A big question in determining whether a book is “Young Adult” fiction or not is the situations that occur in the book. Too much death or torture is obviously not okay for younger kids to read about. Neither is too much sex. Then there’s “bad” language…but I’ll save that for another post. Let’s talk about the death thing. When is death acceptable to readers of younger ages? Can 16 year-olds handle reading about things that would give 12 year-olds nightmares?
It depends on the reader, of course–duh. But let’s take some general examples. JK Rowling doesn’t kill off a major character until the end of her 4th Harry Potter book, and I think there’s a reason for that. When those books first came out, my older son was about the same age as Harry–11. (He even looked like him! except for the scar.) I used to read those books aloud to him and his brother. Book One had its creepy bits, but we got through ’em…still, no way would I have read something like the graveyard scene at the end of Book IV to them at that age. Nightmare city. By the time they were 13 or 14, though–no problem.
So what about The Hunger Games? That series doesn’t just include death, it FEATURES it–kids killing other kids. Not giving anything away here, it’s the whole basis of the plot! To me that goes beyond simple “death” and into the realm of “violence,” which carries a whole different set of disturbing mental images. Can 11 and 12 year-olds handle those pictures in their brains? Should they be asked to? And is seeing the movie version better or worse than reading about children slaughtered for entertainment?
Don’t get me wrong–I loved The Hunger Games, at least the first book. But I’m interested in your thoughts about if, and where, a line ought to be drawn, saying, “You go ahead and read this book, teenager, but you ten year-olds over there…wait a few years, okay?” Would that be a good idea?