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?
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!)