There is so much great literature today for tweens and teens. But do they get what we’re trying to express?
Recently my 12 year old niece and I had a discussion about Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies. She told me she was a fast reader and had read Uglies in one day. On a school day. Well, that’s great, but I wondered if she had read it too quickly to process it.
She said, “It was about two friends who build a grid under their town so they can hoverboard. So cool.”
Um, yeah, hoverboarding is cool and was featured prominently in Uglies (and in its sequels which she didn’t read). But the two friends didn’t build that grid. What about the messages of environmentalism and individuality? Okay, at 12 maybe underlying themes aren’t yet her thing. So, what about how weird it is for everyone to get cosmetic surgery at 16? How cool is it that you can ask your wall for anything and get it?
Those things didn’t stay with her. Is it because she read it too quickly? Or did all of that go over her head? What do you think, Dear Readers?
In another example, a friend of mine let her 12 year old daughter read Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn. I have to admit that I was pretty horrified to hear that. And for the record, my above-mentioned niece read all four Twilight books when she was still 11.
But my friend made a good point. Her daughter has no memories or experience to draw from to put pictures in her head that a grown up does. So the sex (etc.) went over her head. And while I’m glad that this young girl didn’t retain the salacious details, should we encourage kids to read books that they won’t really get? Won’t readers enjoy books more when they have achieved a higher level of maturity and experience?
Which leads to the question of what responsibility an author should bear in writing about themes that are inappropriate for readers under a certain age. Who gets to decide what is inappropriate? And it isn’t really about a number, is it?
I don’t think Stephenie Meyer intended for 12 year olds to read her books. Just as JK Rowling didn’t intend for 6 year olds to read Harry Potter. (A boy in my son’s first grade class proudly told me the other day that he has almost finished reading the 4th Harry Potter book. I think I cried at the end of that one. As I keep telling my son, “Just because you can read something, doesn’t mean you should.” Luckily, he is perfectly content to continue reading the Magic Tree House series.)
So we come back to parent responsibility and knowing your own child. And as writers, we can only hope that our readers will get a little more out of our work than, “Hoverboards are cool.”