Hi, my lovelies! To continue #IReadYA week, I thought I’d touch on a topic that gets a lot of attention in YA:
To an extent, I kind of understand why it is so heavily emphasized in YA. The age range of readers can be anywhere from about 10 up to 19 or higher. Authors have to decide how they’re going to write the book, whether it’s targeted more toward younger readers (making it more of a Middle Grade novel) or older teens. And it’s totally fine, whichever why they decide to go with that. There are certain topics that are, socially speaking, “not appropriate” for certain age groups. Adults flinch at the idea of 10- and 11-year-olds reading about sex, for example.
Middle school is a very interesting age for reading. As a preteen, my mom didn’t really believe in censoring my books. In fact, she pointed me toward books that she enjoyed, regardless of their topics. I can vividly remember being in 7th grade and reading Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews (which famously deals with incest) and the Mary Higgins Clark classic Loves Music, Loves to Dance (which, in the first chapter, describes the dismembering of a corpse and stuffing it in a freezer). But this was also the year that I discovered Tangerine and A Great and Terrible Beauty.
Now, as a middle school teacher, I get to see the wide range of books that my students read. My students read things like The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Cutesy books. Then there are the students who read Cut by Patricia McCormick and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Sure, there are a number of adult books that find their way into their hands (Nicholas Sparks is a favorite with the girls), but it’s generally some kind of YA.
But censorship is still a concern. Our school library can’t stock any books that use the F-word or even allude to sex. That means that books like If I Stay (which uses the F-word) and Breaking Dawn (which has sex) are incredibly hard for my students to find. And it’s really awful in my opinion that these kids don’t have the opportunity to read these books if they’re interested.
It really bothers me when parents go to the level of trying to ban books that they deem inappropriate for their kids. Thankfully, that hasn’t been a huge issue in my school, but there are times when parents email us and tell us they are uncomfortable with their child reading our selected book. (We had a girl this fall whose parents wouldn’t let her read The Outsiders because of the violence.)
And again, to an extent, I understand their desire to protect their children from the harsh realities of the world. But at the same time, haven’t they seen all of this in movies, heard it in music, or, even more likely, noticed these events happening in the news? They’ve heard curse words, they’ve seen violence on TV (the American Psychiatric Association estimates that by the age of 18, a child has witnessed 16,000 simulated murders on television), and I can guarantee by the time they reach middle school, they know about sex. In fact, as icky as it may make you feel to think about it, some middle schoolers are already having sex.
Books that deal with harsh realities are sometimes their only way of knowing how to approach these problems. Kids can sort of role-play what it would be like to be in that character’s shoes and dealing with that problem. Would they go to a trusted adult or go to a friend like the character? Did it turn out well for the character choosing that path? What could they do differently?
Truly, I do believe that students censor their own books. They choose books that interest them. If they have no interest in a certain topic, they don’t read it. It’s a novel idea that students are actually able to decide for themselves what is appropriate. When my mom started recommending all those Mary Higgins Clark books for me, I slowly started abandoning them and finding books that better fit me–books like A Girl Named Disaster. I chose for myself books that were appropriate for my age and interests. And today’s teenagers are more than capable of doing that as well.
Essentially, censorship boils down to parents having control over their child’s life. They want to have the right to say their child can read this, but not that. They don’t want the books their child reads to raise questions.
In this lovely article, Judy Blume talks about the struggles she’s had with censorship, especially once where someone called her a Communist for mentioning menstruation and religion in her books. She asserts that censorship stems from fear, and “fear is often disguised as moral outrage.” Even better, she explains that parents censor books in hopes that their children won’t know about these topics and if they don’t know about these topics (like drugs or sex), then they don’t exist.
The moral to the story: let students censor books for themselves. If they deem something inappropriate for themselves (and by “inappropriate”, I simply mean “not a good fit”), they will choose something else. It happens every year when students begin to read Night by Elie Weisel and decide it’s too dark for them and choose something else. They’re more than capable of making decisions for themselves.