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Read What You Need

This isn't a new topic here on the Highway. Guest blogger Kristin Jr. blogged about it nearly two months ago. But it isn't a topic that will go away any time soon. What is appropriate for Young Adult books?

Last night I was speaking to a family member about Living Dead Girl, Elizabeth Scott's haunting tale about an abducted girl who can only be released from her abuse by finding someone to take her place. We discussed the wide variety of topics covered in YA literature and the way the genre has grown and expanded to cover everything from Meg Cabot's unapologetically clean and romantic books to Ellen Hopkin's gritty tales about suicide, drugs and prostitution.

It can be difficult at times to come to terms with the realities teens are facing today. Their experiences are as varied as the books available to them. Teens have secrets and dreams, they have good days and bad days. They are innocent, they are worldly. There is no one type of teenager. But the explosion of the YA genre into all these different facets of experiences means that readers of all backgrounds will be able to find what they need - whether that's stories about princesses or about poverty.

Some want to protect our young people. And I'm not just talking about parents, here. I've heard teens themselves speak with disgust about some topics covered in YA books. They don't want to read about sex and swearing - they see enough of it in their lives. Some, however, think it's wrong to "hide our little ones away." The world is a dirty place and teens are living these nightmares. Take a look around. Teens see it - they aren't stupid. Why try to sugar coat it?

But what I want to ask - gently - is why can't we embrace the idea that all kinds of books are useful?

Reading romantic YA doesn't make someone a fluffy-headed idiot. Really.

Reading accounts of theft doesn't make someone a criminal. Really.

There are lots of YA books to choose from nowadays - something for everyone, as it were. I think that's great. Choose books that eschew trauma or choose books that bring it to the forefront; the important thing is simply to read. Read to escape, read to understand, read to feel. Read. And refrain from criticizing another's reading choices. It might be just the escapist fairy tale or just the empathizing portrait of pain that they need to get through the day.
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. This is a great post! I feel that YA should be no different from adult literature in this respect--there's a variety so you can choose what you want to read. Teens will never mature if they're sheltered from the world, and stopping them from reading books with swearing, sex, etc isn't going to stop them from knowing it all exists! But I'm glad it's not in all books, because sometimes that's just not what you feel up for reading about.

  2. YES!!
    I just believe they should be given a choice. No one will know what they are capable of handling better than themselves. And giving them variety allows for them to enjoy all the different things life can hold.

  3. I completely agree. Especially nowadays when half of the illicit topics that people get all up in arms about are happening to teens anyway. Regular teens, not just those sensational stories. It's not the fifties anymore. And it should be up to the parents to decide with the teenager what is appropriate.

  4. *snuggles this post*

    That was awesome. There is, indeed, nothing wrong with reading some squeaky clean fantasy, or edgy, gritty stories about sex and substance abuse. There's no "right" YA. The variety within it is what makes it so special.

  5. As a parent trying to teach my sons to enjoy reading, I try to find what they want to read. I know that when they hit the YA years I'll be just as happy to foster a love of reading as I am now. Of course, I'm the type of person who will read the books with them and expect them to be able to discuss what they read. Maybe that makes me a bit different than other parents.


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Item Reviewed: Read What You Need Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook