” We tried for three days to sneak Ona’s [dead] baby out, but the guard stood near whenever the doors were open. The smell of rotting flesh had become unbearable in the hot car. It made me retch.
Ona finally agreed to drop the baby down the bathroom hole. She knelt over the opening, sobbing, holding the bundle….
…’I can’t’, whimpered Ona. ‘She’ll be crushed on the tracks.’
Mother moved toward Ona. Before she reached her, Miss Grybas snapped the bundle from Ona and threw it down the hole. I gasped. Mrs. Rimas cried.” – Sepetys; Between Shades of Gray, pp. 75-76
“Augustus sat in the driver’s seat, covered in his own vomit, his hands pressed to his belly where the G-Tube went in. ‘Hi’, he mumbled.
‘Oh God, Augustus, we have to get you to a hospital.’
‘Please, just look at it.’ I gagged from the smell but bent forward to inspect the place just above his belly button where they’d inserted the tube. The skin of his abdomen was warm and bright red.
‘Gus, I think something’s infected. I can’t fix this. Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home?’ He puked, without even the energy to turn his mouth away from his lap. ‘Oh sweetie’, I said.” – Green; The Fault in Our Stars p. 244
“Do you know what ‘masturbation’ is? I think you probably do because you are older than me. But just in case, I will tell you. Masturbation is when you rub your genitals until you have an orgasm. Wow!
I thought that in those movies and television shows when they talk about having a coffee break that they should have a masturbation break. But then again, I think this would decrease productivity.
I’m only being cute here. I don’t really mean it. I just wanted to make you smile. I meant the ‘wow’ though.” – Chbosky; Perks of Being a Wallflower p.21
Which of those quotes leaps out at you or makes you uncomfortable when you imagine a 12-13 year old girl reading them?
If you are like every single person I’ve asked since starting this little experiment, the answer is a resounding “The 3rd one!” i.e. the quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Initially that was my reaction as well, and then I was kind of shocked at myself. (My daughter has read all three of the books quoted above.) “So,” I said to myself, “You have no problem with your daughter reading about the horrors of death en route to and in the Siberian work camps during WWII, or the horrible reality of teens with terminal cancer, but a kid commenting on the pleasure of masturbation freaks you out? The NATURAL thing that every single person on this planet, whether they admit to it or not, does?”
“No”, I argued, “It’s not just that; the kids in “Perks” experiment with drugs, they drink and there are themes of depression/suicide & abuse along with the sex.”
But let’s get real. Remove the sex from that book and most of us wouldn’t blink an eye at it. (There also wouldn’t be much of a story, but…)
Common Sense Media says the Siberian death camp book is appropriate for readers 12 and up. The teen cancer book is ok for 15 and up and the sex, drugs &
rock’n roll depression book? 16 and up.
I think there may be something seriously off about our priorities.
The other argument I’ve heard is that “Perks” is more realistic and that’s why it should be reserved for older kids. (Although it is in no way more realistic than “The Fault in Our Stars”. That book was brutal in its’ realism.) Which I guess means that if the same story was set in, say, the early 1800’s in Japan where suicide was an honored ritual, where the poppy plant was smoked to “enlighten” the mind and where women were taken as concubines at the whim of powerful men in order to produce heirs… well then it would be fine.
All the same themes, basically, but set in a different time and told without using the words “penis”, “vagina”, “masturbation” or “orgasm”.
If we are going to discuss books with our soon to be or young teens, what is wrong with discussing books that may have a place in their reality? Not that they will personally deal with depression or do drugs or have sex – well, they will have sex, just hopefully not at the age of 12 or 13 – but they may encounter these issues through friends or acquaintances, and wouldn’t it be better for them to encounter them first with the distance & safety that a book provides?
Why do we have such issues with these themes and these words? Why did we all think “The Hunger Games” was fantastic but that “Perks” is somehow inappropriate? Don’t get me wrong, I loved “The Hunger Games” – both the book series and the movie – and so did my kids. I am asking these questions not only of others but of myself as well.
I have a lot of theories about this. Maybe it’s a religious thing. Maybe we’re projecting our own insecurities onto our kids. Maybe we remember a little too clearly the things we were interested in at the same age, or the things we did. Maybe our culture is more heavily influenced by our Puritanical past than we’d like to admit. Maybe we want our kids to never grow up.
Whatever the reason or reasons, we have become a society (or maybe we have always been a society) that accepts violence and violent death as natural but sex & discussions about sex as unnatural; at least when it comes to our kids.
And that can’t be a good thing.