All right, look. This is going to be brief, because a thousand-and-one people out there are going to say this better than I am.
This relates to the Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Gurdon, talking about YA books:
Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?
I first heard about this article from Alison Kemper, who posted about it on her Facebook wall.
Did you see some of the “appropriate” books they recommend for teens were written 50 years ago? I’m so sick of people saying kids can’t handle what these books are about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: books are a safe way to explore the world around you.
When you can’t watch the evening news without hearing about meth addiction (Ellen Hopkins’ CRANK) or a female teacher having sex with a middle school student (Barry Lyga’s BOY TOY), or a kid being booked for murdering a classmate by lighting him on fire (RIGHT BEHIND YOU, by Gail Giles), then what’s wrong with reading books about it? I’m intrigued by Mormon polygamy due to all the media coverage and the stigmas attached to it, from the beliefs behind it to the religious sects that still practice it. Do I want to move to Utah and join a sect to give it a whirl? Do I want to practice polygamy right in my own home? No, I read THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams, and it was graphic and horrifying and downright amazing.
(All those books I just mentioned are awesome, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give them to the right teenager.)
Personally, I think it’s far safer for kids to read these things and virtually experience them than for kids to explore things they see and hear about on the news in their own way. Fifty years ago, the news wasn’t broadcast far and wide, with headline crawls and graphic images on thirty different stations. Fifty years ago, there’d be no question of whether to show the gruesome images of Osama Bin Laden’s death wound — there’d be no question, because we wouldn’t see it. The article mentions that people protested a graphic cover on a book about cutting? Because that would be too much for a teen to handle? What about when the photoshopped (yet just as disgusting) image of Osama Bin Laden’s death was all over the internet — and on the front page of some newspapers — for all to see. My four-year-old saw that picture on the newsstand at the grocery store. And we expect teens to be shocked by the image of a few razor scars?
I was discussing this issue with my husband this morning, after he read the entire article. He said, “I kind of understand what she was saying.” He then described a graphic scene in the book he was reading, a book about zombies. He said, “I don’t know if this book is marketed to teens or not, but I’d never give it to Jonathan to read.” (Jonathan is my fourteen-year-old stepson.)
I hustled to Amazon and looked up the book. Though the protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl, it’s not marketed to teens.
And you know what? My husband is handling books like this the right way. He’s reading them first.
I agree that parents need to parent. I had to think long and hard about letting Jonathan read Elemental, because it deals with some pretty strong bullying and there’s one near-date-rape. I agree that teachers need to teach, and schools have an obligation to guide teens towards appropriate books. (Much like the author of the Book Reviews and English News blog, where books are read and reviewed prior to being recommended in the school library.)
But I don’t think that anyone has an obligation to censor books. If you don’t think it’s appropriate, don’t read it.
Just don’t take that opportunity away from anybody else.