Reader Question: Are the Elemental novels “inappropriate”?

I’m 14. I want to read Storm and the rest of the Elemental series, but my mom is SUPER strict on what I read. So do the books have anything inappropriate in them?
-J

Wow. I’ve been thinking about this question all day.

First, I hope you read this post, and I hope you show it to your mom. I think she’ll be impressed that you’re respecting her rules and boundaries. I’m a mom too, and I can tell you that when parents are strict, they’re doing it because they want to protect you from something, not because they’re trying to ruin your fun.

Here’s why your question is such a tough one to answer: I have no idea what your mother would consider inappropriate. I wrote my books for teenagers. I would generally say my books are appropriate for your average fourteen-year-old. That said, I have ten-year-old readers. I have sixty-eight-year-old readers. It means a lot to me that my books appeal to people of any age, of both genders. I’d tell you to ask them whether my books are appropriate, but you know what? Their opinion doesn’t matter either. The only person who can judge whether these books are going to be appropriate according to your mom’s rules is your mother.

But for what it’s worth, here are my feelings on whether books (in general) can be labeled “appropriate” at all.

Books aren’t like television or movies. Once you see something, you generally can’t un-see it, right? But with books, the words will only take you as far as your imagination can go.

Here’s a passage from The Hunter Games:

The boy from District 3 only has time to turn and run before Cato catches him in a headlock from behind. I can see the muscles ripple in Cato’s arms as he sharply jerks the boy’s head to the side. It’s that quick. The death of the boy from District 3. 

Here’s a passage from Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy:

I throw myself between the whip and Gale. I’ve flung out my arms to protect as much of his broken body as possible, so there’s nothing to deflect the flash. I take the full force of it across the left side of my face. The pain is blinding and instantaneous. Jagged flashes of light cross my vision and I fall to my knees. One hand cups my cheek while the other keeps me from tipping over. I can already feel the welt rising up, the swelling closing my eye. The stones beneath me are wet with Gale’s blood, the air heavy with its scent. 

Both those passages are pretty brutal, right? I have a friend with an eleven-year-old daughter who loved The Hunger Games books. My friend asked me if I thought the movie would be appropriate for her daughter. I said I didn’t think so, as the film doesn’t pull any punches: it’s pretty graphic. She ultimately decided to take her daughter to see the movie, thinking that since she loved the books, she wouldn’t be surprised by what happened in the movie.

Guess what? My friend was wrong. Her daughter was very upset by the level of violence — despite the fact that the movie was very true to the book.

With words, my friend’s daughter could skim for dialogue or tame down the violence in her mind or really, just not acknowledge that it was happening. With a movie, in full color and sound? Not an option.

That doesn’t just apply to violence, by the way. It applies to sex, and drug use, and profanity. I recently re-read a book that I’d absolutely loved in high school. I was shocked to discover that the two main characters were having a physically romantic relationship! When I was your age, I didn’t care about the romance, I was reading for the action adventure part of the story. I didn’t even realize there was a romance.

Another advantage to books is that they allow people of all ages to experience new and different things in a safe way. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was a teenager. It allowed me to have a lot of very complicated conversations with my mother. To her credit, she answered all my questions with honesty, and because of that, I didn’t seek out answers from less reliable sources. (Back then, it would have been other kids. Nowadays, it’s the internet.) I think she was just happy I was learning about these things from books, and not from actively doing them.

(Lest you think my mother was one of these free spirit kinds of mothers who let me do whatever I wanted, she wasn’t. Not by a long shot. She was strict, and conservative, and very Catholic. She was very involved in my life and knew what I was doing. I even went to an all-girls Catholic school for high school. Talk about conservative!)

Here’s the thing. People, especially teenagers, are curious about the world around them. You aren’t going to find a much safer place to explore curiosity than a book.

But I’m digressing, when you asked about my specific novel.

Storm and the rest of the books in The Elemental Series follow a family of four brothers who can control the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Michael is the oldest, at 23, and he’s been raising his younger brothers since he was eighteen, when his parents died. His younger brothers consist of Gabriel and Nick, seventeen-year-old twins, and Chris, who is sixteen. Michael has taken over his parents’ landscaping company, and the family is essentially blue collar middle class. Michael is rough cut and harsh, but a loving and protective older brother. The Merricks act like brothers who’ve spent a few years without parents around: they swear and they fight. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I want to write realistic teens, so I did. The Merricks are also targeted for their abilities, so they’re isolated and need to find a way to get along, just to survive.

Storm also follows Becca Chandler, who, for most of the book, is ostracized and bullied by her peers, and is seen as being “easy.” She’s not, really, but she made a poor choice one time at a party, and her classmates latched onto that and have decided to make her their target. Their bullying is not subtle. There’s a scene late in the book (SPOILER ALERT – SERIOUSLY – SPOILER) where one of Becca’s assailants drags her onto the soccer field behind the school during a dance and attempts to rape her. She doesn’t lose any clothing, and it’s just an ATTEMPT, and it’s written without naming any specific body parts, but it’s there. (END OF SPOILER) This is one of those scenes that adults tell me is too much for teenagers, but when I do school visits, kids say to me, “Thank you so much for understanding what it’s like.”

Your mom might have stopped reading when I talked about the profanity and the fighting. Like I said, I’m a mother, too, and I get it. I’m not going to try to convince your mom to allow you to read my book.

Instead, I’m going to encourage your mom to do what ALL parents should do if they’re uncertain whether a book is appropriate. READ IT. That way, when your kid reads it, you can have a discussion.

But again, I urge parents to give “edgy” books a chance. Wouldn’t you rather your kids learn about the dangers of an overdose on the pages of a novel? Or how quickly a date can escalate to date rape without the actual danger? And it’s not just bad things. Books can open up a whole new world of experiences right in your living room. I mean, you could dismiss The Hunger Games as being an overly violent book about a bunch of kids condemned to killing each other.

Or you could recognize it for what it really is: a book about a young woman finding the inner strength to save herself, her family, and ultimately her country.

Sounds like something you’d want a kid to read, doesn’t it?

 

~

(Does anyone have any additional thoughts you’d like to share with J and her mother? To the comments with you!)

 

 

16 thoughts on “Reader Question: Are the Elemental novels “inappropriate”?

  1. I’m going to weigh in as a junior high school English teacher here.
    I’ve read all the Elemental series (including the short ebooks), and I’ve also taught ages 12- 15 for over two decades. I’ve dealt with kids and with every sort of parent, including parents who freaked out over everything that wasn’t historical fiction — and one parent who was incensed that I taught Shakespeare!
    Here’s my take on this:
    Every kid is different.
    I don’t actually put the Elemental series in my classroom library because I KNOW I have parents who of 7th-graders who would absolutely flip out over these books. However, I’ve recommended them to 9th-graders many times. I, personally, feel that most 9th-graders would be ready to handle the more grown up issues in them. Would I tell 7th-graders no? Certainly not, but I think I’d warn them and make sure they realized they weren’t getting Diary of a Wimpy Kid here.
    My advice to J — well, Brigid, you said it really, really well. As a teacher of kids this age, I applaud your answer.

  2. I completely agree with your advice that a parent reads a book first if they’re concerned about it. I really want YA to be *about* YA protagonists, rather than specifically written *for* teens. I completely understand a parent wanting to be able to go to a bookstore, plonk their kid in front of the Young Adult section, and know that any book they pick will be ‘appropriate’. But I don’t want YA to be written like that – I want it to explore everything, in varying degrees, so that the overall experience of reading YA is one of learning, of being exposed to new things, of the wonder and confusion of teenaged years.

    Too often I see authors who obviously hold back when writing their novels, and I feel it takes a little away from the book. I want YA to be as varied and complex as fiction written for adults, because in my mind, teens *are* as varied as complex as adults.

    To answer, specifically, your question – my mother wouldn’t have liked me reading your books at 14 (too much kissing she’d say; she had a very old fashioned outlook on how a young girl’s sexuality should be handled). BUT, I read a Christopher Pike book at 12 and I recall thinking there was too much kissing and stopped reading it. So I was aware what I was comfortable with at that age, and I’d argue so are most teens.

    But at 14-15 I was reading Terry Goodkind (OMG leather-wearing dominatrix) and John Marsden and Louise Cooper, and I learnt about sex and violence and relationships and drugs in a distinctly adult setting. I wish YA had been it’s own force when I was younger, because I would have much preferred to learn about these things in a different, more appropriate (specifically for me) setting.

    Shaheen @ Speculating on SpecFic.

  3. Wow. Well said. I’ve always believe that kids self-select books that are right for them, but I never thought about them skimming over parts that might exceed their ability to fully comprehend. You are awesome! Thanks for giving me some fresh insight!

  4. I think that as children become teenagers it is important to allow them to explore the things they are curious about (mature movies, books, music, etc) with their parents. If parents aren’t watching the “questionable” movie with their kids, their kids will go somewhere else to watch it. I am sure the same applies to books. I’m a mother of 3 young children, but I hope that as they grow older and curious they will ask me questions and we can explore together. I will teach my children morals and virtue, so I hope that by the time they are 14, we can have a conversation about what is “right” and what is “wrong” with new things we see. By then, if I haven’t impressed the character they need to distinguish between inappropriate and appropriate behavior, then I have probably lost the battle.

  5. Wow great article and awesome answer. I applaud J fir seeking the answer this way. If she were my daughter I would be overjoyed that she was mature enough to question this and therefore mature enough to make up her own mind. 14 is pretty reasonable for this book in my opinion. I have 5 girls ranging from 7 to 15

  6. Pingback: Stocktake Saturday 64 | Speculating on SpecFic

  7. I always encourage parents to read the books if they’re not certain. One of my favourite borrowers reads the same books as her son so that they can talk about them together, it’s a way for her to keep the communication going while he’s being a teenage boy full of grunts.

    But I usually tell parents that their kids should be within two years of the characters in the books if they’re concerned. The things on a 13 year olds mind are usually different to an 18 year old. But it stops parents from thinking that their eight year old can read the last couple of Harry Potter books (not just because the language is too complex) or that their 9 year old should read Twilight because “everyone else in her grade is”.

  8. well said Brigid! im twelve and i loved the Elemental books, my mom hasn’t reand them(and probably wont end up reading them), and she’s seriously missing out. i can get that parents want o protect thier kids, but if those kids aren’t given the oppitunity to live, then they’re gonna be real horrible people when they grow up, they need to be allowed to get out and try a few things (yes, reading about violense and other things like that count), because if they ddon’t, they gonna be afraid to live, afraid of what might (and most-likely won’t) happen. even if they just read about horrible, violent things happening to people, they are still able to visualise it, and understand how horrible this world can be, but if they don’t know what can happen, well, they’re not goning to know what to do, or how to handle it when they do encounter something bad.
    oh, and have any of you read “The Vincent Boys” series, yeah, not THATS innaproprieate for people our age, (yes, i have read them) 🙂

  9. I perisionally think that the only inappropriate part about the books are that there is swearing, an amount that you don’t see in your average 14-year-old book. It’s actually the first book that had swearing in it that i read and i was 15 when i read it ^^. So if you are against swear words that nowadays you hear like…everywhere.. like the f word and stuff then it’d be inappropriate. That’s al i think ^^.

    hope that helps

    cu,

    coolkidrox123 XD

  10. Pingback: Living the Fictional Dream » Appropriate Reading

  11. I just recently read your first book and gonna continue on to the second. And J’s situation here applies to me too. I’m also fourteen and my mom is also really strict on what I read, it’s kind of frustrating sometimes. I really love this post and might even show it to my mom. By the way, I also go to an all-girls Catholic school for high school..

  12. I am absolutely in love with the elemental series! I I’ve read storm and spark and am now beginning spirit! I love the merricks! My question is, why is this not a movie! My whole year 10 year level is completely inlove with the books! I know for a fact, that this would be the best movie ever made! I would defiantly pay whatever type of money to watch these books come to life! Keep writing books like these! Love, your fan Tara xoxo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *