Everyone who follows me on Instagram and Facebook is aware of the dilemma I had to face last week when my 13-year-old read a book he shouldn’t have read, all because of the misleading classification at the bookstore. As a parent, it was frustrating and disorienting, and definitely not something that I would want to experience again.
During spring break, I happened to be at Mall of Emirates, Dubai, with both my boys, and I thought it would be okay for us to get a couple of books. We had already gotten more than our agreed number of books from Kinokuniya, Dubai Mall, so we agreed to get just one book per person. With this in mind, we went into Borders and started looking around.
Now, Borders is not my favourite bookstore ever since they changed their location in the mall and shifted to a much smaller space. So, I got bored looking around and decided to help the boys. The younger one, as usual, was quick to decide what he wanted, and agreed to wait for his brother to make up his mind. The elder one, being a teenager and all, couldn’t decide what to get. It was taking too long, but to be honest, I can’t blame him. Almost all the books in and around the Young Adult section were love stories of one kind or another. Any thirteen-year-old boy would be confused if let loose in that section of Borders.
As I was looking, I found a book abandoned near the intermediate readers and the Young Adult section. I read the blurb and thought it sounded like a good thriller. I showed it to my son, but he said that he wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for him since we had no idea which shelf it was from. I agreed, and we continued searching for that ONE book! As I came to the end of the Young Adult shelf, I saw the book, The Missing by C. L. Taylor, in one of the shelves, and showed it to my son, telling him that it looks like it’s appropriate for your age. He still didn’t want it, and I got tired of looking and went to look at other books.
After about an hour, my son accepted defeat and came out with the same book that I had told him looked ok. We bought it and brought it back home with us. Ten days back, I saw the book in my son’s bookshelf and asked him how it was. he said that he had forgotten all about it, and that he will read it now because he didn’t have any other books to read. A couple of days later, he told me that he had read the book and it was a suspense thriller. I said maybe I should read it too, which is what I say about almost all the books that my kids read. He started hedging a bit when he heard this, and I immediately sensed that there was something he was uncomfortable about. So I asked him if it was a book he shouldn’t have read, and he said that yes, it was. And I should read it myself to know why he shouldn’t have read it.
I had just finished reading a book, so I immediately picked up The Missing to see what had made him so antsy. As I read the book, I was horrified! It was by no definition something that I would want my kid to read even if he was 16! It was about a boy of fifteen, but the things that boy was involved in, were disgusting and vile, and I’m still beating myself for making my son read it. I have had people telling me that I was an ignorant mother, and that I should have read the book before giving it to my son. I don’t really listen to such people.
The truth is that I have three kids, all voracious readers, and they buy books by the dozen. It is not possible to read all the books, and I don’t want to stop them from reading just because I don’t have time to read each and every book that they get. I generally rely on what other kids are reading, and then the classification in the bookstore. I have had reservations about a couple of books, but that is more because I want them to be reading diverse books rather than the same thing again and again. The only complaint I have had till now is that the books meant for girls are too stereotypical.
By definition, the Young Adult genre includes books meant for readers aged 12 to 18. I understand that it is a very wide range, since the reading interests of a 12-year-old are in no way similar to that of an 18-year-old. But generally, you can tell the difference between books meant for younger readers and those for a little bit older audience.
My son reads at a higher level of the reading scale, so he is allowed to get books appropriate for a 16-17 year old. It is not my personal opinion, but that of his teachers and various reading tests. Still, he himself is a very choosy reader and does not read just anything. I had to make him read the Divergent series by force for his class reading assignment.
I’m still at a loss to understand the criteria of classifying books in this category. There have been instances where I have read a Young Adult book and not given it to my son to read because of something or other. Still, I have never questioned the classification. If a book is about high school students, it is bound to have something objectionable for a middle school student. There are elements like sex or foul language that I might not want him to read ideally, but yes, I wouldn’t stop him from reading it in a couple of years.
This particular book is completely an adult book. There is no question of it being for anyone other than a college student maybe. The fact that it is about a 15-year-old boy does not make it Young Adult, and I wish bookstores would understand that. I don’t know how they decide where to put the books, but customers like me have to put our trust in these classifications, otherwise we will go crazy trying to vet every book for our kids.
Maybe, the book wouldn’t have had that much of an impact on me if my son hadn’t read it before me. Then again, being a mother, reading about a delinquent 15-year-old would have had some impact on me for sure. I’m still filled with guilt every time I think about it, and have no idea how to proceed from here. Should I now start reading each and every book, or stop getting books altogether? Both options are unimaginable, yet I have lost faith in the so-called classification of genres. I just hope I can find a solution that is practical enough, and acceptable to all!