be edgy and cynical, even negative?
I think it's ok to be edgy, cynical and possibly even negative if you are writing something that justifies it.
But I honestly think that positive, upbeat Children's books are the ones that really sell.
Saved from another message board with permission to use:
There is nothing that will make me (I'm 14) give up on o book faster than the feel that I am being talked down to. Life has description, complexity, and lots of subplots, so include as much as will help the book.
With this said, I completely agree that we can handle whatever happens in a book and know far more than adults want us to (or want to ourselves, for that matter), and we despise books that include sex and drugs, then say "OMG this is horrible never ever do this" (make sure you picture Effie saying that). We are smart, and capable of decision making. We know not to do that, and hate when adults assume any instance of sex, drugs, or violence will turn us into juvenile delinquents without proper warning. Show it how it is, and we teens will be eternally grateful and recommend your book to friends. Glorify it, and we won't for fear of being regarded as a Bad Person for liking that type of book.
Then I guess it depends on if you're writing for children or for teens.
I think this distinction is important....and the age at which to draw the line is blurry as children like adults donot necessarily have a psychological maturity that matches their chronological age. For children, I think it is crucial to give them a positive framework to build upon, and if presenting something that is anegative, a solution how to handle it. For "teens" or mature young adults, I think they are at a point of developing strategies and opinions on how they want to present themselves to the world and how they want to handle the world around them...which of course can be a bit dicey at times.
I believe the fear of "copy cat" behavior OR permission to "Go thou and do likewise" does have a basis when presenting information to children and young adults....When are the children past the point of that type of influence and in a more adult type of discernment. A psychological maturity where they apply well seated values and take the story presented as a jumping off point for analysis rather than a source of "things for me to try out when my parents aren't looking".
I remember being a kid. Maybe it was because I had some sense and was raised right, but as for my friends and me, we weren't (and still aren't) the type to go do things just because someone said so in a book, in a game, on tv, or in a movie, or whatever. I like thrills and adrenaline, but I'm not one to jump off a bridge because someone else said it looked like a good idea. I've always surrounded myself with people of the same opinion. And in my opinion, there are far more of "us" than there are of "them".
I personally think cynical, snarky, dark, negative books sell more than positive ones. Well, more like kids buy those books more than saccharine, upbeat ones. I mean, "Where the Wild Things Are" is super dark, about a kid acting out his id-fantasy. Sure, he ultimately finds that he "misses" home/his mother, but the majority of the book is spent dancing with monsters and scaring them. I feel like this is a trend you can follow through our classical teen books, like "Catcher in the Rye." I can't really name a positive book off the top of my head that was a best seller; but maybe "positive" has too many connotations for me. Writing's based on conflict, conflict is by definition not positive, ya know?
Mari concurs. :)