Parents: Evil Book-Banners or Teen Advocates?

I'm at the last day of the YA Lit Symposium listening to "Hit List or Hot List: How Teens Read Now," and Barry Lyga (BOY TOY), Julie Anne Peters (LUNA), and Coe Booth (KENDRA) are discussing the censorship of their books. 

When it comes to "edgy" novels, I'm struck by a growing tension between authors, librarians, publishers, and parents -- all in the name of getting good stories into the hands of teens. The fear of extremism on both sides is limiting even the start of what could be reconciling conversations. 

Instead of tearing down community, couldn't "controversial" novels be a vehicle to strengthen relationships between everyone who cares about teens, including the young people we're trying to protect and empower? 

To do this, though, we can't deal with parents as adversaries. Apart from the age-banding suggestion that's coming from across the Atlantic, how might YA librarians, publishers, and authors earn the trust of the silent majority of parents who aren't censors but are concerned about age appropriateness when it comes to content in novels?


MotherReader said…
I don't have an answer, but your post hits me at a particularly appropriate time.

Against my better judgment, I read Living Dead Girl which was just as disturbing as I thought it would be. I did so because my seventh grade daughter happened to be at my library and happened to pull it out of the many books in the YA section that I had directed her to. Knowing my girl, I told her that I had heard that this book was disturbing and that it wasn't for her - and she was fine with that. But then I felt the need to read/skim it for myself because I had made that statement.

It was disturbing and graphic and I don't know what I think about it in terms of where it should be. As a librarian, I don't want to restrict reading but I can see where this book doesn't seem to belong on the same shelf as your books or even Scott's other books. I don't want Living Dead Girl banned, that's for sure, but I also don't want it to end up in the hands of someone who isn't ready for it. And, yes, you could say that the topic itself would be a warning for sensitive readers, but even I was unprepared for how gripping and graphic it would really be - and I had read reviews.

Like I said when I started writing, I don't have the answer here. But I do think there's a problem.
Little Willow said…
As you know, I often discuss age appropriateness & books as well as emotional maturity vs. reading ability often at my blog and at my store. There are definitely some books with mature content that I wouldn't give to, say, a 10 year old, and some books written for adults that younger readers can read without any worries or hesitation. For so many books, it depends on the readers. There's a lot to be done on a case-by-case basis.
I wish I had a way of knowing what to expect when deciding if a book is appropriate for my daughter or not. (I find this is much more of a girl issue, not a boy issue.) Before I brought my teens to "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist" last night, I read the review and decided that it sounded like a good movie, but with enough issues that I wanted to see it with them and help them process it. No such luck with books. I don't have the time to read every book before my avid teen reader does, so I don't know what she's reading. I know "censor" is a bad word in some circles, but we all draw a line somewhere (e.g., no porn at school) and I'd like to be able to make an informed parenting decision about books.
Mitali Perkins said…
LIVING DEAD GIRL was one of the books discussed at the symposium and I told the presenter that her DESCRIPTION of it would give me nightmares. I can tell you, though, that this sounds like something my 16 year old would read with relish, and he's old enough now to handle it. But that means I'll read it, too, so we could talk about it, so bring on the nightmares.

Kathy, that's exactly my point -- can a busy (emphasis, please) parent make an "informed parenting decision" about books without having access to a shared system assessing age-appropriate content? If so, how?

And thanks, LW, your lists and reviews are wonderful. I highly recommend them.
Anonymous said…
One tool that I think some parents use to help them gain a little knowledge of a book's content is Common Sense Media (http://www/ The issue is that parents have different standards for their children's reading, and while some might think that a book like Living Dead Girl is acceptable, the parent who reviewed the book on this site does not. The purpose of the site is to share reviews of film, TV, games and books, with reviews contributed by teens as well as parents & other adults. It's not perfect, but it's something. (BTW - GREAT presentation at the YALSA Symposium, Mitali!)
Ms. Yingling said…
In the school library setting, I have limited money and a lot of parents who get up in arms about content. I can't afford to buy a book that will cause me problems later. Also, if we are trying to teach students that vulgar words are not creative, why are there so many YA fiction books with bad language. Also, anything that has graphic sexual content is not something that I will have in the middle school library. Most of the books that are checked out here are books that I am personally recommending to students, so I have to be very careful. There are a lot of good books that are not controversial, and I have to stick to those.