I just posted on the excellent Graceling trilogy and added that I would not let my 10 year old read it because of the rape and incest. I suggested 15 might be a good age. Then I went back and edited, remembering the rape and incest, while central to Bitterblue, is only implied near the end of Graceling. It’s not in Fire. So then, I thought maybe 12 years old for the first two and 15 for Bitterblue? And then, it occurred to me that rape and incest happens to kids all the time. In that case, reading about it in this context would be helpful. How ironic to censor something in a book that describes what’s happening in a kid’s real life. So, then I concluded, it’s such an individual choice. With sex, I didn’t want my kids reading about it or seeing movies that referenced it, before I had “the talk.” I wanted them to learn about sex from me first, rather than from a kid at school or from a movie. I had the conversation with my daughter last Spring, when she was nine. It went really well, and since, she’s come to me with questions, and she seems comfortable talking about it. But rape and incest, I’d like to protect her from the knowledge of a little longer.
I did a Google search, remembering something I’d read on dark YA lit a while ago that was good. Here’s a quote from the post and the link.
The underlying assumptions behind Gurdon’s piece seem to be rooted in the idea that children read books with heavy content and ‘go bad,’ when in fact the opposite is true. Some children lead dark lives and they read books with intense themes to find protagonists they identify with in an often hostile world. Some young adults read about rape and bullying and violence, eating disorders and self harm and mental illness, because these are things they experience.
Alas, the belief that bad things do not happen to children and young adults is not limited to naïve Wall Street Journal columnists, and it does far more damage than mere dubiously-sourced articles that attract a storm of commentary. The belief that childhood is a happy place, where bad things don’t happen, where you don’t need rose-tinted spectacles because everything is already rose-tinted, has direct and harmful impacts on children and young adults in danger.
I don’t think my child would “go bad” from reading about this stuff. Nor do I think if a child is into these books, that means she’s leading a “dark” life. I think, and I could be wrong, if my ten year old daughter picked up Bitterblue, she’d read it cover to cover.
Also, for my kids, I do believe childhood is a pretty happy place for them and should be protected as such. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Disneyworld to me. I think Disneyworld is tremendously warped. But it does mean I want my kids to experience the belief in safety and also in magic. I believe that covering up “reality” to protect a child’s developing imagination is an important part of parenting and also, of being a kid. If your child has safe boundaries, she feels brave enough to take healthy risks. Psychologist Stephen Mitchell explains this well in his excellent book, Can Love Last: the Fate of Romance Over Time:
One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.
It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.
What are your thoughts on all this?
Update: Heather comments that her 8 year old daughter learned about rape and incest when a classmate brought porn to school.
Based on the brief snippets of content she saw, I had to not only have “the talk”, but also explain a LOT of things I never thought I’d have to address at that age. Because of this, conversely, she is now very educated on both sex, misogyny, and rape/assault/child abuse. Therefore, I think these books that are written about very serious issues — but in the comprehension style of a young person who can find the characters identifiable — is a great source of information…I have not read these books to endorse them, but now I am interested and will be checking them out at the library. Thank you.
Heather’s comment make me think that if your child knows about rape or incest, these books are appropriate for her or him. (I really hope parents of sons will get their kids this trilogy.)