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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Dear Parents, stop buying sex for your kids, and other tales from the YA section.

While at work on Sunday, we were quiet (as usual) and I was taking some time to flick through one of the new YA releases. The book? The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark. Published by Swoon Reads, a company whose books we have never (in my memory) have stocked before and by the looks of their website, are very much focused on the ‘romance’ genre of YA fiction. I was really getting into the story when a customer approached the desk and the following conversation ensued:
(The part of the customer will be known as Bessy)

Bessy: Cushy job if you’re allowed to read while working.

Me: Hey you f%@k, I work hard, I have three sick puppies at home that I have to support. If I want to f@%king read while its quiet, I’ll f$&king read! 
Throws copy of Guess How Much I Love You at her head for dramatic (and somewhat ironic) effect.

Of course this didn’t really happen.. I was told my outbursts at work “scare the customers” or something. I actually explained that it helps if I read some of the new material because it can be hard to recommend books to the older (11-14) kids if I don’t know what’s in them. That then leads to the age old question. What could be in kids books that we need to be careful about? Surely I can be safe knowing that if my kids have the reading ability to comprehend the book, then it must be suitable..

Well no, not really.

There is a reason we have a 12+ and YA section in the children’s department. They are roughly the same reading level but there's a huge variation in CONTENT when it comes to different sections. 

Lets take The Boy Next Door for an example. The premise sounds like a Disney Original movie that came out a few years back, boy and girl are skating partners, they’re best friends, he’s the hot guy at school and she’s the quiet book-ish type. They like each other but don’t want to strain their friendship and their partnership on the ice as they want to get to the Olympics. Sounds nice and innocent right? Reading the back of the book, this is basically all the information you can get. That is, except for the little box just above the bar code that says, ‘Suitable for Older Readers’. This is quite vague. What dictates an,older reader'? Is the language above average in difficulty and has some specialized terminology? Or, maybe it’s that after the first couple of chapters the main characters decide that, because their new routine is based on Romeo and Juliet, their lone Practices should involve episodes of heavy petting and.. you can see where this is going. It makes no apologies about its content. There is a point where our female hero undresses in front of her window so Himself can see her from his bedroom in the next house in an attempt to make him commit to his relationship with her. She is constantly plagued by the fact that he has slept with so many other girls in his car and he routinely asks her to pick up his mobile when one of his escapades gets too clingy and pretends to be another girl so she thinks he’s cheating.
Now, in fairness, I haven't finished the book yet (thanks Bessy) but you can get my point.
Actually a really great read but please take my point..

I’m not saying that teens shouldn't read this stuff, I am actually enjoying reading it myself and it would be pointless to try and censor the YA books that your 15/16 year old is reading. The more mature ones help develop their understanding of their own feelings and sexuality and so long as you talk to them about things, you shouldn't be worried. BUT if you go into a bookshop and your 12 year old picks up something that, although it may seem to be a popular title, is out of their age range or could lead to some conversations that you’re not ready to have yet maybe ask someone about it, have a look over it yourself or even Google search it; it can’t hurt. There are plenty of good books for all ages if you search for them, don’t put kids off because they’re not ready for what they’re reading.

P.S. This also rings true for violence. I had a couple of, approximately 11 year olds come in and buy If I Stay by Gayle Forman because the film was coming out. Its the one with the girl in the coma after a car crash reliving her memories while trying to decide if she wants to wake up to a world where her parents and little brother are dead.  While I personally loved that book (and the sequel), they do not dance around the violence. Just think about what the book is about. The emotional and physical elements in this book are supposed to make people feel uncomfortable, what is it going to do to a kid that’s not even in secondary school?!