A few weeks ago during a library visit, K2 brought a book to me that she was interested in but "it says its for 14 and up, mom." It looked interesting enough that I told her I would read it and let her know if it was appropriate for her. I figured it was the least I could do since she actually read the age recommendation and brought it to my attention.
The book was Valiant by Holly Black. It tells the story of a 17 year old girl who runs away to NYC after discovering a horrible secret. In NYC, she meets up with some kids who are living in abandoned subway tunnels. It isn't long before Val realizes that there is more going on here than she first thought possible and is introduced to the magical beings living in exile among the humans. It is a really good book with interesting plot lines on old story ideas. However, I ran into problems with whether or not I would let K2 read it.
First, and actually of least concern is the language. The "F" word is used quite a bit throughout the book. Unfortunately, K2 has a mom who has used the word quite frequently so it is not a word that is unknown to her. But on the positive side, K2 really dislikes swear words and does not use them and frowns upon her mom and her older brother when they use any variety of cuss words from the mild to the extreme. So based on this knowledge, I disregarded that as a reason for not letting her read the book.
More importantly though are the sexual themes mentioned in the book. In the first few pages of the book, Val is thinking about her boyfriend and how she can barely get him to kiss her let alone have sex anymore. Then Val arrives home unexpectedly to discover her mother being undressed by her (Val's) boyfriend. There is no nudity however, the mother's blouse is unbuttoned and he is touching her bra. Then later on in the book, two of the characters are mentioned as having sex frequently and in fact, Val and one of the tunnel rats she hooks up with have sex after they "magically" alter their appearance to look like other people. (Val imagines the boy as someone she likes and the boy imagines Val as someone he wants.) This was the one scene that I found most disturbing... not because of the way it is described but just the fact that each has "changed" the other one to reflect someone else. So, in essence, in their minds they are having sex with someone else completely. It is just the way that they use each other that I found disturbing and wondering if a pre-teen/adolescent could actually understand and see how this is so wrong.
My first reaction was no way... nope, K2 was not reading this book. Maybe in two years but not know (she is almost 12). But then I slowly stopped and thought about it. None of what is mentioned is graphic or detailed very much. I don't want my kids growing up with no idea of sex, good or bad... I don't want to treat it as if it doesn't exist. I have a brother and sister-in-law who wouldn't even kiss in front of their daughter because they didn't want her to know about sex in any way so she wouldn't get ideas. To me, this is absolutely ludicrous. But I also don't want K2 to think that I condone the behavior in the book. So I told her she could read it but that she had to keep in mind that first, this was a work of fiction. Second, that the kids in this book are 17 and older and most have been living on the streets for quite awhile. And third, that we would talk about the book as she read it and if she has any questions about it whatsoever, I want her to ask me. So I don't know if I made the right decision... parenting... we learn by trial and error.
One other note... I was reading Harlequinn romances by 7th grade and had quickly moved into the "red" Silhouette Desires (the raciest of the Harlequinn line at that time). I was reading so much more intimate stuff and I turned out okay (alright, I can hear some of you laughing out there!) BUT looking back I realize that I missed so many great books when I was younger... maybe that is why I don't mind reading children and young adult books now.