“One must always be careful of books and what is inside of them, for words have the power to change us” – Cassandra Clare
As a bookseller I often saw the nervousness that accompanied parents looking at the shelves in the ‘Young Adult’ section with their young tween. Many of these books are unfamiliar – there is less of the solidity of the classics that are a constant presence in the younger sections. Gone are the Pevensie children, talking spiders and chocolate factories. We are into a world of mazes and deadly games, first loves and heartbreak, murders and apocalypses, and find books that deal more explicitly with issues of race, gender, sexuality and identity. Teen books are a step apart – not for reading ability, a confident reader can tackle most books from the adult section without great difficulty in processing the language – but it is what that language is describing that makes the difference. It’s the content that raises the question of when is the right time for the reader to open the cover. Once you step into the teen/young adult section, the devil is in the detail! These books naturally push towards adult fiction with harder hitting themes, teen issues and situations that would be above the true comprehension of most 10 year olds. When choosing one of these titles for a younger child wishing to stretch their wings, it is all about knowing that child and what subjects they are equipped to deal with.
“In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than the other girls.” – J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
It is all a judgement call, but also a leap of faith that your child will be just fine (and trust me, they will). Some children take the subjects of death or first heartbreak in their stride – it does not unbalance them. They perhaps don’t grasp all the nuances of the issues, but they are mature enough to not be unduly affected by it. But there will always be the sensitive child – and this is no bad thing, each child matures at their own unique pace. These children may feel too much, may be overwhelmed by the emotions of the characters or become upset by the images the story evokes. You are the best judge of their readiness – how do they react to films, do they nightmare easily or worry over stories/news articles? I would of course never advocate an outright ban on this section to younger readers (no book should be off limits), and there is plenty to be found that would stimulate and engage. It is all about balancing their life experiences so far – what would provoke further discussion of the subjects raised, and what would upset more than progress their reading. Use bookseller and librarian knowledge or read it yourself first to gauge its suitability if you are unsure – there are no wrong books, it is all a question of the right book at the right time.
“Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” – Stephen King
Many books from this section make their way onto the big screen, but don’t be swayed by the film adaptation! These very often remove some of the content to give it a lower age classification and open it up to a bigger audience. ‘Twilight’ is my usual go-to example for this – the film is inoffensive enough, about first love and teen vampire angst, but you would perhaps not want your 10 year old reading book four of the series. which has a graphic birthing scene and a lot of the character’s honeymoon and how baby was made…..So yes, these books are in this section for a reason! A film does not always reflect a book to it’s fullest, as you may well know if you have ever loved a book and been disappointed by an unworthy film version! Children’s books are no exception.
Once children step into the young adult section they are greeted with a new world of authors to discover and new adventures to take. And if the book turns out to be something they don’t get on with then that’s okay too. We do not know our boundaries until we dip a toe into new waters – one day we will find that we dive right in.