Tuesday, May 22, 2012
on rating ya books for mature content
And now that I seem to be writing for teenagers as well as raising them, my opinions are not merely confined to the sidelines. Especially when it comes to articles like this one, in US News, regarding rating YA books for mature content.
Yep, a rant is coming.
We love numbers in this country. Love them. Scales, rankings, acronyms, all these shortcuts that are supposed to seamlessly quantify our potential experience. Whether it's the level of spice in our salsa or the amount of lycra in our Spandex, we want to have some third party to translate our expectations before we fork over the dough.
But here's the thing. Saucy, juicy edgy young adult books are largely passed from kid to kid via word of mouth. It's always been that way. When I was in 7th grade, Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret was the cutting edge adult subject matter book that made the underground circuit. And, it was at the center of controversy -- yanked off shelves and banned from schools. But still, all the twelve and thirteen-year-old girls I knew found a way to read it. Putting a number that connotes "mature content" on a young adult book will be like locking a hungry bear in a room with a platter of salmon. So, there's that.
The other thing, the more egregious piece of this cloaked move towards censorship, is that it's one more feather in the cap of the freaked out helicopter parent brigade who believe that the secret to keeping their children pure and sweet is to erect barriers to their curiosity rather than meeting it.
I'm not advocating taking your grade-schooler to a sexy, violent R-rated film, but I am all for encouraging conversation surrounding adult themes when it's clear that your child's radar is tuned to them. If I thought slapping a number on a young adult book would encourage a proactive approach to those parent-child conversations, I would be for it. Clearly, though, this is about categorizing books in terms of the number of "fucks" or "blowjobs" that appear on the page, and will amount to the usual parental avoidance regarding uncomfortable subject matter--and, worse yet, will be one more invitation to publishers to make editorial suggestions based upon abstract marketing decisions.