Do you have a child who is moving from Juvenile Fiction to Young Adult books? Do you ever worry about Young Adult books being, well, too adult?
If so, you are not the only person to have this concern. Youth Services has a bibliography called “Books that won’t make you blush” for those parents and kids looking for the tamer offerings of the YA world.
I first came across this issue three years ago, when I bought my then-sophomore daughter the book Red Rising by Pierce Brown. My daughter, like many teens, is a fan of all things dystopian: The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, etc. etc. etc. She had read everything she could get her hands on in this genre, and I thought the story of rebellious Darrow the Red, a member of the lowest caste in a color-coded society of the future, sounded right up her alley. I don’t remember where I came across the title, but it was brand new and billed as Young Adult, so I bought it in hardcover and wrapped it up for Christmas.
Well, I got around to reading the book before my daughter did, AND I LOVED IT. Despite the saturation of dystopian fiction in recent years, I found it wholly original. I just got chills re-reading the book description on Amazon for this blog. I wish I could read the book again for the first time! I wish Pierce Brown would come to the Chippewa Valley Book Festival! I wish he’d write another book! I love good, strong, long-suffering Darrow, and I love his nemesis– the deliciously evil Adrius au Augustus (AKA The Jackal)–even more. I mean, move over Darth Vader! The characters, the world, the plot—it’s all leap-off-the page vibrant.
AND arrestingly violent. One of the most violent books I have ever read. And I do adult murder mysteries. The first thing I thought was, “Thank goodness my daughter didn’t read this!” The first thing I did was ask my coworkers how this book could be YA?!? And I’m not sure it is. If you look in the catalog, some libraries have it labeled and shelved it as YA and some have it as adult. What has proven for me personally to be a good rule of thumb is this: If it costs $15.00 it’s YA, and if it costs $25.00 it’s adult. (Red Rising cost $25.00 when I bought it).
But that doesn’t solve the issue of content, does it? It’s hard sometimes as both a parent and a librarian to know what kids are ready for. My daughter read Red Rising as a junior. She loved it, too. She has since read the rest of the trilogy—and they are some of the only books she has made time for in the past few years, which have been busy with other almost-adult concerns like working, driving, and applying to college. The only thing I feel for sure is that books, no matter what the content, are still a relatively gentle–and perhaps even necessary–introduction to the many, many difficult things we face in OUR world.