a slew of thoughts on sex and sickness in teen books

So, the Daily Mail in the UK published an article that made a lot of people mad, including me.  The article condemned young adult books that deal with hard topics like sickness and death, calling these books “sick-lit.”  It ripped on one of my favorite books, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, in such a way that made me question if the author of the article had actually read it.

How’s this for an infuriating sentence: “While the Twilight series and its imitators are clearly fantasy, these books don’t spare any detail of the harsh realities of terminal illness, depression and death.”

Time out.

Time the hell out.

It’s better for kids to read books like Twilight (a book considered poorly written by many creative thinkers … featuring an obsessive, co-dependent romance with a vampire) than to read books like The Fault in Our Stars, which makes readers of all ages think deeply?  I can hardly process that quote.  It’s better for kids to live in a fantasy land than to learn to think about real-life hard situations?

It boggles my mind.  Honestly.

I’m not a parent.  Maybe I’d feel differently if I was a parent.

I want kids and teenagers to read great books, great writing.  I want them to be forced to think critically and examine their beliefs.

But maybe that’s looking through rose-colored glasses?

I’ve read a lot of YA books in the last year.  A lot of them had sex scenes or sexually-charged scenes.  Would I censor these books from kids?  No.  From my kids?  … no.  I don’t think so.  But what do I know?  Everything could change if I were a parent, I know that.

I think Harry Potter is one of the most brilliant series for teens in existence.  I don’t think I’d stop my kids from reading it … but I do think I’d talk to them about magic and witchcraft and good vs. evil.  If my kids read The Fault in Our Stars, I’d talk to them about sex and terminal illness and death and the meaning of life.  If my kids read Jellicoe Road, I’d talk to them about drugs and abandonment and romance.

But would I?  It’s easy to say that when I’m 30 and childless.

I’d love to hear thoughts on both sides of this debate– please comment!




11 thoughts on “a slew of thoughts on sex and sickness in teen books

  1. I read the article, and honestly, I was mad too.

    For one thing, it is nearly impossible for a parent to completely censor their teen’s reading material (I have been smuggling library books in since I was about 9). Yes, parents should be worried if their teen is consumed with depression-lit like this- but if every book their teen reads deals with depression, it’s likely their teen was depressed before and merely gravitates towards the books because it addresses his/her condition

    It is also frustrating to be so completely underestimated by “caring” adults. Sex, cancer, depression, drugs, suicide eating disorders? That mess is our world, and the least we can do is have books that address it honestly. I can say I have lost good friends to cancer and suicide, and have also had good friends experiment with sex and drugs. One of my best friends is in treatment right now for a severe eating disorder. Not to address these issues is not to address young people. Sparkling men, undead children, women who do nothing but get married… that’s not our world, so that isn’t the kind of lit we should be fed.

    Maybe, like you said, if I were a parent it would be different. But I don’t think so. I think I would want my relationship with my children to be honest- I would want them to read honest books and have honest conversation. I would want them to understand right and wrong and have the ability to read good quality fiction with negative elements in it.

    Sorry for this ridiculously long response lol… ya lit like twilight, and the people who think that’s all teens can handle, are two of my major pet peeves.(;

  2. I would have to say to the comment above that just because it is our world , we do not have to accept it and go with it. However, I do agree with Jackie that we need to think critically and teach our kids to think critically about what we read. As far as encouraging my boys to read sex-scenes to learn about sex, I would say there is a problem there. Reading words creates images just like any movie. These images stick and for a young boy or girl can consume your every thought. In my view it would be like putting pornography on the coffee table. I would definitely encourage talking about hard things with kids and hope I can do that well with my boys. I think this needs to be done in the context of truth and right things. Like sex should be talked about as for marriage, not as desirable between two young adult characters that I have grown to love or hate in the last thirty pages I just read. As for sickness and death, I’ll have to think on that one. “whatever is true…noble…honorable, think about such things.” I want a book to point me and my kids there. There are a lot of books out there an not as much time as we would like to read them all.

    • I’m not a parent, so it’s hard for me to guess what I would do, but I think I’d let them read it. (Heck … MY BOOK has “questionable” material, but I think it is a valuable book that teaches important lessons.) I have more thoughts on this coming to my blog soon … I recently read Francis Schaeffer’s book “Art and the Bible,” and it made me think!

  3. The best parents I know with the most trusting parent-child relationships are the ones who do what you say you would. Hard topics are a great way to start conversations with kids, and parents are children’s best teachers.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bre! Since I’m not a parent, sometimes I don’t know if my thoughts toward parenting are WAY OFF or not, so it’s been good to get feedback from lots of people on this topic.

      I wouldn’t let my child read, say, 50 Shades of Gray, but I *would* let them read The Fault in Our Stars, which has a very non-pornographic sex scene and some language (as well as presenting a worldview I don’t agree with), but the writing is amazing, and I think it would lead to great conversations.

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