I've been trying to figure out for the past few hours how to write this post as this is a very sticky subject and I have quite strong views about it.
This morning, on BBC Breakfast, two YA authors were asked about their opinions on certification on children and YA novels due to a recent study, in which the study showed that in YA bestsellers had high level of swearing, violence and was more likely to show characters abandoned with either troubled or absent parents.
The two authors were Patrick Ness and GP Taylor.
GP Taylor, a former vicar, stated that he felt that YA fiction had "gone too far" and said that he believed that an age ranging system for books. Patrick Ness rejected the idea immediately and welcomed the darkness in YA, stating that it was "irresponsible" to ignore the darker side of life in YA fiction.
Now, I have strong views on censorship and age rating in YA books, and I'm pretty sure that over this post, I will rant and rave and scream with fury. But the reason I am writing the facts (thank you Guardian website) is because I want to make one point clear: this is their opinions! GP Taylor thinks they should be a rating system and Patrick Ness doesn't. And having an opinion isn't wrong. So I find it a bit... unnerving... to hear people messaging GP Taylor saying "vile" things...
Now that I have that out of the way, let me have my say on this subject (and I apologise if I do lose my temper):
I am COMPLETELY against the idea of age rating books. To me, it's very much like censorship and, again, I feel very strongly about this.
I question who would do the age rating? The parents? The children? The Book Sellers? The Publishing Houses? The Government (the same government who has reduce funding to libraries and museums at a time when we need them the most)? Surely it is up to us, the reader, to decide whether a book is suitable for us. And if we starting a book that we don't like, we stop reading it. This is how it has work for YEARS and, so far, it's been going pretty well.
If we have a new body who acts like the British Board of Film Classification (the BBFC), then they would be called into question over choices of rating. For example, the recent film version of The Woman in Black was rated 12 in the United Kingdom. Now, as someone who saw this film and heard a lot of the cinema goers speaking afterwards, we were all shocked that this film was classed as a 12 and not a 15, which would have been more suitable. So, what were they thinking?
And what defines a YA fiction? Surely being aimed for teenagers, surely these books should tackle teenage themes, and most of these themes are dark.
But if we go the route of classification for books, one has to wonder how far it could go. Who will decide what is deemed acceptable for readers? And how much power should these people have? How long will it be before the power is taken out of the author's, publisher's and reader's hands? And how will it be before will it be before we tackle censorship? How long will censorship take before YA books are banned? And then, what next? Will all books be banned? Will all from of storytelling be banned? Will we say goodbye to all books, all tv dramas, all radio shows, all films, all newspapers? Will we become a storyless country?
That is extreme, but the idea of someone telling me what I can and cannot read and the fact that books should be rated for suitable for its readers upset and angry. I have spoken to several people on Twitter who have informed that books that have been age rated in the past haven't reached their target audience and readers who are less confident won't read those books. Also, in 2008, Scholastic tried to do age rating and this was almost immediately shot down.
I also find it hard to believe that Mr Taylor to say that YA fiction has be darker when he has written a trilogy about vampires in the Second World War, which has been classed as scary horror for YA. I also find it hard to believe that, earlier in the interview, he claimed that he was "dragged" into writing this trilogy. Now, most authors write what they want to write and hope that their editor enjoys it and the same goes to the reader.
Now, I'm not sure whether this changes your opinion or maybe I wrote this in a God-awful way, but I want to end this on a quote from the movie Matilda which, I feel, sums up why YA books are so important and, if we have age rating on books, this message will be meaningless: "These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone."