Are Teens Too Young for Teenage Books.

Okay,so maybe the original title of the article was “Teens, Are You Too Young for Young Adult Books,” but I think my paraphrase highlights something that must have gone over the head of the person who brought the idea to the original article, one Shoo Rayner. Who wrote this gem of an article, entitled, “The Carnegie Medal – Can Children Have Their Prize Back, Please?” In it, he has a confusing mish-mash of sentiments about how YA fiction has a far more adult tone than he thinks it ought to given the age range of the target audience, while at the same time confessing that when he was at the age that YA fiction is targeted to, he was reading adult fiction and loved it.

After James Bond, I discovered Lord of the Rings, science fiction, Agatha Christie and more. Adult books that told great stories about fantasy worlds and ideas. Nowadays they would be given a teenage protagonist and be wrapped up as Young Adult books.

Okay, he may not entirely be wrong. Sad to say. I can see it happening. Of course, I also see it not happening with just about every adult book release, so who’s to say? But he pairs this up with:

Why are we no longer surprised when kids join gangs and shoot each other on the streets? They’re conditioned to it by playing killing games on their consoles and watching endless serial killer stuff on TV. So why not in children’s books too? How else are puublishers [sic] going to compete and make a buck other than by joining in the slow moral decline? We are conditioning ourselves to accept that it’s okay for kids to kill each other.

The guy actually uses the old “video games make people violent’ argument (which has been disproven again and again) and applies it to books. The gist of his argument seems to be, “Teenagers are reading books with too much adult material in them. When I was their age, I was reading adult books!”

… Did it go over his head that by his own argument, he was reading material that was just as unsuitable as what he’s claiming kids are reading today.

Some of his argument talked about how such books are winning awards for children’s writing. I can see a little bit of beef with that. But only a little. There’s far more that goes into YA fiction than just having a teenaged protagonist. Tone, setting, relatable teen issues, all that stuff is part and parcel of the YA genre.

There’s also one big issue that he’s missing, and I think it may be a little intentional. It’s this: kids are more capable of handling stuff than most adults give them credit for. Rayner is quoted as saying that “morality is the guardian of innocence.” That’s a loaded statement right there, as morality can vary wildly from person to person to begin, just as can the ideal of innocence. Some people would argue that kids shouldn’t read material that mentions drugs, divorce, violence, or sexuality. Yet kids will encounter drugs at their schools, violence on the news, divorce in their families, and sexuality in themselves, and to be blunt, how else are they supposed to come to grips with this stuff when too many adults deem those topics taboo and don’t discuss them until it’s too late? Books are a window into a wilder world, and by denying kids and teens access to some of the darker stuff, they’re going to be in for a hell of a shock when they leave the sheltered world of their parents’ homes.

Reading a book about a teen assassin might contribute to kids joining gangs and shooting each other? Is that why, Mr. Rayner, that reading James Bond novels as a teen turned you into a smooth-talking womanizing spy? Does that logic still hold water when applying it to yourself?

Before the YA genre became a big thing, most of us went from kids books to adult books. We didn’t have much of a stopover on middle ground, because what existed was few and far between.We went to that other section of the library,and got out adult books that looked like adult books. And we didn’t end up traumatized for it. And our lack of trauma also didn’t stem from the book’s packaging; just because our adult books said they were adult books and not adult books in YA clothing doesn’t actually mean a thing.

I stand by my belief that there’s very little that a teenager can’t handle in books. I also think that there’s very little that a kid can’t handle in books, if they have sufficient reading skills to comprehend it. There are some things that I personally may think would be a bit advanced for certain age groups, but I’m not so arrogant as to claim that no child should read it because some don’t like it.

And I’m going to get on my high horse a little bit and make the bold statement that people may recognize a teen’s ability to handle things if they would just sit down and talk to that teen. You know, getting parents to actually be parents, taking responsibility that way. If you’re concerned about what your children read, make an active effort to read it yourself and then talk to them about what bothers you and might bother them. Don’t just make idiotic blanket statements about how kids can’t handle this stuff, how darker material in fiction is turning our kids into violent psychopaths. Don’t complain that YA fiction is too dark and dangerous when you know, you know that there’s material just as dark and dangerous a few aisles over in the library, that teens still have access to and will access whether you want them to or not.

Are teens too young for teen books? Are YA books inappropriate for the age range they were written to be appropriate for? No. Absolutely not. The problem often lies in the eyes of the ones who either haven’t read the books themselves, or else are too blinded by the golden glow of nostalgia that they can’t see past what used to be good and find out what’s good now.

5 comments on “Are Teens Too Young for Teenage Books.

  1. Hear hear. It seems that parents (or those advocates who speak on their behalf) want to blame everything but themselves for the way their kids behave. If it’s not video games, it’s movies. If it’s not movies, it’s music. Blaming books for kids going out and hurting one another is a very Medieval way of thinking.

    Kids should be able to read whatever they want to read – how else are they going to make their own decisions about what is good or not (both in terms of morality and in terms of the quality of the written word). Wrapping kids up in cotton wool isn’t going to change the way kids are, so the best option is to be a parent and help them rather than crusading against books because ‘somebody please think of the children!’

  2. I read all kinds of things growing up, and I turned into none of those things. I feel like books advocate for discussion, which some people probably aren’t interested in having with their kids at all. It’s “easier” for parents if their kids read G rated things, because then they can just avoid the more interesting topics altogether. Great post!

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