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A ratings system for YA books?

June 26, 2012

For as long as I can remember, there’s been a ratings system for movies. Over time, the only visible changes have been the addition of the PG-13 label, and the change from an X rating to NC-17. For much of my life, there have been explicit-content warnings on CDs and–by extension–services like Spotify. If you type a dirty word in YouTube and you click one of the videos that appears, you’ll probably have to sign up to watch it. And I’ve actually asked about video games my son wants because of their M rating.

In that context, the idea floated by BYU researcher Sarah Coyne–a ratings system for young adult books–doesn’t seem all that ground-breaking. And as a parent, there’s a part of me that wouldn’t mind such a system. My kids are older now. My daughter’s legally an adult. My son is in his mid-teens.

I trust them. Periodically, I’ll read something they’re reading because I’ve heard things and I’m curious. But they typically make good decisions with their reading choices. So the ratings system would be a mild convenience for me, not something I’d depend on a lot.

The parent part of me says that we have ratings for movies and TV shows, and an advisory system for music, so what’s the big deal. We still have edgy movies. For instance, there was a Nicole Kidman movie called Birth several years ago in which Kidman’s character becomes convinced that her husband has come back from the dead as a ten-year-old. There was a bathtub scene where a supposedly naked Kidman shares the tub with a supposedly naked Cameron Bright, the child actor. (The were never naked in the bathtub together and in the one scene they film together, they were clothed.)

This scene was filmed in spite of the rating system. Language on television has become coarser and I now know what Holly Hunter’s naked butt looks like, in spite of a ratings system. (At least I think I do. I may have to watch that scene again to make sure…) And, there’s a song called Forget You by Cee Lo Green, and its real name is actually a one-syllable word that begins with F, followed by the word you. In spite of a warning system.

And yet, as a writer, I understand the opposition most writers would have. I don’t want my writing rated because there’s a little profanity and a couple of the characters have sex. Adults use profanity and have sex. It’s part of life. The same as going to the store and eating.

And as a teenager, I’d be angered by the suggestion. I should get to pick what I read. Last I saw, 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t shelved in the  teen section at the bookstore. And if I’m a teenager and I want to buy it, I’ll download it for my Nook and my parents will never know.

So although I wouldn’t agree with a ratings system, I’m pretty sure the world will go along pretty much the same with or without it.

  1. glitterandcaffeine permalink
    June 26, 2012 6:51 am

    I totally agree. I’m 15 and have always been able to read whatever I want (I’m reading Patricia Cornwells ‘Port Mortuary’ right now, it’s good!) and I wouldn’t want that to change just because of some sticker on the front!

    xoxo Maddi ❤

  2. June 26, 2012 9:18 am

    Interesting thoughts. I write for the juvenile market and often wonder why they don’t split the YA category into two. This isn’t necessarily because of content (“edgy” vs “non-edgy”), but because of reading levels and comprehension.

    Most in the industry now talk about Young YA (11-15) and YA (14-up), knowing that older YAs are already reading books in all genres and not just those marked YA. We also know that some YA books are crossovers, i.e., popular with adults (think Harry Potter & Friends; Twilight series). I was amused to discover last year that the main reason publishers haven’t begun marketing this division is that bookstores lik B&N and others don’t have shelving space marked YYA!!

    BTW, when I was in high school, everyone was reading the new sensation EXODUS. I brought it home to read and Mom decided Dad should read it first. Two days later he handed it back and said have at it. My, how times have changed!!

    Mary Lois

  3. June 27, 2012 10:10 am

    I would not mind a rating system for books. Providing additional information about products to buyers is rarely a bad idea. And I really don’t see a Book Patrol grabbing 50 Shades out of some kid’s hand because it had a M on it, any more than the guys at GameStop would prevent my kid from buying Call of Duty. I don’t see ratings as censorship; they’re a tool for making buying decisions.

    I write for the Christian market, and there’s been some chatter lately over whether we ought to label our work more clearly. It seems a lot of non-Christian readers pick up Christian novels when they’re free on Kindle, and then leave a negative review because they don’t like the faith component. All they saw was “free,” and didn’t notice that the category was “religious fiction.” A big ol’ label “Warning: contains Christianity” might have helped those readers better spend their time.

    No one likes to get halfway into a book and then encounter something that offends them, no matter whether the offensive thing is prostitution or prayer.

  4. Chris Hamilton permalink
    June 27, 2012 7:39 pm

    If my kids were different, I might be more likely to support the idea of ratings. But the guy at GameStop wouldn’t have sold Call of Duty to my son if I weren’t there.

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