Real Life Issues in YA Books by Maree Anderson (for Writers Gone Wild)
Spotted an interesting discussion over at The Supernatural Underground blog about sex in Young Adult novels.
I can only speak for myself and, since she’s only in her first year of high school, my daughter. Daughter is a voracious reader. Loves paranormals. She's always picking up the books I’m reading and checking out the blurbs. Or at least, I hope that’s all she’s checking out!
It was pretty easy to monitor her reading material at first. Since I’m a big reader of paranormal YA myself, inevitably, I’d read a book and then pass it on to her. But—as they always do—things got a bit tricky.
When the Twilight books hit the shelves, we both knew she was only gonna borrow them from her friends at school if I didn’t let her read them. And as she was only 11 at the time, and I knew very well that all YAs are not equal, we did a deal: I bought them all and read them first, and then passed them on to her.
I’m glad I did. Because the Bella giving birth scene was very graphic and IMHO, quite disturbing. Reading it first, gave me the opportunity to remind my daughter that it’s “fiction”, and babies don’t really break their mother’s ribs and pelvic bones, and try to rip their way out of the womb! (Last thing I wanted was for her to freak out and harbor a morbid fear of pregnancy when she became an adult.) And turned out she didn’t have any problems with that scene at all. Must only have been me, LOL.
One of our favorite series is Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires, which I’ve been collecting for a while. In the first few books, Claire is underage and her boyfriend, Shane, being older and a decent guy, is very careful not to let things go too far. But as Claire ages in subsequent books, so fictional hormones and “real life” kick in, and sex becomes an issue for Claire and Shane.
Am I okay with my young daughter reading a series in which it's obvious that Claire's two older flatmates are getting it on, and the young heroine eventually makes the choice to go all the way with her older boyfriend? Yes. Well, so far, anyway, LOL. I absolutely trust that Ms Caine won’t suddenly go all graphic on us, so I wouldn't have a problem with Daughter reading the next book in the series before I do. And I trust that if she has any issues about what she's reading, she'll approach me about them.
Another series we’ve been sharing is P.C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night. I love these books! But here's the thing: When the heroine, Zoey, first arrives at the school, she walks in on a girl giving a guy a blow-job. Ooookay then.
The way I figured it, there were going to be 3 possible scenarios:
1) That scene goes right over daughter’s head — kinda like when young kids watch certain scenes in Shrek and they don’t understand the sometimes quite adult innuendos, but they still love the movie.
2) Daughter is curious enough to want more information, and asks me to explain.
3) Daughter has already heard the kids at school talking about BJs and knows all about the, uh, finer details.
Turned out it was a mixture of Scenario 2) and 3) and when I fully explained the, er, “act” to her, she was (thankfully for my ongoing peace of mind!) young and innocent enough to go “Eeeew! You mean, girls really do that?” Which is a helluva relief because it means there is no Scenario 4), if you catch my drift. Thank. Goodness. For. That.
Anyway, daughter is now buying her own books and ordering books in from her library. So these days, it’s quite likely that she’ll recommend a series to me. And because she's a precocious reader with a rather avanced reading age, inevitably there’ll come a time when I’ll be reading a book she’s recommended and freaking big-time about the content. Which will open the way for one of those frank mother/daughter conversations. You know, the ones that send our menfolk running from their rooms with their hands over their ears, LOL.
I have the greatest of respect for YA authors who can write about the very real issues that kids today must deal with, and still make it “real” and relevant and not a cop-out, without making it too real. It’s a fine line for YA authors to skirt, keeping the savvy, street-smart kids of today entertained with their stories, while still remaining age-appropriate. And that line is possibly becoming even more fine, considering the increasing adult crossover appeal of many YA books. Sure wouldn't want to be on the marketing team for some of these books. Nightmare!
Which brings me to the only YA book I own that my daughter has asked to read, and I’m unwilling to give her. So far, anyway. I read the book while on holiday a couple of years back and it devastated me — obviously the mark of some brilliant writing, right? But brilliant as it was, I didn’t find the book at all uplifting or hopeful, as some critics had claimed. Afterward, I was just gutted and terribly, terribly sad. For now, even though she's spotted it on the top shelf and asked again if she can read it, the answer is "no". Because for me, teenage terminal illness (including a heart-wrenching 1st person POV death scene), is just not something I want my 13 year old daughter to have to deal with at this time.
My very personal choice--not a criticism of the book or the author. I'm her mom. I still get to call the shots. Or at least, some of them. For now. Of course, if she gets it from the school library and reads it on the sly, that’ll be her choice. And we’ll deal with any fallout then.
So, here’s my question:
If a book’s shelved under YA, do you automatically presume it’s suitable for your youngsters to read and leave them to it? Or do you personally check the book out first?