YA Books: Rated “E” for Everyone?

Published April 24, 2012 by Jennifer Elizabeth

The other night I was visiting with family and discussing YA books with my cousin-in-law.  We will name her Marie.

Marie indicated how it is difficult for her to decipher which YA books are appropriate for her and which ones are not. Marie is in 8th grade. She comes from a wonderful, supportive, Catholic family and her parents are protective of what she and her siblings are exposed to, and for good reason.  Let’s face it, there is a lot of crap out there (and I do not mean just in books).  And, some books, although not necessarily crap, do have massive amounts of unnecessary inappropriate language.  And generally, a handful of YA books involve their characters in premarital sexual relationships in one way, shape, or form.

While there are parents who are not concerned with what their kids read, there are many that are concerned.  So does that mean we ignore those parents who are concerned?  I don’t think so. That is exactly why ratings are placed on movies, TV shows, and even video games.  They provide parents and children with a reference regarding age appropriateness.

Over the past few days I have participated in a bit of  “blog creeping” if you will. I have searched out fellow YA blogs to get a sense of what I lack in my own blog, what I enjoy about other blogs, and what similarities I share with fellow YA bloggers in general.

One recurring theme I’ve seen is questioning the young adult category itself, in regards to reader age and definition.  What exactly is YA?

While many seem to question why adults are reading YA, others are pondering, “Who are the intended readers?”

I specifically focused on age appropriateness when I first started my blog.  The young adult age category has such a wide range of readers in regards to age brackets.  What exactly does “young adult” classify as?  Who is a “young adult”.

Personally, I feel as though I still fall into this category. I am 30.  I really don’t feel like an “old adult” at 30, nor do I feel like a middle-aged adult.  So yes, I believe I am a “young adult”.

And yet, how does a 12-year-old also fall into the same category as me?

Should YA fall into two separate categories, teens AND young adults?  And what should these age ranges be?

Chances are, a reclassification is not going to happen any time soon.  Hence, what can be done about it?

Currently, anyone can look up the product details of a book.  Listed in the details is the suggested reading level.  Most YA books either fall in the “12 years and older” or “14 years and older” bracket.  But, is that enough? I don’t think so. There is a growing need for more. And, in regards to the booming population of Indie books, I have yet to come across one YA Indie book that does provide the suggested reading level.

Thus, should we, as reviewers, take responsibility and include an age appropriate range in our personal book reviews?  Do we start thinking of books like we do movies, TV programs, and video games, and provide ratings like an “E” for everyone, a “PG” for parental guidance, “PG-13”, etc.  OR, do we identify what the books contain like “V” for violence, “M” for mature situations, “L” for language, etc?

And, should young readers be limited to only finding age-appropriate ratings through YA blogger reviews? I don’t think so.

I honestly feel that the need is strong enough that large online book organizations like Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon should add an age appropriate rating system for their reviewers to utilize,  just like the star-rating system that is currently in place for the  “how good did you think this book was” review system.  I don’t exactly know what it should look like, but it could be as simple as a drop-down box that allows each reviewer to pick a specific age he or she feels is appropriate for said book, and then all ratings be averaged and presented via the actual book synopsis (just like the star-rating system).

I honestly feel that young readers need this.  Parents need this.  If you go into any popular bookstore you will see shelves and shelves of young adult fiction.  Who is going to know what is OK for their teen and what is not OK?  The books themselves do not tell you anything. Teens and parents ultimately have to go to online review sites and blogs for age appropriate guidance.

Teens want to know, “Can I read this at my age?  Would Mom let me read this?”

These teens are aware of what they should and shouldn’t be reading and what their parents would approve of or disapprove.  Do we fault them for this?  I don’t think we should. We should help them.

So why is this important?

For one, not all YA books should be looked upon as inappropriate just because they are YA.  Not all of them carry the weight that qualifies as “suggestive”.  Some do.  Some don’t.

The Tiger Series, written by Collen Houck, is a YA series.  I have read it and there is nothing suggestive about it.  I would rate it “E” for everyone.

However, I would not provide an “E” rating for the Hush, Hush Series by Becca Fitzpatrick, The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series by Maggie Stiefvater, or the Fallen Series by Lauren Kate. Why?  Because there are suggestive things in each series.  Are they bad books?  Absolutely not.  I have personally read and loved all three of these series. Yet each carries “something,” be it language or mature subject matters (ie. fleeting moments of sexual situations).

Finally, I ask you, my fellow YA reviewers, to please consider adding an age appropriate-type rating system to your reviews because I think it is now necessary.  While I would love to pitch my idea to the large online bookstores and review websites, I don’t know if they would agree that it is necessary.  I believe it is.

I have witnessed young readers wanting to know if these books are appropriate for their ages.  Right now we are on YA overload.  There is so much of it out there and it is all so different.

We need to rate it for age appropriateness.  We need to do it for kids like Marie.  It is the least we can do for our young readers and their concerned parents.

9 comments on “YA Books: Rated “E” for Everyone?

  • I don’t have a problem with bloggers/reviewers leaving age appropriate ratings. I don’t even have an issue with them being on books (Check out your local book store’s manga section and you’ll see they all carry a rating on them). My concerns lie in two places:

    1) I don’t want someone to be banned from buying a book because they are 14 and buying an adult book (I read adult books in the 6th grade. It depends on the maturity of the reader and some are ready for the situations. I can get not wanting your kids to read certain things when they’re young, but I promise you, they are seeing it other places, be it in school, in movies, on tv, etc. completely sheltering them to it will NOT help in the long run. I think it’s better to have an open relationship where they can come and talk to their folks about something they read or saw, know what I mean?)

    2) If parents are SO concerned, then they should read the book first and decide if they think it’s appropriate for their child. Remember, someone doesn’t have to curse for something to be nasty or mean. Things can be alluded to without using crass language, etc. Rating systems aren’t a bad idea, but societies idea of what’s acceptable may be different from yours.

    If your cousin, as an 8th grader, can’t find appropriate YA novels, have her try MG stuff. If she can’t find it, ask in the book store or the library. Those people are there to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

    YA needs to hit some hard hitting topics. Kids need to know what’s going on in the world, in their age bracket. Make sure they know the difference between fact and fiction and be open to discuss the books with them. Also, share and take recommendations from friends with kids of the same age/reading level.

    • First of all, hello! Thank you so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to read and reply to my post. I honestly appreciate any feedback provided.

      Second, please allow me to respond to your reply and clarify some things I feel you may have misinterpreted.

      To start, I am not very familiar with the Manga sections in bookstores; however, I do know that they are the graphic novels. My general understanding (and again remember I am unfamiliar with Manga) is that they would have to contain a rating because of the graphics. My guess would be that some things would be drawn a bit more questionably than others, hence the rating placed on the graphic novel.

      Second, when writing this post, it was never my intention to have my readers feel I was soliciting for the banning of books. Let me be perfectly clear. I am an aspiring author. I would never want my books or any other books banned. As Americans we have been given the right to the Freedom of Speech. Writers should absolutely write how they feel and tell their stories with whatever words they so desire. However, not every author’s work will fall under the “for all eyes to read” category.

      And, again, I am speaking specifically about Young Adult fiction.

      You stated, “I can get not wanting your kids to read certain things when they’re young, but I promise you, they are seeing it other places, be it in school, in movies, on TV, etc. completely sheltering them to it will NOT help in the long run.”

      I absolutely agree with your statement. However, movies, TV shows, and video games do provide some sort of age-appropriate rating. Does this prevent kids from watching programs or movies or playing video games that have a suggested rating age that is older than their current age? Absolutely not. Are kids banned from these things? No. A rating system does not “ban” anyone from anything. (Although it will prevent them from purchasing it if under the required age and not accompanied by an adult.)

      Also, I 100% agree with having an open relationship with your children to allow for a back and forth conversation. This is important to have in any type of relationship.

      Next, I really do not feel that parents have the time to read absolutely everything their children want to read. Some things, yes. But everything? Most likely no.

      And I also agree that some books can allude to language or situations without actually using the exact words.

      However, the point I was trying to make (and again, I apologize to every one who has read it and misinterpreted my words) is that there is so much out there right now in YA fiction that young readers and parents could use a little help trying to determine what is or may not be appropriate.

      My cousin-in-law, Marie, does not have any difficulty finding appropriate YA books. But, there are some she comes across and wants to whether or not it is appropriate for her at this stage in her life. Simply, she (and many other teens as well) just wants to know what to expect. Is there a lot of swearing? Or maybe just a little? Are there sex scenes or is it just respectfully alluded to within the context?

      And in regards to asking for help in the bookstores, yes, people are there to help. Absolutely. It is their job to help. But will they have read everything? I doubt it.

      Finally, YA does indeed hit some mature topics. It wouldn’t be YA if it didn’t. It is what makes YA timeless. It does bring up situations that many readers have experienced at some point in life, be it falling in love for the first time, drinking, getting a first job, being rejected and heartbroken, etc.

      BUT, we have to remember that it is fiction. It isn’t reality. Some things are exaggerated to create an interesting story. I am not going to degrade teens by implying they do not understand the difference between fact and fiction. Kids are very smart these days. They know A LOT more than I did, and it wasn’t too long ago that I was a teen myself. (Well, at least it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago ;). )

      The intention of my post was to encourage young adult book reviewers to provide a suggested reading level within the review. Specifically, tell the reader what to expect be it brief language or extensive language, or whatever it may be. I don’t think this is censoring. I think it is a way of providing a “heads up” to teens and parents. That is all. And well one reviewers opinion may be different than another, we have to remember that it is ONLY a suggestion. They do not have to take it 😉 .

      Again, thank you for your response and some great discussion! All my respect, Jen

  • Great post, Jen–this is a really important topic. I used to have a book review site (before my second baby started crawling and I could no longer keep up with the ARCs I was being sent 🙂 and I tried to address this issue by listing “possibly objectionable topics” at the end of each review. The difficulty (for me) with an age rating was that every reader is different. When I was a teen, for example, I could handle heavily mature topics related to war or poverty or the like, but I would have been uncomfortable with something as relatively innocuous as crude language. As an older young adult now (I’m 26), I still avoid YA books with premarital sex–even if it’s only alluded to. All this said, one of my favorite YA books is Marcelo in the Real World–which is chock-full of crude language and references and direct conversations about sex. I think it’s an excellent book for adults, young or otherwise, but I couldn’t recommend it to a lot of teens I know.
    So there has to be a distinction/rating/something, but it’s a tricky balance. I’m really glad you’re committed to trying to find one!

    • Thanks Faith! I only became interested in the idea of finding some a of way to let teens and parents of teens know what to expect in YA Books, because I’ve been asked by young teens, and my mom, who is a library clerk, comes across it every single day. She has said that my discussions with her about the books I’ve read has helped her to recommend various authors based on the teens and parents she comes across daily. Because she herself (and may she works with) does not read YA, she doesn’t know what to expect in each book.

      And then I came across a review of a book I was looking into reading on Barnes & Noble, and the teen came right out and said it sounded like a book she’d love to read but didn’t know if it was appropriate for her or not. No one even replied to her :-/

      And so, I just felt driven to try and help, somehow. And I totally get that not every teen is the same and not every parent is the same…but there has to be some happy medium to help those that want the help.

  • Hi Jen! A friend of mine directed me to your blog ( Shel Delisle ) when she saw this topic, as it is one near and dear to my heart. It’s courageous of you to write about it, because it always brings a firestorm! I see both sides, since there are books that might be rated “not for everyone” that I would want my children to read, and others that I definitely would want them to avoid. Because I read and write YA myself, I am able to distinguish these for my children, but I know there are a lot of parents out there who are not familiar with YA literature. Personally, I write “E” rated YA, because that’s what I like, and I never feel it’s missing anything. Keep up the good work!

    • Kristina, Thank you so much for your response to my post. I am so honored to have a YA author’s feedback–so thank you for that! I completely agree with you that there are two sides of the coin to consider regarding age appropriateness for YA books. Every reader is different and every book is different. It becomes quite tricky to decipher, especially for those parents unfamiliar with YA literature.

      This topic is quite touchy for many people–and I feel some take it personally and some misinterpret what is suggested. For me, I would never suggest “banning books” or choosing which books are best for which readers. I’m all about our freedom of speech! 🙂 My intention was to only encourage authors and reviews to give their audience a “heads up” as to what is in the book/s–violence, sex, language, etc.

      Again, thank you so much for your response and kind words. I truly appreciate your input and that you took the time to read my post. I consider myself a novice blogger and am always humbled and encouraged when someone posts a comment. 🙂

      -Jen

  • Hi Jennifer!

    I really enjoyed your post and share most of your concerns–as a mom and a writer and a reviewer of children’s books.

    When I grew up there really wasn’t anything like YA and I was a voracious reader, so I ended up reading some adult books that were far ahead of my emotional maturity. YA, in general, offers something of a compromise, and I’m grateful the category exists, but it does tend to put a “safe” label on a really broad range of content.

    The difference between a twelve year old and thirteen year old can be dramatic and even more of a difference exists between twelve and fifteen.

    And, this isn’t just true for YA. When my youngest son was growing up, he was a huge fan of Percy Jackson, but some of the deaths in one of the books came as a surprise to him (and me) and this series is usually considered MG or tween. I didn’t want him to NOT read the book, but would have preferred to wait a bit.

    It’s also difficult to know what to do as a writer. With my first book, I’ve heard from readers who think it’s a really clean read for younger YA readers. Some reviewers have said age 16 and up. I had one fan who was eleven, which shocked me because I wouldn’t let my 11 year old read it. She said the book had changed the way she saw the world. She’d had a very difficult upbringing and so it was, for her, a more innocent view of things. Finally, I had another writer ask me if it was appropriate for her thirteen year old daughter and based on everything that had come before, I didn’t even know how to respond except to address some of the content.

    I’d happily live with a system that rated content and carried labels for violence, language, sexual situations–especially if it was broken down into mild, moderate, strong, especially if we knew what fell into each of those categories. Then I’d know there would be consistency from my book to others. Parents and readers could feel (mostly) assured of what to expect.

    It’s a gnarly topic you’ve tackled. I applaud the effort!

    • Hi Shel! Thank you so very much for your response! Last year I decided to begin writing a book review blog because of this topic. I kept bumping into conversations that centered around the “should I be reading this book” topic. So, I took it as a sign to try and do something about it…even it if was just a little something.

      I agree, it is a gnarly topic to discuss. There are so many differing opinions about age appropriateness for YA readers, but there has to be some sort of happy medium to help parents and young readers (specifically the ones requesting a little help) decipher which ones to read and which to avoid until given the “go ahead”–be it the parental “go ahead” or just growing up a bit.

      Your input for a mild, moderate, or strong content rating system is a wonderful idea, especially, as you said, if authors knew exactly what fell into each of those categories.

      I am so honored to have you respond to my post. Feedback from a writer and reviewer of children’s books is absolutely humbling and encouraging. Thank you.

      Side note: Today I discovered your book, “Winging It” when I stumbled upon the Orangeberry Book Tour, and I signed up to feature you and your book via my blog on Friday, August 10th. I will also post a review and requested an author interview as well! I am so excited to read, review, and host your book!

      -Jen

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