Saturday, February 12, 2011

To Kill A Mockingbird. The Harry Potter Series. The Giver. Gone With The Wind. The Outsiders. The Witches. A Wrinkle In Time.

All these book have two things in common - they are on the list for most banned books in the U.S. and I loved each and every one of them.

One of the best things about being human is the opportunity to make something where there was nothing. Whether we are painting, starting a business, building a house, writing a novel, or having children; we are tapping into that part of ourselves that gives each of us joy. Creating.

And before I continue let me be clear. I in no way support someone telling someone else what they can or cannot create. Or someone telling a parent what is acceptable for their child to read.

However, I had to ask myself some questions when I opened the book Cracked Up To Be last night. Remember, this book is written for teens, meaning publishers are marketing it for the 14 to 18 year old demographic. Caution - it is vulgar and crude and I don't enjoy putting it on my blog but I also think a lot of parents are unaware of what is being sold to their minor children under the name of Young Adult literature.

Here is the opening page of Cracked Up To Be.

Imagine four years.

Four years, two suicides, one death, one rape, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken lims, turf wars - every day a turf war - six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out. But everything you do here counts.

High School.

"No, seriously, Jules, just feel around in there and tell me if you have one-"

"Fuck off, Chris-"

"And tell me where it is, the exact location."

"You're disgusting!"

"Hey, Parker!"

He reaches out and grabs me by the shoulder. I shrug, shrug, shrug him off.

"Fuck off, Christ."

He's been on about the G-spot for, like, a week.

"Don't fail me now, Parker. Where is it?"

"Cosmo, December '94. The Sex Issue. Came with a map and everything."


I gave up hoping the content would clear up by the third chapter. Skimming instead to the last scene. The 'F' word caught my sight at least one to three times every couple of pages. There was also no shortage of sexual conversation/scenes.

And trust me, this isn't the only "R rated" book available in the Young Adult section at a book store or library.

So this is my question - does it seem off to anyone else that an unassuming 14 year old girl could pick up this book and buy it without a problem but she wouldn't be able to buy a movie ticket to see a movie with similar content?

Banning books? No. But why isn't there a rating system for books being sold to minors?

As an author, I believe I am accountable for my manuscripts. Authors and publishers have a responsiblity to bring awareness to parents of a book's content. And parents have the right and responisiblity to decide if that book is acceptable for their child.

I think it's a wonderful thing that books can be used as a discussion tool between parents and children. But I also think it's unrealistic to assume that a parent is going to proof read every book their child brings home.

The MPAA (Movie Pictures Association of America) helps parents know what their kids may be watching in a movie.

Books don't.

(Please don't think I have anything against the YA market or issue books. There are many clean YA books - Matched, by Ally Condie for example. And Speak, a book about rape, is a tough read but one that I believe is beneficial for teens.)

I'd really like thoughts about this. A discussion between authors and readers.


  1. There must be someway to make this topic a priority in our society.

    I would guess most parents are unaware. I was.

  2. This is something I have talked about so many times with my sisters! I just can't believe the smut they put out there for kids to read. I mean you have to be 17 to go to an R rated film and yet, there aren't even suggested rating on books. Its definitely something that needs to be addressed soon.
    I guess for now we will just have to read the books before we let our kids. We do that with movies that are PG to make sure they're okay.

  3. I agree that there should be a rating system on books.

    I hope these links are useful.

    A site that is making an effort. You can get details on the books they have listed.

    Cast your vote on the rating subject.

    Similar article.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. As a side note on the topic of censorship, I wanted to hear your thoughts on a current issue. A man named Alan Gribben is putting out The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with every instance of the word "nigger" replaced with the word "slave." See the following link:

    Considering the time period the book was written in, as well as the time period it was written about, it truly is a commentary on that moment of history. The book also takes Jim, a slave (subhuman), and shows him as an intelligent, loving, and compassionate human. Would removing the above-mentioned word devalue any of that? Are we being disrespectful to the author, and the literary classic by changing it? Is it a step closer to communistic style censorship?

    The other aspect of the argument is one I truly cannot comprehend. I am not emotionally impacted by the word. I do appreciate that some people are though. Nobody should ever feel degraded or devalued. Even knowing the writers intentions, some words can be so ugly and destructive that some people do not have the option to appreciate the actual value of those intentions. It would be a shame to not have those people able to read and enjoy this book. Is having that word so prevalent in such a prominent classic destructive and divisive? Would taking that word out of the book be the most respectable thing for the book, because it places the book in an acceptable realm for our day? Would this truly open the book up to more readers?

    My initial thoughts are that the book should be left alone, but is there enough positive benefits to justify the change?

  6. Wow James. The NY Times article from your second comment has me reeling. I hope a can cleary express my thoughts about it.

    First, you know me. And you know how I HATE that word. Having two black brothers, the 'n' word is a thousand times more offensive than the 'f' word. There is so much disgusting history associated with the 'n' word that it makes my blood boil when I hear people use it. Black or white.

    However, to "clean up" Huckleberry Finn by removing the word, I believe is wrong.

    A published book is an author's thoughts and heart for the world to see. And for another person to change what one has written is wrong on every level.

    Should we not, as Americans, take pride in the fact that we have gone from a societey where African Americans were property to be whipped, raped, and seperated from their own children to the one we have now, where the President of our country is black. Whether you like Obama or not, there is much to be said for that.

    And to white wash literature that when read takes you where we, as a country, used to be is dishonoring all those who fought, and gave their lives, for equal rights and freedom.

    I really enjoyed the links you posted in your other comment. I forwarded them to my friend and I'm sure we'll have a fun discussion at our next writers group.

  7. This is another interesting Huck Fin link.;contentAux

  8. Definitely should be a rating system for books.