Early in June I went to Chicago’s Printer’s Row book festival, an annual weekend celebration of the printed word. I shared a booth with Barbara’s Bookstore – totally coincidental – and the Chicago Writer’s Association. I spoke to a family about PULL, and as I talked to the parents their son picked up a copy and started reading. My opening hook did it’s job and he quickly interrupted us to tell his parents, “I want this book.”
When they turned to me to purchase it a small feeling of responsibility jumped in, he looked very young. I asked, then told me their son was eleven. I mentioned that PULL was intended for 8th grade and up, and that there was language and sexual innuendo. They smiled. Their son reads voraciously, if he wanted it, that was enough for them. They intended to read the book as well–after he finished with it.
No censorship in their house.
I contrast that with a recent experience I had in a library. I was in the paperback section, where multiple genre’s are jumbled together. A girl was with her father, looking for a book. She looked to be twelve to fourteen, although you can’t always tell just by looking at a kid. (At least I can’t) She picked up a book, and her father immediately told her to put it back. The cover, while not racy, made it clear this was a paranormal romance. Dad’s comment, “Your mother wouldn’t want you reading that.” They eventually left without getting any books.
I won’t fault any parent for what they do and do not let their child read. They know their individual child best, and have every right to decide about the age appropriateness of material. Where I would find an issue is someone deciding that no child should read something. And that undercurrent keeps turning up in discussions and blogs.
I myself moved from the children’s section to the adult section around 7th grade. Somehow I made it through books laden with sex and violence and mass murder without ever become a killer or drug user myself. Go figure.
My return to reading YA came when my daughter was a teen and brought some into the house. I learned that today’s YA has depth and theme and a passion that is sometimes missing in adult books. There is sex, violence, drug usage and mayhem. Should every child read about books including these themes? Absolutely not. But should they not even be written, as one source tired to claim recently – again, absolutely not.
I hope many of you feel as I do, that no matter how edgy the theme or voice, books that touch the reality of young lives need to be written. And there is an audience out there that needs to read them to find hope.