Thursday, July 23, 2015

Discussion: Age Appropriation, Mature Content and YA

*Disclaimer: In no way do I mean to offend anybody by this post. Nor am I suggesting that you not read the titles I have mentioned in this post. Also, these are my views only, and do not represent the views of my lovely co-bloggers. It is just a discussion on a topic which I think is important.* 

As I'm sure I've mentioned a million times, I work in bookstore in the UK. And, more often than not, I have parents asking me for recommendations for their children. However, after one particular conversation with a mother, I've been reconsidering what is considered age appropriate and if YA/Teen Fiction has a responsibility to create content which is suitable for that particular audience, or that comes with guidelines and age recommendations. 

In the UK, it's said that 1 in 10 children aged 5-16 suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. That's 3 in every class.  It's also said that "between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm and "there has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%." 

I wanted to share those figures with you because what this particular customer said to me was shocking, and therefore made me think about the content that, as a store and throughout the blogging world, we promote. By no means am I suggesting sensitive topics should not be talked about, because that is not a reflection of the teenage experience. I'm saying that should not be idealised or romanticised.

The book in question was Gayle Forman's I Was Here - her latest release about "eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds in the months following her best friend's shocking suicide" - a topic that has surged in the numbers of publication this year alone. And as my customer handed me the book for her to pay, she reconsidered and decided to read the blurb before she bought her 13 year old daughter the book. After reading it, she turned to me and said: "I don't understand this. It seems to be popular for them to be reading about death, self harm and suicide. She's too young." 

When I first started reading YA it was through a campaign called YA Saves. A project, and for some a reading challenge, to read YA that deals with trauma or 'teenage experiences' in retaliation to an article stating that YA was trivial to prove that YA could have a profound affect on a persons life. Which is, yes, a phenomenal thing. But, it would be misleading to ignore that books can do wonderful things but also terrible things and that, while going through puberty, high school and general confusing times, you can be impressionable. 

In no way am I suggesting that YA should be censored, because it shouldn't. The great thing about YA is the flexibility to talk about any matter of thing with sensitivity and exploration. There is nothing I love more than LGBT YA and I believe that could help somebody truly become at ease with themselves through hearing of somebody else's experience. What I wouldn't want is self harming, suicide, eating disorders and the like to be normalised as part of teenage culture because it is predominant in popular culture and what they are exposed to. Although nothing to do with YA or Literature, it is the main problem I have with websites such as Tumblr. Sites promoting things such as "ProAnna" or self-harm and even depression almost reflect peer pressure in the way it can be romanticised. And if the content is constant online and deemed as popular and the "in thing" in popular culture, whether that be film, tv games or books, it creates an issue. 

YA authors need to stay true to their story, characters and the experience they are sharing. But I also believe they have a responsibility to the reader, more importantly when talking of a YA and Teen Audience, to show true and raw experiences, but not to romanticise negative experiences and ways of dealing with them. If you're going to write about emotional/physical trauma, we need to be talking about offering support systems to give out the help that is needed, or publishers need to be talking about age recommendations.  Often when I read I don't tend to consider how different readers may read the same book. I don't think of how I at different parts of my life - either ages or going through rough times - would read a certain book, but I think the conversation needs to start. Because for the same reason I wouldn't want to sell a fourteen year old girl a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, I also wouldn't want to sell her a copy of a book where suicide/self-harm/eating disorders or staying in an abusive relationships is the deemed the resolution or the desirable thing to do. YA is a genre which is fantastic for being life-affirming, special and unique, but I do believe there needs to be a conversation on age appropriation and mature content. 


  1. I think you present a pretty interesting view here. It's really easy for us 18+ readers to say that YA shouldn't be censored and that all the controversial topics is a good thing, because we're not at an age that we would actually get confused by something we read about. And while it is a little odd to think of suicide as a "hot" topic in YA, I think that it generally is fine. But then again, I'd *like* to think that no major publisher would publish something romanticizing any of these topics, but I could be wrong. But in my experience, I definitely remember an age when I thought certain aspects of suicide were "romantic," I guess (as maybe other young teens might). But I remember reading a YA book in which an MC's brother committed suicide and the entire book was about the after effects, and it was completely devastating. It wiped out any lingering thoughts about suicide being "romantic" that I'd ever had, and instead made me think about how it is often such a selfish action in some cases -- not thinking about how your death/absence will affect the loved ones around you. I think it was "Waiting" by Carol Lynch Williams. So I think it's hard to deem what is and what isn't too mature, when it can potentially be so beneficial.
    - Lina @ Every Book a World

    1. Thank you for your comment! This is such a wonderful thought - and honestly, one I hadn't really thought of. I think when I think of YA having a slightly negative effect, it is only the younger pre-teens and young teenagers that I think of. But I do agree that it would be too hard to measure what is mature for certain ages. Again, thank you for your comment - it's really interesting to see somebody else's point of view :-)


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