Sunday 12 July 2009

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Discussion: How Far is Too Far in YA Novels?

The Guardian has an article on how parents are alarmed over a sexual assualt in children's novel, Tender Morsals by Margo Lanagan - thanks to author Suzanne McLeod for the heads up about it. I was originally going to include it in my links post later in the month, but after reading this article on the same book in the Daily Mail, I felt the need to discuss it.

Please read the articles, either one or both, though I feel the second gives more info about what is included in the book.

Now with Tender Morsals in mind, author or reader, do you think there is a limit to what should be covered in YA novels? From what you read in the articles, does Tender Morsals go to far, or are these people over reacting? Where, if at all, do you draw the line?


  1. I think the critics are overreacting and underestimating the readers. Children and teenagers do not live in a perfecct world or at least in an environment in which they would not read in every newspaper and see on tv every day that gruesome things are happening.
    Young readers know that there is a lot of violence and sexual violence going on around them. I come from Slovenia where for a while it was impossible not to find out about what Austrians Priklopil and Fritzl did to their victims. Children and teenagers knew about it, too, because it was told on tv, radio, in newspapers and on the Internet. Young people everywhere know about similar things. We must not fool ourselves and think they do not.
    I think that practically everithing can be put in a book if it is dealth with properly. If readers are horrified by the description of gang rape in a book then they are a lot less likely to try and rape somebody some day. I think it would be a lot more problematic if it was *not* described in a way that makes readers horrified.
    I understand if some readers cannot deal with some things and themes in a book. But I think they should not try to censor the book, but simply stop reading it. After all, nobody is forcing them to read books that they find disturbing.

  2. That's a very interesting point! Thanks for sharing your views :)

  3. I would usually discuss this point but I have "Tender Morsels" at home and don't want to ruin the story by reading the articles.

  4. Ohh, ok. The articles don't really spoil the book; they don't give anything away about the plot of the story as far as I know, and I've read the blurb for the book, so I don't think it's anything too spoilery, but that's cool. I look forward to your review on the book!

  5. rubysue52@hotmail.com17 July 2009 at 09:53

    I'm not sure of the ages of those who have commented already, but as a parent, one of my main concerns when my teenagers were choosing what to read was to protect them. Not in a wrap-them-up-in-cotton-wool kind of way, but to make sure that they were emotionally equipped to deal with the content of the story so that it wouldn't upset them unduly and give them a skewed idea about the world they were growing up in. As has been seen from the postings on this website, many writers adopt a responsible approach about the way they portray sex in their stories. But the explicit content in some (included for the ‘shock’ and sales factor?) is not good for younger teens to be reading. It may not be fashionable to say it but I think we sometimes forget that in their heads they are still children.(Sue Barrow)

  6. Great point, cheers for commenting!

  7. @rubysue52: You make a good point about parents being concerned about how younger readers might be affected by explicit content :D and I agree that it's sometimes included in books for the "shock" factor--Gossip Girl, anyone?

    I'm a teenager, and you've helped me to understand why parents may be adverse to their children reading excessively violent or sexual content. It might be a bit like the "violent cartoon" debate, where people argue that children can be influenced by violence on tv and then proceed to act it out themselves. Or young readers might have the wrong impressions of sex and hence carry these misconceptions with them till adulthood.

    a great video on censorship in YA: by author Maureen Johnson.

  8. Cheers, Nicole, for the video! I'll embed it into the "Who Says What?" post!

  9. Realistic YA fiction, like all fiction, is genre specific. Realistic YA fiction will, by definition, deal with sex and sexuality. Most reading is done with escapism in mind, and often realistic YA fiction allows readers to “try on” a persona for a while, in the privacy of the purely individual reading world. I often feel when reading articles like this one about Tender Morsels, that the real fear for parents (I am one myself) is that children will be exposed to things we, as parents, would rather not expose them to, such as rape and death.

    To quote the article, “the truth is that when children are exposed to deeply disturbing scenarios in teenage fiction, they are made painfully aware that the world contains cruelty beyond their experience and their imagination.” First of all, “children” and “teenage” are two different age groups in my opinion. But beyond that, don’t children and teenagers need to know the world contains cruelty? Do we just not allow them to read about the Holocaust because it was gruesome and terrible? Might as well throw “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak on that fire then. Wait a second… How many awards has that book won? And the narrator is Death! But I digress…

    Topics are only controversial because parents have different ideas than their children about what is appropriate for them to read about. Since when do children and their parents agree on anything? I think it is the publishing industry’s responsibility to provide the full range of topics and subject matter, and the readership to decide (by buying the book, or not buying it) what is appropriate.

  10. That is such an excellent point! Thank you for commenting with your views! :)