Nicole Peeler has a genius post up over on my client Richelle Mead’s blog. It’s about the question of how young might be too young for readers to be exposed to certain content. It’s a valid question, and it’s interesting for me to consider how my own feelings on it change.
I was reading wildly inappropriate things when I was a pre-teen—Valley of the Dolls, Lucky, Pet Sematary, Weaveworld. Death, destruction, sex, psychoses: all in my daily reading. My very conservative parents were pretty strict about what I watched on television, but they never seemed to think to monitor what I was reading. In return, I really went for it! The older the book’s intended audience (as far as I understood it), the better. I’d get books from the library just because they were banned. How did I even know they were “banned books?” I must have found a list somewhere. Which is how I led to be really bored by Wide Sargasso Sea years before I should have tackled it…and incredibly confused by The Stranger. It was years before I picked up Camus again. Big surprise: he’s way better than I gave him credit for when I was 12.
Since I’m pretty happy with how I turned out, my opinion always has been, “If you can understand it, you can read it.” I stick by that, but I won’t lie, it totally gave me the weirds when my niece started reading Gossip Girl. And those ARE teen books. I understand the protective instincts that make people want to monitor teen reading, but I don’t agree with it. Kids who are reading for pleasure are naturally inquisitive. They’re also plenty savvy enough to understand the difference between fiction and real life. Beyond that, I really do believe that more knowledge is always a good thing. And a book is one piece of a larger body of information being consumed. If someone were somehow raised in a Gossip Girl bubble where the books were all they read and the TV show was all they watched then yeah, that might be kind of terrifying. But as one piece of a growing cultural and worldly understanding, no one book will turn someone into a sex-crazed, homicidal beast from hell.
So put everything out there. Pregnant cannibal teens from outer space. Just go for it. Who cares? It’s just a piece of the puzzle. While I’m sure that there are books that incited people to bad actions (Mein Kampf is always my go to as an example of bad books), I don’t believe that any book can in and of itself create the person who carries those actions out.
What do you think? Am I too easygoing? Are there books that shouldn’t be available to certain age ranges? Are there things that shouldn’t be in teen books?