View Full Version : Young Adult/Children's fiction too dark ?

Stella M
06-27-2011, 03:45 AM
Checking out a 2011 ALA list I find the following themes:

abusive father
living in a group home
father's death
fat girl
psych ward
teen murder
secret pregnancy
estranged father
dead brother
Jewish orphan
fat girl again
bleak private agonies
cancer survivor
dead sister
date rape
attempted suicide
blind teen with pneumonia is kidnapped

And no, I didn't make the last one up! Are these themes really what kids want to read about 80% of the time ? Maybe ? Some authors do it blisteringly well and I adore them and their books. But where are the clever, witty and serious novels about Other Things - not lighter, just less tragic ? Sort of a thinking girls modern Austen ? Satires, comedy of manners, comic novels, political novels ? I feel like we're always having to dig our way through this stuff to get to the gems and only finding what we want here and there, one book or author at a time. I would like a whole industry that suited me, thanks very much! Pleeaasse direct me to a blog or website with wonderful and abundant 'thinking girls fiction', so trying to find books for dd's isn't such an exercise in gloom...

06-27-2011, 06:52 AM
My response is a completely selfish one. You are listing your gems on your blog aren't you so those that follow don't need to reinvent the wheel. If those are the topics we have to look forward to in YA oh my, I'm speechless.

06-27-2011, 06:53 AM
I'm not sure what the ALA list is, but I do notice that my son's recent book selections have the common theme of missing parents: parents who have been (sometimes seemingly) killed off by unusual means or who have been kidnapped, leaving the child in the charges of a questionable caregiver. I'm assuming the theme has something to do with the emerging independence of the target audience--age 8-12 reading level--and although it does seem dark, there are typically enough silly details to keep it from becoming disturbing.

eta: I agree that many of those themes you mentioned are seriously disturbing though-date rape? Really? Yikes

06-27-2011, 06:59 AM
I don't have a website for you but when I was subbing(past tense after last Monday-we're homeschooling now!), I would look at the literature the 5th and 6th grade had. They generally had their choice of what they wanted to read and then there would be read alouds. I agree that some can be very dark. I started reading Esperanza Rising. I was only there a day, but what I read was that a girl and her mother needed to flee their home after Dad unexpectedly died because evil Uncle wanted to marry Mom. I'm sure there was more to it than that and the kids really were into it. On the other hand, they were also into the Little House books. I recall that some 6th grade girl was reading a true account of child abuse. Yes there always seemed like there was some tragedy that propelled the story.

As a kid, I really didn't want to read those. My Mom really didn't want me to read them, especially if there was a disease attached to it. I liked Paula Danziger books-The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Pistachio Prescription. I remember that the former was about if a teacher should lose her job for not saying the pledge because she didn't believe that all people were being treated equally. She was also overweight and that came into play. Judy Blume was my all time favorite. They may be to young for your kids or maybe you already read them, but they dealt with religion, puberty, divorce, scoliosis, verbal bullying, racism-difficult issues, but not in a tragic way.

I have to say that I loooove Roald Dahl as he does tragedy with satire and humor. James and the Giant Peach-Yes he's an orphan-parents killed by an escaped rhino-but then again, his mean aunts are rolled over by a giant peach, so its all good! Matilda had terrible neglectful and abusive adults, but they get theirs and the child is the hero as are other wonderful caring adults.

Hope you find what you are looking for!

06-27-2011, 07:33 AM
Honestly, I tend to shop YA fiction because it's more appealing to me than adult fiction these days. Yes, many YA stories are leaning toward darker and darker themes. I blame Disney for starting the trend of parent-killing. >:(

OK, I'm totally kidding about Disney. Well, sort of. Darker themes aimed at children have been around long before that, of course. But you are certainly correct! I like what Jessica said - for me, it really depends on *how* the tragedy or themes are dealt with in the story. Like her example of "James & the Giant Peach" - what happened there is totally unbelievable, and therefore makes for entertaining (not depressing) fiction.

06-27-2011, 07:56 AM
Getting rid of pesky parents is important - kids start to figure out who they are by identifying with other kids. But I'm with you about how parents leave the scene is important. Supportive parents who understand that letting kids have their own lives and figure out solutions on their own, a la Swallows and Amazons or Beverly Cleary are great. Books that show how kids rise above horrific events in sensitive ways, a la Katherine Paterson, Avi and Gary Paulsen, are also great. (FWIW, Esperanza Rising falls into this camp, you might want to give it a second read because it's a really wonderful book.)

I don't know where to find the good books. I'm also not up on the international scene which probably makes a huge difference. BOO and I just read "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow which was good and thought provoking. It isn't exactly light hearted but it isn't that horribly tedious I must solve a problem kind of book. I'd also recommend Doctorow's "For the Win" "Half Brother" by Kenneth Oppel is also really good, total coincidence that brother is in both titles.

I'm finding that nonfiction for general adult audience is our most reliable bet - "the Lost City of Z", the new biography of Cleopatra and Abigail Adams, Salt by Mark Kurlansky etc.

Blind girl w/pneumonia gets kidnapped? For real? Good grief.

06-27-2011, 08:20 AM
Are you talking about the YASLA nominees (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/teenreading/teenstopten/teenstopten.cfm) list? Because those are the books nominated by teens themselves meaning that I find them... well, I don't think they're the most literary offerings. And a huge percentage of them are fantasy or speculative fiction, meaning that death, kidnappings, darkness, etc. have always been standard fare - though perhaps not tackled with such realism. If you're talking about the Printz award winners and noms list (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/printzaward/previouswinners/winners.cfm), then I think there's a lot more to it than just that. I mean, you could summarize Going Bovine in that way by saying it's about "death from a rare disease" or something, but that's not what it's really about - and that's massively unfair to a really fun, trippy, question provoking book, not to mention well written.

And, of course, for context, ya'll may know what *I* (http://farrarwilliams.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/oh-please/) think of this issue. It was raised recently (in, no matter what you think of the answer, a very poorly argued piece) at the WSJ (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038.html). Two great responses I read included Holly Black's (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2011/06/06/WSJ_young_adult_literature_too_dark) and Sherman Alexie's (http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/06/09/why-the-best-kids-books-are-written-in-blood/?fb_ref=article_top&fb_source=home_oneline). I especially recommend Sherman Alexie's as it's a very well done response, though Holly Black will remind you that you were probably reading Flowers in the Attic at that age (arsenic poisoning and incest anyone?) which will make you feel guilty if you trash on Sherman Alexie or Suzanne Collins like the original article did (at least it *should*).

I guess I feel like this is really an explosion of genre fiction for teens - and many of those are themes that are standard to scifi, mystery, and horror. Kids a generation ago used to move from middle grades books straight into adult genre fiction, which is how you got thirteen year olds reading Xanth novels (oh, gosh, those sexual puns, so not right) and Anne McCaffrey (all those forced dragon matings... ew) or Stephen King (don't even get me started) or the aforementioned Flowers in the Attic or piles of war novels or adult murder mysteries... But no one ever criticized *that* because it was "adult" fiction - never mind that the audience skewed young for a long time.

I still say there are gentler, nicer YA books out there. And that, like my example above with Going Bovine, you can reduce any book to having a single element that is dark or distasteful and rule out a lot of books that really aren't dark or distasteful - every book needs to have some conflict - and I don't think things like eating disorders, bullying, peer pressure, and the like are out of line for books intended for teens. Not to mention that this doesn't tackle the question of literary quality, which I think should count for something, regardless of the themes.

06-27-2011, 08:31 AM
Oh no Flowwrs In The attic and Stephen King, that is exactly what I was reading in high school lol!!

06-27-2011, 09:03 AM
Yep, me too. Flowers in the Attic - the whole series, My Sweet Audrina - still gives me the creeps, Stephen King, Xanth novels (and a bunch of other Piers Anthony stuff), Clive Barker (seriously creepy dude), HP Lovecraft. Even "classics" like Robert Heinlein touched on some pretty adult themes. How about Flowers for Algernon? Love that book but I wouldn't call it cheerful. Lord of the Flies?

My oldest gets to read quite a bit of "quality" literature thanks to Honors and AP English classes but she's also read just about every YA vampire series out there (as well as at least one not so "young" adult one - the Sookie Stackhouse series).

06-27-2011, 09:05 AM
This has been an issue for me in picking books for Orion, because he's so sensitive, he really does NOT want to read that kind of thing. What I did was scoured the web for a number of teen reading lists, then one by one read about the book on amazon, to get a better picture of the book. The darker ones usually had at least one mom of a sensitive kid complaining.

Heron, otoh, complained when I gave her books w sexual content. The Pern series, maybe in8th grade?

06-27-2011, 10:44 AM
This resonates with me: my now 8yo reads voraciously to the point that I can't pre-read everything like I used to (I still try to read reviews and skim parts). It's very hard to find age-appropriate books at her reading level, let alone enough to feed her reading habit! She likes light and happy with some adventure, which is getting increasingly tough to come by, especially that is well-written. I'm realizing that's probably why I stopped reading fiction in middle school -- unless it was assigned I only read nonfiction from age 11 until college.

06-27-2011, 11:54 AM
YA is such a recent thing that it seems disingenuous to me to talk about it "becoming" so dark. Even just 20 years ago, books that would now obviously be considered YA were published and shelved with adult literature in the bookstores - like Youth in Revolt by CD Payne or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chblosky or Girl by Blake Nelson - all clearly meant to be "YA" but YA was so new that they were shelved with the adult lit (at least in Borders and Barnes and Noble). And books like The Giver, which is also clearly YA to me, were shelved with what we now think of as "middle grades" books.

Publishers got smart about the need to fill that gap between reading "children's books" and reading "adult books." That's what YA is - it's marketing. Unlike all the other categories in children's literature, the designation has very little to do with reading level. While YA tends to be longer, Harry Potter brought us MG tomes so that doesn't define it at all. There are many MG books with harder and more sophisticated vocabularies and writing styles than YA books as well, so that doesn't define it. The emotional issues that YA deals with and the idea that these are books that would appeal to teens is the *only* thing that defines it as a genre. So I don't think it's surprising that you get so many dark YA books.

But more than that, I think most teens do have to deal with a lot of this sort of stuff. Sigh.

I do think there should be more gentle YA books though. And more bridging the gap books between MG and YA. But the push has been so strongly for genre and high concept in the last few years that quiet books, while they're out there, have been shuffled aside.

I have two more recs for you dd, Melissa - has she read Wendy Mass? It's a little on the younger side, but decent contemporary stuff - sort of a bridge the gap between MG and YA sort of thing. Also, how about Anna and the French Kiss? Oh, and I just read As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth and I like that. None of those are dark. :)

06-27-2011, 01:16 PM
Should add "dark" is relative. When I was a kid Charlotte's Web was too dark, and that they MADE us watch Watership Down every darn year from 4th grade thru 8th...<<twitch, twitch, I'm ok now...the nightmares stopped...>>

Fortunately, DD8 is built of sterner stuff, but DD6 is very sensitive, so I'm not looking forward to her reading novels. I don't think it's just about YA books, either. Even children's books either seemed aimed at boys with violence or lowbrow humor, or unicorns and princesses being rescued. I don't need dcs heads filled with stories of cruelty, violence, or romance for QUITE a few more years...if at all before adulthood.

Books and movies require the suspension of disbelief and connect on a deep emotional level. This makes them powerful, and perhaps sometimes even dangerous? I'd rather they learn about the real inequities of the world and interpersonal relationships from the real world, rather than viscerally experience someone else's imagined ones. ...sorry, just thinking aloud...

06-27-2011, 03:11 PM
Interesting conversation. I feel like we've finally found really wonderful, imaginative books now that DS is reading in the 8-12 range. When he was a preschooler all he wanted to read (have read to) was non-fiction, mostly dry books about architecture, trains and how cars work. Really dull stuff to read but he soaked it up, wasn't interested in fantasy/picture books much at all but wanted to read books all day long (mama was of course happy to oblige). Then came easy readers, to him it was just boring stuff that didn't teach much so what was the point? Still, not so interested in fiction unless it was really involved and we read it to him (Charlotte's Web was a big hit, if a tearful one). But finally, oh! now he's all about fiction and mystery and thrill and silliness and it's just so wonderful to see him soak it all in. This is the reading level/topics he's been waiting for and the choices seem endless. I'm curious to know what about this age group is too dark, or too limited. Maybe it's more suited toward boys? Although, he's not interested in violence or "boy humor" so those types aren't even on his radar.

I think I got off topic again, probably rambling on about the wrong age group. Is YA mostly geared toward girls? It seems boy interests have no limitations when it comes to good literature out there. Or maybe I'm not looking far enough ahead.

06-27-2011, 03:36 PM
I love young adult novels. I to was reading Flowers in the Attic and Stephen King. I let my son read almost anything he chooses. He is almost 12.. A lot of young adults are dealing with that stuff. Date rape, lack of parents, suicidal thoughts. So for me. If some kid can read a book and relate to the character,and hopefully the book helps them. So be it. I agree there should be softer young adult novels out there for the kids who don't like them. I for one get a lot out of there characters in a well written young adult. Books have been my form of escapism.

06-27-2011, 03:49 PM
Interesting conversation. I feel like we've finally found really wonderful, imaginative books now that DS is reading in the 8-12 range.

I think it depends on sensitivity and volume.

Last year, she ws upset that Jack was mean to the Ogre at the top of the beanstock, so she wrote an alternate ending where Jack apologized and worked in the Ogre's garden to pay for what he stole. This year she's more able to take stuff in stride.

At Christmastime, she was reading a book a week, no problem. In Jan she started reading a book every day or two, and it was tough to find 5,000 pages of GOOD age-appropriate literature each month! I mean, a dozen good books is easy, but she read literally hundreds so far this year. She's slowed down a bit (2-4 books a week), which is more manageable for me. :D

06-27-2011, 05:21 PM
Hm, I guess we don't have to deal with the sensitivity issue so I'm not sure what that would encompass. What types of books is she reading? I think there probably is a huge difference is what interests most boys vs most girls at this age, though we've been trying to keep up on the "girl" literature as long as we can. I just think it's good to get different perspectives and styles. DS really loved the Little House on the Prairie series, for example.

Did you see the Mensa for Kids summer book list that Teri posted? A lot of the books are quite old and we wondered how relevant they might be, but so far DS is really enjoying reading them. Perhaps you'll find some gentler books there? Some of them are quite challenging for this age group.

06-27-2011, 05:29 PM
I feel funny talking about this distinction, because I stepped on someone's toes by accident in another thread. So please, no one take offense, but books geared toward kids age 8-12 are absolutely not the books we're talking about here - or at least, I'm pretty sure that's not the books Melissa meant in her OP - because they are NOT YA books. Those books (including Charlotte's Web) are referred to in the publishing world as "middle grades" books. The award given to middle grades books is the Newbery. There are a few darker titles out there and there have always been "issue books," but MG books are mostly pretty gentle still. The terminology for children's lit seems to be a bit confusing to some people on the other end too because those early chapter books that kids read so voraciously (like Magic Treehouse level books) are called "chapter books" in the publishing world - which many people use to refer to middle grades books, which are of a higher level.

YA books are geared toward kids 12 or 13 and up, though obviously there's some overlap. There are some YA titles that are fine for younger readers - especially light fantasy sorts of things (I wouldn't hesitate to let a 10 or 11 year old read Tamora Pierce or Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series for example) and there are some middle grades titles that are good into teen years (Harry Potter, for example).

ETA: Oh, and there are more girl YA books than boy books, but that's going to change. There are already many good "boy" YA titles out there. It's not an intentional designation, but rather a reflection of the fact that publishers saw that girls wanted those gap books more than boys, who were happier to go off and read Stephen King in the first place and still are. And the fact that the biggest YA smash hit turned out to be about sparkly vampires for girls (a.k.a. Twilight) has influenced what you see on the shelf.

06-27-2011, 06:32 PM
Thanks for all that Farrar. I figured I'd wandered off the conversation path as I'm apt to do. But I appreciate hearing the difference, and about my assumption that more YA books are probably more geared toward girls than boys (it's unfortunate that there is such a distinction, but there's no denying it). I'm still interested in what Cat's daughter is reading (I'm so nosy!:) ), but maybe that's best left for another thread.

Sorry Melissa, for seemingly always going off topic....

Stella M
06-27-2011, 07:00 PM
Oh god, don't say sorry to me, I'm the Queen of taking things off track! Idk, it still seems to me that the publishing industry has a pretty one dimensional view of teens - that they are either into the supernatural or 'issues'. I know those books I listed in my OP ( American Library Association ) are 'more' than their premise, but in my own experience of the teens around me, their interests are way more diverse than that.

Part of the problem for me is that middle grade books seem to be much better at covering a wide range of genres, tones, approaches, subject matter. When it comes to middle grade, there's a world of amazing books out there that really seem to speak to the imaginative richness of this age group, and children and parents are spoilt for choice.

Move 'up' to YA and it feels to me that there isn't that same range. Some fabulous books, of course, but it's a bit like going fishing. You have to be patient and hope you come up with something good and it can be a long time between fish. Maybe I'm just not a very good YA fisherman :)

Thinking back to my own early teen reading, I had a year or so of treading water and reading a lot of Agatha Christies etc. So maybe my kids just need to tread water too until they feel like diving into adult fiction and the more unique ? YA. Eldest dd is getting there - she just read 'Caleb's Crossing' and 'The Guernsey Literary etc' and enjoyed those.

Thanks for the recommendations for dd Farrar. She's liking Donnelly.

Oh, and just to clarify, I'm not concerned about the subject matter being inappropriate. I'm concerned about it being repetitive and unimaginative. I too read Flowers in the Attic - sugared doughnuts anyone ? - and I wasn't into censorship then, nor am I now.

And strangely enough, I feel I like the boy YA better than the girl YA. Not sure why ? Maybe less repetitive and more imaginative ? Better written ?

06-27-2011, 09:07 PM
I have very mixed feelings on this one.

I read a lot of this type of book as a teen (no, I don't think it's a new phenomenon), and I do think that books dealing with horrific, realistic abuse, suicidal depression, and things like that can lead kids to really bad places mentally. Vicarious trauma, or what have you.

At the same time, I understand their niche, and that kids who have experienced these things benefit from seeing others dealing with the same problems and finding solutions. But I feel that it's a fine balance, and that some YA authors may not be particularly concerned about or aware of that balance.

Some books do it pretty well - Thirteen Reasons Why is an exploration of teen suicide, date rape, and bullying that I think sends a positive, helpful message overall. But, in my experience, that's kind of unusual. While this type of book generally ends on a positive or hopeful note, it's totally overshadowed by the events of the story.

(I don't quite consider Flower in the Attic to fall into this category. It's over-the-top, implausible, with nice plucky characters who, for the most part, remain remarkably mentally stable throughout. Beyond that whole incestuous rape bit, of course.)

06-27-2011, 09:09 PM
farrarwilliams~Thanks for the link to Sherman Alexie and your blog post.

My daughter, the YA reader, doesn't like the vampire stuff, but dark doesn't bother her. Because she is sheltered by distance to town and not religion, she can experience through reading what she sees on her trips to town and knows exists in the world, but it isn't her world. She has read more than half the YA novels on the YASLA list. She surprises me. I thought she just read to escape into fantasy novels, but she read wider and deeper than I imagined. Adults always underestimate kids.

Stella M
06-27-2011, 10:14 PM
It's not so much that I underestimate my kids. It's more that I think the publishing industry underestimates them in terms of having -what seems to me - a narrow idea of what they think kids want. This is a frustration my girls have expressed to me, so it's not something I'm imposing on their reading experience. Between 'issues' and vampires, it can be slim pickings for them at the library.

My girls are very fast readers, which is part of the problem, as we tend to need good books in large quantity. Some books do explore 'issues' well. One that comes to mind is 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' which is a wonderful exploration of being teenage and gay. It's on the ALA list thankfully. But even teens don't live on 'issues' alone.

Anyway...just to clarify, it's not about being 'dark' or babying teens, it's about being monotonous.

06-28-2011, 12:01 AM
<sarcasm tag>Really, you think the publishing industry is monotonous? But don't we need 400 Twilight rip offs? :D</sarcasm tag>

Stella M
06-28-2011, 02:54 AM
Ok, I just read the Alexie article. That's all fine, I don't want gloom banished. I just want more choice. Idk, it just seems we talk about books for teens differently from the way we talk about books for any other group. Books as validation, as guidance. Maybe that is what's bothering me. Books being written to validate instead of to be a very good book. I don't much care about being validated when I read, but then I'm not a orphaned anorexic runaway :(

I honestly don't remember reading a book at that age and feeling 'seen' or 'recognized'. I remember loving that books could take me into the real, grown-up world, the world I couldn't wait to enter - ha! I wanted to get as far away as possible from teen issues! I guess there wasn't as much YA back in the day though. 'The Outsiders' and Judy Blume.

06-28-2011, 08:02 AM
I guess there wasn't as much YA back in the day though. 'The Outsiders' and Judy Blume.

I always thought of Outsiders (and other SE Hinton) and Judy Blume as middle grades rather than YA. I know my dd first read the Outsiders in 6th grade (its one of her favorites) and I'm not sure she ever read much Judy Blume. I know I read it in pre-middle school years.

I can't complain too much about my dd's liking for vampires since some of them do have a decent storyline (yeah, I've read most of them too - I'm always looking for stuff to read) and they are what got her into reading more. They were what "clicked" for her and made her see how enjoyable reading could be. She has expanded beyond them and is a very good, fast reader these days.

06-28-2011, 09:12 AM
Yeah, SE Hinton and Judy Blume (her older kids stuff anyway) is sort of in between. Old style YA. But those are from an era when children's books weren't marketed to kids at all. They were marketed to librarians.

06-28-2011, 10:06 AM
Yeah, SE Hinton and Judy Blume (her older kids stuff anyway) is sort of in between. Old style YA. But those are from an era when children's books weren't marketed to kids at all. They were marketed to librarians.

Good point. I definitely learned about books through librarians and teachers mostly. There definitely wasn't a YA section of the library when I was growing up. My brother and I LIVED at the library. We used to walk there just about every day after school - if we weren't home when mom got home from work, she'd call the library. The librarians knew us by name. They had the children's section - which included all the Hardy Boys, Judy Blume and SE Hinton stuff, along with Peanuts comics all mixed in with the little kids picture books - and the adult section - I was so nervous the first time I checked a book out from there, I felt like the librarian was going to tell me I wasn't old enough, I think I was 12 or 13.

Our main local library has a children's room that is divided into picture books, early readers and chapter books; a YA section that has a separate section for Graphic Novels; and the Adult section which has separate areas for Large Type, Horror, Mystery and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Non-Fiction is divided by childrens and adults (and of course, by the Dewey Decimal system).

It definitely seems like it has gotten more complicated to decide where to put things, yet theoretically easier to find what you are looking for.

06-28-2011, 02:32 PM
Hm, I guess we don't have to deal with the sensitivity issue so I'm not sure what that would encompass. What types of books is she reading? I think there probably is a huge difference is what interests most boys vs most girls at this age, though we've been trying to keep up on the "girl" literature as long as we can. I just think it's good to get different perspectives and styles. DS really loved the Little House on the Prairie series, for example.

Did you see the Mensa for Kids summer book list that Teri posted? A lot of the books are quite old and we wondered how relevant they might be, but so far DS is really enjoying reading them. Perhaps you'll find some gentler books there? Some of them are quite challenging for this age group.

To answer your Q: right now she's reading Inkspell (DragonRider [by C. Funke] is her fav book, liked Inkheart but Inkspell seems to be a bot if a slog for her); she's halfway thru Lion, Witch and Wardrobe series as well as on book 8 of Ga'Hoole series (I think we'll stop at book 15); has read about half of the Mensa grades 4-6 book list plus many of the classics like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Hobbit, etc. Plus a ton of adult nonfiction (for nonfiction, I tend to get a selection across all grades and let her pick and choose; she tends to gravitate towards the high school and adult stuff, but reads it all). Her cousin gave her a bag of hand-me-down books, and she read one of the Princess School books and liked it, so I picked up the others form the library. So she likes some easy reads as well. I'm all for variety.

So far she's been my perfectionist, introverted and hard to read, gender neutral, not-too-dark-or-to-crazy kid. Her 6yo sister is all creativity and imaginary worlds, pretty pink unicorns and princesses with a mile-wide streak of fearless daredowell. In truth I think they help balance each other out and are good influences.

I am all for censorship (parental) for the under 18yo crowd, mainly because I believe in the early years what they see and read forms their view of "normal" and so no, I don't believe in bombarding them with a ton of (for them) irrelevant issue books (also don't choose many about bullying in school, etc). I believe sexuality is pushed sooner on kids and Disney-esque (or worse, Twilightesque) "romances" rot the kiddo brain and sets them up to pick their beaus badly. It bothers me that sooo much of "girl" oriented YA lit is all about wistfully sighing over cute boys. Dont' get me wrong, I love a good romance, but I wish I'd been exposed more to the idea that the measure of a lover was less about smoldering eyes and a tight posterior and more about willingness to gently hold the head of a vomiting 5yo while you strip the bedsheets. Or maybe more about how you come into being your own full person BEFORE you can find a mate to canoodle with? As the kdis get older, I think more books that challenge their view of the world are good. I just like them to have a chance to make their own opinions first, and if my 8yo cannot comprehend racism or gender inequality, that's fine by me. She'll have plenty of opportunities to see the dark and injust.

Ok, I think I've taken this as far OT as I can! LOL Like I said, the subject resonates with me. :)

ETA: Dislike Judy Bloom books.

06-28-2011, 04:23 PM
Farrar, as always, thank you for your thoughtful answers. Why bother with a book that doesn't have any conflict? For me the difference lies in whether the problem the only reason for the book a la the sick blind kidnapped teen (pneumonia? that's the best they could come up with? I mean, at work yesterday we had to deal with a trauma where a teen who was riding with her boyfriend on his motorcycle may end up losing a leg because they were hit by a drunk driver. Granted she's not blind but talk about very real and horrific problems.) or whether the author has the skill to bring a character through some of the awful things that do happen. I also appreciate that writing for kids old enough to drive but not old enough to drink is an entirely different scenario than writing for children and young adolescents.

It is depressing to wander through the YA section in the local chain bookstore and see so little interesting writing. Of course I wander through the adult sections and find very little interesting writing so maybe I'm just fussy.

Reading dark writing is like having a fire drill - you get to rehearse responses in safety so when the fire breaks out you don't have to panic. So I hope that Sherman Alexie, Suzanne Collins and Cory Doctorow keep writing.

06-28-2011, 04:36 PM
Agreed, Pefa. And the quality of the writing is often just lacking in every way. Shock for the sake of shock... Blah. I'm happy to report my personal opinions of what's junk. But they're just that... my own personal take. I'm hesitant to call everything junk or try to say that it's "bad" because of the topic. Thirteen Reasons Why is a great example of a book with a dark theme that manages to deal with it in a well done way. So just reading the book flap feels like a way out to me - even if I know a lot of it probably is crap.

As for censoring what your kids read... Well, sure, that's why we put the graphic novels up high, don't you know. But honestly, 18? That's not my cutoff. By the time the kids are 12, I'm basically okay with them reading whatever they want. No matter how dark.

Stella M
06-28-2011, 07:00 PM
Dark is good!
Dark is fine!
When it is not
All the time!

What I would
Love to see
Is books with
More variety!

My cut-off is about 4! You would like me to cease reading you award winning picture books honey and start reading you Clone Wars books that are full of battles and weapons and bad guys and death ? Sure.

06-28-2011, 07:30 PM
Well, define read anything... I don't hand my kids things I think are really subpar (Junie B., I'm looking at you) or things I think are gross (certain comics come to mind...) or things I think are a little dark for this age (like, say, the later Harry Potter volumes). But if they find and want to read them themselves, fine. On the other hand, I told BalletBoy to get his hands out of my Sandman, Love and Rockets, Scott Pilgrim, and Fables comics. Because... NO. That's just not age appropriate in any way. But when he's 12 or so... eh... whatever. Have at it, kid. I read all kinds of crazy things when I was that age and I came out fine.

Stella M
06-28-2011, 07:47 PM
Anything image based I'm stricter about. Not so much with words. From about 4/5 I'd read anything text based a child brought to me, which tend to not to be boring, dense text adult novels! From about 10 I'd 'let' a child read anything, letting them first know what they could expect to encounter in the book and giving them a chance to consider their desire to read it. "This book has some really graphic and disturbing deaths. Are you sure you want to go ahead with it ?" Mostly, mine self censor, so it doesn't end up being a real issue. Anything they have read that I've seriously disapproved of, I read as well so at least we can discuss it. Like the whole vampire birth thing in one of the Twilight books, where the girl is basically tortured to the point of death by the birth of a vampire-child - we had a good talk about that, how it was a fantasy genre, how that birth doesn't represent the reality of birth ( mostly! ) blah blah. But it doesn't come up that much. I suppose with a child over 16 I wouldn't even presume to do that much.

Kids end up reading the books they want anyway, in secret. I'd rather they read in the open.

Under 4/5 though, I'm a dragon. It's literature all the way!

06-28-2011, 07:57 PM
But for me at least, the problem is the teens want good books that don't upset or offend them. My kids are just strangely uptight. Heron got mad at me for recommending books which included sex scenes when she was a young teen and Orinoco found Enders game too disturbing when he was 11 . . . Tho dh just read it to Raven, who was fine with it. Next on my list for Orion is Little Women, which was interrupted when he got Kane chronicles or something for a present. He liked all creatures great and small. It's son hard sometimes!

Stella M
06-28-2011, 08:02 PM
Yes, my eldest is like that - though she handles 'sad' ok, just not scary or gruesome. DD12 pushes the envelope a bit more as far as violence and the supernatural goes, but she can't handle any of the death/illness stories. Also she handed back the DragonRider book to me and rather prudishly told me it wasn't appropriate for her as there was too much sex! And she gets me to tear out the sealed section of her 'Girlfriend' magazine because it has health related questions that she can't handle.

Yes, it's tricky.

06-28-2011, 09:03 PM
Dragonrider?!? Really... Oh, wait, you don't mean the one by Cornelia Funke. You mean the series by Anne McCaffery. Yeah. Those books are way sexist and weird though.

And that birth scene in the final Twilight book? Really, I never type OMG, but OMG! The plot of her "adult" novel The Host also revolves around a hyper-violent birth story, which makes me curious to know Stephenie Meyer's birth stories for her kids, cause it must be crazy.

It's true... poor BalletBoy does not need to see some of the pictures in those comics. But even if it was, say, Dragonrider that he brought me, I would say, hey, wait on that one and find him something else. At least for awhile. I guess if he insisted. But he wouldn't. My kids rarely insist, especially not BalletBoy.

Stella M
06-28-2011, 09:12 PM
It might be called something different, can't remember, but yeah, the weird Anne McCaffery one...

And Bella should have gone to cooking school instead. That last Twilight book probably challenged me most of anything the kids have wanted to read, 'cos dd was only 10 when she read it, and not only was it highly inappropriate but it was also the most poorly written series I've ever read. I asked her later if she regretted reading them. She said no, but that she was 'quite scarred'...ha! You can't win. If I hadn't let her read them, she'd have felt 'scarred' by that...

06-29-2011, 08:46 AM
I've never really censored what my oldest reads but I never really had to. Until her early teens, she basically read what her teachers recommended. We would occassionally discuss what she thought about things - like The Lord of the Flies - but for the most part they were appropriate and she's not particularly senstive.

I gave her The Outsiders to read when whe was 12. She read Twilight at about 13 years old. I didn't give it to her - her stepmother did. I read them right after her and then we had a nice discussion about some of the more....lame stuff. In general, dd is very level-headed and thought the whole can't live without him, I'd die for him bs was....bs (even at 13 and even more so at 17).

I don't do it too much anymore (she is 17) but she would often show me what she was reading, often I would/had read it as well and then we could discuss it. There were a few times she saw me reading something and asked to read it. Only one of these did I really have to consider it and, while I did let her read it, I told her some of what to expect and discussed it with her after she finished it - Water for Elephants. She read it when she was 14 (her Freshman English teacher was very impressed :rolleyes::rolleyes:).

My mother never censored what I read and rarely discussed it with me. While some things have stayed with me, I don't think anything had a profound effect on my attitudes. Maybe because I read a lot and a wide variety of stuff - no one thing was able to have a huge, life-altering impact.

I definitely agree that I am more careful about images that the kids see - whether it would be graphic novels or movies/television. DD HATES horror movies and tends to be very sensitive to those types of images, so I've always helped her with avoiding them.

My younger two are still at the listening to picture books/early chapter books stage. I guess I will have to start thinking about where we are going to go with this once they are reading on their own. DS doesn't seem particularly sensitive at this point.

06-29-2011, 11:58 AM
My biggest concern with YA books are the emotional/sexual relationships. I'm not a prude with my kids, they know about sex (age appropriately), but I think that a lot of the relationships are so unhealthy (Twilight springs to mind, of course). As an adult, I can read about unhealthy relationships and recognize them as such, but she can't. And, IMO, neither can most teens. Some are more susceptible/romantic than others, but I think it's the rare teen who really has a good handle on that stuff. Books and movies that glorify unhealthy relationships can be dangerous for some kids, I think. I was hugely dysfunctional in that way as a teen, I had a serious bad boy/loser/pretentious asshole fascination going on that lasted well into my 20s. I had a crush on Mickey Rourke in Barfly, if that gives you a frame of reference. So anyway, I think you have to be careful. Theoretically, I don't want to censor. Realistically, I probably will, at least until she's high school age. I don't actually have much of a worry about my older dd, she's pretty skeptical about everything, and not really a romantic. My younger one, I would worry about.

My library has a section called Juvenile YA, which is separate from Juvenile (middle grades books) and the normal YA which is mostly filled with sexy vampires. I let my dd have pretty much free reign in there, because from what I've seen it's pretty much appropriate. There might be some scary stuff, but she likes that. No date rape, or cutting, or sexy vampires.

06-29-2011, 03:52 PM
Yes, my eldest is like that - though she handles 'sad' ok, just not scary or gruesome. DD12 pushes the envelope a bit more as far as violence and the supernatural goes, but she can't handle any of the death/illness stories. Also she handed back the DragonRider book to me and rather prudishly told me it wasn't appropriate for her as there was too much sex! And she gets me to tear out the sealed section of her 'Girlfriend' magazine because it has health related questions that she can't handle.

Yes, it's tricky.

Anne McCaffery started out as a porn writer but found she could make more $ in the fantasy genre. Need I say more?

Stella M
06-29-2011, 05:36 PM
Ha! Really ?! Who knew ?!

06-29-2011, 05:40 PM
She started out in PORN!:_o:

Okay, that totally makes sense too.

As for sparkly... or sexy... vampires... Twilight is such a good example of how YA doesn't have to have anything too gruesome or dark or even sexual (the last book and therefore that birth scene and pillow sex scene excepted, of course) and yet can still be really messed up. I mean, she fell for her stalker! And the stalking is played up as sexy! Also, the writing... oh, the writing! :vomit: (<- and here I thought when I saw that new smilie that there was no way I would ever, ever use the vomit one. I was clearly wrong.)

06-29-2011, 06:15 PM
Yes, it's the effed up (I have been really careful about swearing here because it seems like people don't do it, but it's hard! On my other regular board we all sound like sailors) emotional aspects of the relationships that bug me. It glamorizes co-dependency.

Stella M
06-29-2011, 06:20 PM
We had some serious discussions about getting a life before getting a man, post-Twilight. But also about how it can be hard to have perspective when young love is involved. So even effing rubbish - that's for you Eileen! - can serve a purpose.

06-29-2011, 08:25 PM
I think that's definitely true if you have the kind of kid you can trust to question it, or at least discuss it with you.

06-30-2011, 11:40 AM
NPR article today on new YA fiction: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/30/137456199/hooray-for-ya-teen-novels-for-readers-of-all-ages

06-30-2011, 12:58 PM
Ten Miles Past Normal and Delirium are already on my reading list radar, but I had not heard of the others. Cool. :)

06-30-2011, 03:10 PM
Those look great. I want to read them myself.

06-30-2011, 05:44 PM
At our library, all the novels intended for minors are shelved together. I may have to complain at some point. I was looking for a book for DS, and ran across a YA book with a pink cover with something about virginity in the title. I can totally see some little early reader grabbing it on the basis of the cover.

(On the upside I guess, it didn't look like a particularly dark book!)

Stella M
06-30-2011, 05:54 PM
Thanks for this link Cara :) I had to laugh when I read in the description of 10 Miles Past Normal "Worst of all, her mother is a blogger." Who knew blogging was so embarrassing to one's offspring ?! I'm going to buy the girls that book :)

06-30-2011, 07:21 PM
The Walden awards were just announced:

Not necessarily undark... but I read Last Summer of the Death Warriors and liked it very much, even if it's not a cheerful tale.

Stella M
06-30-2011, 10:47 PM
Thanks for that link.

I have three books for my girls! Yay! Wolves, Boys and Other Things etc, Sorta Like a Rock Star and 10 Miles Past Normal. Excellent.

07-07-2011, 11:56 AM
Melissa, one of our local radio shows just covered the topic of dark teen lit. I thought they had a nicely balanced panel of guests.
Here's a link to the audio if you're interested: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=137174977&m=137174960

07-08-2011, 06:00 AM
I read The Hunger Games over the weekend. I know I have relatively young children but I couldn't see myself allowing my teen to read that....goodness knows what else I'll uncover over the years to come.....

07-08-2011, 09:14 AM
Really, Kylie? Huh. I would have no problem with it. There's some purposefully over the top violence in it (and some purposefully over the top fashion too!) but the message of the whole series is so clearly anti-war. Both Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games and her Gregor series, which I also love, have very similar themes about how war, even "justified" war has deeply negative impacts on individuals. Both series also deal with people being caught as pawns during times of war and to what extent we have control of our own lives amid violence and governments. In other words, there's enough meaty discussion there that I wouldn't hesitate to let the vast majority of kids over 12 or 13 read it if they were interested. Collins' Gregor series, by the way, is middle grades, so it's intended for slightly younger kids.

07-08-2011, 07:00 PM
I am yet to read the order two in the series...mmmmmm that's giving it my son in 2 years, don't think so, possibly an older teen. Whilst I agree that it definitely could spark meaty discussions it could also really scare them lol or maybe I'm just being an over protective mum!

I'll grab the Gregor series and check that out though.

Stella M
07-08-2011, 07:07 PM
I've read them and I wouldn't have a problem giving them to my girls to read if they asked - in fact, we went to the bookshop to buy the first one for dd12 - but she decided against it once she'd had a browse through. Different kids have different comfort levels with book violence and I think you can pretty much trust them to be self selecting about books in their comfort range.

I wouldn't require them as reading for teens.

Thanks 'Mum' for the link.

07-08-2011, 08:03 PM
I would have no problem letting my dd read the Hunger Games after maybe age 10 or so. She's 8 and would probably like it now, but I think the emotional/sexual aspect of it might be a little beyond her.

07-08-2011, 10:03 PM
Eileen, she could try the Gregor books. Still some dark themes, but much more middle grades style - and without the romance and emotional aspect.

I actually think of The Hunger Games as not too bad in the whole scheme of things.

07-09-2011, 12:14 PM
I loved the Hunger Games. I let my 11 year old read them. Yet, I rarely censor his reading. Course he is not interested in a lot of adult type books. So I really don't have to worry.

08-26-2011, 03:14 PM
I started picking books out of the adult section by 6th grade. I had one teacher who let us choice any book we wanted to do book reports on. I did mine on Stephen King's It. My oldest is only 8, so we'll see where his interests lie. Since he wanted us to read Goosebumps books outloud to him at 4 and started the Harry Potter books at 6, I figure Stephen King will likely start up in a few years. I'll read books with ODS if I'm not sure if he can handle the content and we'll discuss them.

08-26-2011, 07:04 PM
Don't think YA is any darker than it was even 40 years ago. For example: "Go Ask Alice", "Are You in the House Alone", "The Girl in the Box", and Robert Cormier's entire catalog.

It's just marketed much better now. It's also more often fantasy based these days, and imo, targets an adult audience as much as young teen.