professornana (professornana) wrote,

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SpeakLoudly and Read with Care

I am always fascinated by discussions on the various listservs about books and their audiences. Lately, the target of some discussion was ME, EARL, AND THE DYING GIRL. The central question was whether or not to place the book in a middle school or a high school. I think there is such a fine line that I have a tough time drawing it between middle and high school. I tend to think more of what the reader needs to bring to the book in order to enter fully into the story. I tend to ignore suggested age ranges.

However, a lot of this discussion about where to place the book boiled down to the use of "language." Someone asked me once if there was language in a book I was talking about in a presentation. Flippantly, I replied that, "Yes, there was language. It was in English." I apologized for the flippant retort, but I was only half facetious. Language, THOSE words, are the wrong focus, IMHO. If the words used are of the 4 letter variety, I do not often notice unless: 1) they seem out of character for the character (not the case for the novel in question); 2) gratuitous (again, not the case for this text).

However, this went on to mention that Common Sense Media rated the book, so, of course, I had to click on this link: Now I am not a fan of web sites that label books like this. One of the reasons I think this irks me as much as it does is that there is an adult take. "Readers and their parents may also be put off by narrator Greg's teen self-centeredness and admitted lack of empathy with his friend Rachel -- or by the characters' liberal use of crude and profane language. " Anyone who reads YA has, I hope, the understanding that teen protagonists and antagonists are TEENS. Self- centered? Probably. Not terribly empathetic? Could very well be. Parents who do not read widely might not like these aspects, but I would argue that this is why the book might actually connect with a teen more than, say, Pollyanna or Rebecca from her Sunnybrook Farm.

Here is part of the summary for CHALLENGER DEEP, the National Book Award for Young People's Literature: "Sexual content is limited to hand-holding and one night of cuddling in bed. Caden's parents are mildly intoxicated in one scene. Caden takes a "cocktail" of prescribed medications, and the regimen helps him heal."

Every one of these sentences frightens me. Sexual content in hand holding and cuddling. Good heavens. Parents drinking? Say it ain't so! Caden taking meds for his illness. Darn him! Is it just me? I find this and other similar web sites to be more problematic even for those seeking some resources. I think they are more censorious than helpful. If I want to know where to place a book, I will ask colleagues. But, more often than not, I will read the book myself. And I will not limit the audience too much as I have had some middle school kids in the past who were prepared for more mature books and others who were not so much. It is tough to make that call for all kids.
Tags: age, audience, reviews
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