For Whose Eyes Only?

A while back I wrote a post about song lyrics on the radio and the appropriateness for young ears. Some friends reminded me of the songs we used to listen to and it made me feel a bit better – we really didn’t put two and two together and when we did it was for a giggle. And I turned out ok – I think! I still don’t like the message in that song (catch up here), even for older girls. One of a million bad messages when it comes to media and pop culture, I suppose. It’s our job to help our kids navigate through that.

What I’m writing about now is something a little different – adult content in young adult books. I recently wrote an article for Atlantic Books Today about content in one book specifically, When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid. It won the 2014 Governor General Award for Children’s Literature. It’s full of graphic sexual language and imagery, along side beautifully written passages, but over the top, explicit and vulgar content. You can read about the controversy here, where I had two industry insiders weigh in with their opinions.

The article was not a place for me to share my own opinion, but to report those of others. So here is how I feel about it.

It’s a complex situation but the truth is that I do not want my daughter reading this book for many, many years. Or my 12-year-old niece. It is completely inappropriate and I actually felt I had to warn my sister about it, because any one would think handing over a book with a seal of approval stamped on it (the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature) is an appropriate thing to do.

The “young adult” that comes to my mind for who it would be appropriate would be young adults in their twenties. Which brings up the whole issue of the industry standard of young adult literature being categorized as for ages 12-18. That’s problematic in and of itself. What a 12-year-old is reading is — and should be — completely different to what an 18-year-old is reading.

I agree with the co-manager at Woozles in the article, in that there are parts that are beautifully written. I’m not naive, and I’m not a prude, but I found the language and imagery to be exhausting, from the start. Of course it’s an important message and an important story to be told but it certainly could have been done more effectively and less sensationally. The author’s argument is that he is depicting a culture. Sure, and it might be appropriate for the right youth in the right place and time but that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for the masses, which would have been the publisher’s decision. The book doesn’t come with a warning either. In the online write-up, Chapters calls it ‘edgy’. That’s an understatement.

I have to say I’m surprised this book won the GG award, and disappointed because it’s not a book that can be comfortably celebrated and promoted by everyone, to everyone. On the flip side, I agree with what the publisher at Breakwater has to say. I just wish the author had toned it down a bit.

I also like to think that there should be room on the shelf for every book, but can’t blame Woozles for their decision and I understand their logic. The book has just put everyone in an awkward position! But hey- it’s got people talking…

It’s also one of the selections for the CBC Canada Reads debate next week, being defended by my favourite, Lainey! I can’t wait to hear what she has to say, she’s ruthless.

And while it’s not our official book of the month, a few of us in my book club are going to read it (completely appropriate setting, I don’t think anyone is under age 30!) and I look forward to the discussion.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Do you think some adult content is too adult for young adult literature?