When I was little, my mother would sometimes pre-read books before allowing me to have them. If she was concerned that content or themes might be too adult, she’d look for herself and see. She meant well; she wanted to protect me from growing up too fast and learning things about the world that I might not want to know yet.
By the time I was a teenager, of course, I was reading books marketed to grow-ups as well as YA novels, and my mother had mostly given up. My consumption of books had far outpaced what she had time to look over, so rather than pre-reading, she would occasionally veto a prospective book purchase that looked too risqué. But of course, plenty of things slipped through the cracks – sex, violence, and dark and cynical depictions of the world.
Am I worse off for reading these books? Absolutely not.
Some critics – including children’s book correspondent Meghan Cox Gurdon, in a widely-read editorial on the Wall Street Journal – have charged that today’s YA literature is too dark and too graphic to be suitable for teenagers. But then, couldn’t the same be said of the real world?
As a teenager, reading “real” books, I was not often surprised by what I found. At my school, I encountered pregnant young women, classmates whose loved ones were incarcerated, and students who were hurting from all manners of abuse. The more “grown-up” books I read did not expose me to scary new aspects of the world; instead, they helped me to better understand the realities of the world around me.
And of course, the lack of sugar-coating in “real” books is even more important for the young people whose daily lives are directly affected by the pain and suffering that YA watchdogs would shield them from depictions of. For these children and teens, books can be a crucial escape and a lens through which to view and understand – and cope with – their own lives.
This last point was vividly and powerfully explained by Sherman Alexie, author of the acclaimed YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in an op-ed response to Gurdon on the Wall Street Journal. I strongly encourage you to read it. And next time you feel a given book might be a little much for your child or teen, stop to ask yourself – is it really?
Disclaimer: Op-eds on Thesis should not be taken to represent the views of the publication as a whole. They represent only the views of the author.