Monday, 9 July 2012

Age Rating for YA Books?

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.


  1. I am against age rating for YA books because it's way too subjective. There's nothing to keep teens from reading adult books, after all. I certainly had no problem buying them or checking them out from the library when I was a teen. I understand that in this day and age there are a lot of demands on people's time, and parents are looking for easy, age appropriate things for their children, but it's lazy and crazy. I've yet to meet anyone ruined by books. YA authors know who they're writing for, and thankfully most of them nowadays aren't writing the watered down drivel that marked a lot of the YA available to me in the early 90s. If we can handle gruesome fairytales whilst still being potty trained, I think teens can handle much more.

    1. You raise a very good point about fairytales! I didn't think of that when I was writing this! Horrible things happen to characters and yet, we tell them to very young children...

      I think, with books, we should trust the authors and publishers in knowing what they are doing. And then trust the reader to decide on if they want to read it.

  2. I attempt to give age recommendations based on what the content and which members of my book club (11-15) would be ok with reading them...It's nice to have guidelines so that people know what to expect (so that an unsuspecting twelve year old doesn't suddenly find smut), but having strict ratings would ruin the whole point of books opening minds.

    1. That's why Hot Key (that new indie publisher) has created that Info Ring, where they give a percent of information to what happens in the book. They can tell, quickly, what happens in the book and the reader can look at that and go "OK" and decide for themselves.

      It's the worry of very strict rating that worries me.

  3. We have age based classifications ( Picture books, Early Readers, Middle Grade, YA and Adult) for the purpose of searching/archiving and as guidance. Although these are usually based on the protagonists age rather than the subject matter.
    I would hate to think that anyone was using these prescriptively, like a film rating. Ironically I read predominately adult books in my teens and now i am an adult I read predominately YA!
    I think that reading choice is a very personal thing but as a parent I can see the other side of the coin.
    Interesting point with regards to who decides what is suitable a what age.
    What I deem suitable for my child would be deemed as inappropriate by others. For example, my daughter is nearly five, she know the anatomical terms for genitalia and how babies "come out"( thankfully she hasn't asked how they get in!) and yet there are many of her peers who use pet names ie. "flower" and "winkle" for their genitalia and think that babies come out of their mothers belly buttons!
    I find the idea of self censorship fascinating and would welcome others thought on the subject.
    Sorry for the long, rambling comment. Fascinating discussion topic!

    1. No, don't apologise for your comment! I thought it was very interesting. As a newly-made uncle, I complete get the parent's view. But I think most parents look at the book their child wants and go "is this suitable?" and decide what they think is the best for their child.

      But I totally agree with you. reading is a very personal thing.

  4. I'm so late to this but thank you so much, I have to completely honestly agree. I gave my stepson a copy of Coraline and he brought it back to me after reading just a few pages and said it was too wierd and scary for him (he was 10 at the time) this to me proves your point that we can censor ourselves at most ages and that children will not read something if they think its too scary, grown up or wierd for them!
    I think this is also something that will stop happening if we give the books an age rating becuase kids are more likely to want to read something with an older age sticker on it than they are if theres no ages at all… I know I was anyway!