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Back To Good by Laura McCarthy Benson

Back To Good

by Laura McCarthy Benson

Giveaway ends April 07, 2017.

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10 June 2011

Darkness in Young Adult Books

There has been a lot of discussion about a Wall Street Journal article that states that young adult books are "so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things".

The article starts with a mother looking for a book for her 13 year old child.  First of all, said mother really was in the wrong aisle.  She should've been looking in the middle grade/children's aisle.  The books that she was looking at are specifically targeted to 14+, 15+ and 16+.  When I think of young adult, I think of a teen about the age of sixteen to roughly around 22/23 years of age.  I would never consider a 12, 13, or even a 14 and some  15 year olds as young adult.  Now obviously some children are able to handle the darker books and I would never say they shouldn't read it.  However, this is also a great time for parents to be proactive and read what their children are reading.

When my daughter was 13, she came home with the book Cut by Patricia McCormick.  I read the book after she did so I had an idea as to what she was reading.  Now this wasn't a school book, but one she got from the school library and read on her own.  This story is a hard, tough story about a teen who has is so stressed they she starts cutting herself.  The main character in the book is 15.  But the book is written for older teens.  Even I could figure that out when I read it.

A parent at the library was upset that her 12 year old daughter took out The Duff.  Thankfully the librarian informed the mom that the room where she took the book was the young adult room and not intended for 12 year olds.  That it is up to the mom to see what she is requesting from library.

I'm also one that is not so fond of labels.  Shouldn't all books be available to all? But I think as parents, we need to be proactive in parenting our children and not let books, tv, videogames do the job that we took on when we had our children.  There is a plethora of great books out there for age appropriate children.  All we have to point them in the right direction.  If my 7 yo (and I'm hypothetically aging her to 12 for my purpose), brought a book home (she's 12 now), say The Hunger Games.  I would first ask myself if she's ready to read a book like this.  Would she benefit by waiting on reading it when she was 16/17?  Able to understand the world that Suzanne Collins created. 

There are thousands of kids out there that lead dark, dark lives and perhaps when they read a book about cutting or eating disorders, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Realize that there is someone out there that feels the same way they do.  A lot of these book also have resources at the back of the book for those same teens to find the help they need.

I understand that Meghan Cox Gurdon has a right to discuss her unhappiness with the state of YA books, but she should also realize that she was opening a can of worms for people who are for and against the genre.

The young adult world came out in protest of the Wall Street Journal on twitter with the hashtag #yasaves and let me tell you, some of the stories by teens, adults and just fans of reading was amazing.


  1. Some YA books do seem to be intended for 12 and up. I've read some that say 12+ on the back cover and don't really have any content that is inappropriate for preteens, but they are longer/more complicated than middle grade books. So I do think some YA is written for that age group but it may be hard to find among all the other books. Several fairy tale retellings I've read recently were labeled YA but would be fine for even a sensitive 13 year old. I wonder if they should make a younger YA section in bookstores for the kids who have outgrown the middle grade books but don't want to read the darker YA books.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! :) I agree with you that parents need to be proactive in knowing what their children are getting into - but they also need to keep an open mind. I like how you read your daughter's book to see what it dealt with - and I assume you probably discussed its themes with her!

    That said, children will sneak in a book and read it wherever & how ever they can! (I used to do that!)

    I really think that teens who read "dark books" know what they're getting into - I think most of them have covers that make it obvious that it isn't all bubbly and happy. You read "dark books" because you want to - not because you accidentally mistook it as An American Girl book.

    As someone who frequents the YA aisle, I know there are loads of paranormal and "dark" books - but I still find plenty of "happier" ones that would suit a younger teen audience just fine.

  3. As someone who was reading her grandmother's copies of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Peyton Place, I know kids will always read books that may not be appropriate for their age. But how many parents allow their children to see PG-13 movies when the kids are 9 or 10, or accompany them to R-rated movies when they're 14 or 15? Lots. LOTS. And we won't even go into video games.

    I'm beginning to wonder if it's only a matter of time before a book-rating system is put in place for children's literature.


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