I just finished the book by 80’s YA Goddess Judy Blume entitled Forever. It was entirely about sex and I was stunned. Not because of the racy subject matter or that Judy Blume uses the “F” word in it and writes about orgasms, but because it was Judy Blume for godsake! This is the writer who penned Blubber! Her books were my payment for weekends spent working in Cousin Arthur’s Bookstore in Brooklyn Heights. They were short, they were sweet and I was 10.

It became clear that the days where all kids read were those sugary Sweet Valley High books that depicted self-absorbed female characters who pined endlessly over the hunky Varsity QB while seemingly skirting the issue of sex throughout the entire 500 book series that ends in college, are gone. (COME ON!) Back when I was just shy of legally voting, but too old to believe in Santa, if I wanted to relate to a book I needed to choose adult dramas because Judy Blume, as much as I loved her when I was 10, didn’t reach me emotionally anymore. YA wasn’t really intended for the older-young adult and (17+) teenagers were left choosing between Stephen King or the Goosebumps series and nine times out of ten, they chose King.

Thankfully, publishing came out of the Victorian era and realized they could produce books that touched topics that kids were actually dealing with. Presently, YA books touch on some very serious issues while using slang and curse words to convey the messages. Incest, LGBT, suicide, physical abuse, sex, pregnancy, rape and alcohol/drug abuse are just some of the situations authors are forcing their protagonists to deal with. But hey, that’s life…isn’t it? For some sure, but at least teens aren’t being forced to look into the uncontrolled adult genre for real life strife or character connection. Don’t get me wrong there are many YA books that keep it squeaky clean, but many walk a very fine line between young and adult.

beach-boy-couple-girl-love-young-love-Favim.com-45614Which leads me to a question that was (sort of) posed to me by a reader months ago: How much is too much?

Should we label Divergence “Mature Young Adult” because it has a ton of violence? Should Forever have a warning label because the teens talk about sex, have lots of it and use curse words? Are we letting authors teach our kids about the birds  and the bee’s graphically?

I think the questions deserve both yes and no answers. Labeling books with mature content warnings are fine, they let the readers who aren’t comfortable with certain topics weigh their options before buying the novel, but it also makes books that discuss topics that should be read by everyone seem tainted or unnecessarily singled out. However, when dealing with underage readers, writers and publishers carry slightly more responsibility. Kids are impressionable and although messages don’t always have to include or remove content that may be considered objectionable, behavior and consequences must be considered.

Of course all decisions truly depends on the kid (and family), but one thing I do know for sure, I will be tickled pink if my kid is reading any book (well maybe not 50 shades) because reading means they are not spending endless hours texting or watching 16 and pregnant (or getting pregnant for that matter).

Sara O'Connor
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Sara O'Connor

A dreamer, a writer, a critic, an avid reader and the endless seeker of enlightenment through education. Basically, that translates to a girl who loves to read and discusses what she is reading and writing with anyone who will listen so that she doesn’t have to think about her obscenely large student loan debt. She holds a BA in pre-law, a Masters from Northeastern University in Communication Management with a focus in Social Media Marketing and Personal Branding and is currently working on an MFA in creative writing, but believes she has learned the most from writing…lots and lots of writing. She is also the owner of the literary and lifestyle business marketing an management firm, Voir Media Group.
Sara O'Connor
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