So I’m seeing posts on my Twitter feed that this is Banned Book Week, with links to various sites listing books that have been banned or suggested banned, particularly from younger readers. http://ow.ly/p7M1s
This got me to thinking about my upcoming novel, Journey to Landaran.
I’ve been working back and forth with my cover artist, trying to get the tone right for the cover–she kept going too light, and I had to keep telling her to go darker. There are some dark themes in the Spirit Mage Saga, including the rape and ongoing sexual molestation of a minor, death of parents, and dealing with grief and loss. The child molestation is particularly a tricky subject, because I do show a couple sex scenes, although I try to focus on the pain and horror rather than the physical details. Still, I have to ask myself, who is my audience? The characters are fourteen years old. I know that it is likely I’ll have readers about that age.
So do I censure myself?
Let me make this even more immediate. Not only may there be teenagers who may buy and read my book; my OWN teenager will likely read it as well, when she is fourteen. She was a big fan of my first book and had been eagerly waiting for this one. She may also tell her friends or donate a copy to her school library (we also did this with my first book).
So what do I do?
I have to say, I’ve never supported censorship. Do I believe that some movies are inappropriate for children? Yes, I do. I think in particular that violent, horrific movies should be kept away from young eyes. My daughter is not allowed to see anything like Saw until she’s an adult. However, I think in America that we shelter our kids from the wrong things. We think it’s okay to see violence and bloodshed, but don’t allow our kids to see anything with nudity or sexual references. I think that’s wrong.
Look at Europe. I think they have a healthy attitude about sex. The human body is beautiful, they’re not ashamed of it, and nudity isn’t a big deal. And yet they have lower teen pregnancy than the United States. And then look at Japan. Manga, Yaoi, shouta are all commonly found and they know that teenage girls are reading highly sexualized comic books, and that’s okay. I don’t see Japan’s youth falling into debauchery. Funny enough, they actually seem more reserved. I know that’s a cultural thing, but it still shows that being exposed to sexual knowledge does not equal loose morals. They also have some extremely dark themes in movies, literature, and art. Ever watched an anime movie with subtitles that was not “cleaned up” for an American audience? Try it. You might be shocked.
I also look at some of the difficult themes addressed in what is now considered great American literature, like Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, Scarlet Letter–the list goes on. If you don’t teach children about controversial subjects, how can you ever expect them to make up their own minds about things? To think for themselves?
So I’m keeping the rape scene. I’m keeping the molestation and the skewed sexuality of the main character, her journey from victim through recovery and eventually health. The world isn’t always pretty. (Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret. The Color Purple, Lolita).
So your teen is reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover in school? Don’t freak out.
Let them broaden their minds. Have a little trust.