Young Adult Books: Where to draw the line?

Recently I reviewed the novel The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (which you can read here) . It raised many questions for me about how we categorise children’s books.

The emergence of Young Adult novels in the last couple of decades demonstrates the need for a new category to clearly distinguish itself from a children’s book. However, where do we draw the line, at what age exactly is a young adult?

Sex is legal in the UK at the age of 16, voting, drinking and driving is legal at 18. At which point are you considered an adult, if it is 18 then how much younger would you be to be considered a young adult? If I had a child of 14, I would strongly discourage them reading The Bunker Diary, however I wouldn’t try to stop them reading The Fault in our Stars. Both have adult content, both are marketed to a young adult reader so why would I consider one to be unsuitable.

If this same imaginary child, who has now turned 15, was going to the cinema and it was showing either The Notebook or Girl, Interrupted, they could see whichever they choose because they are both rated 15. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be comfortable with them choosing Girl, Interrupted not because I don’t like it (I love it! One of my favourite films) but because it tackles some very tough and emotionally difficult topics. I wouldn’t stop them though because someone has deemed it suitable for a 15 year old.

It is a fine line.

Children and Teenagers mature at different rates, one 15 year old may not be as emotionally capable of dealing with The Bunker Diary as another may. Age is of course but a number however at least films give parents an idea of how appropriate the content may be (even if sometimes we disagree). Books on the other hand, have no such signposting, apart from the ambiguous Young Adult section.

If you are a parent then can you honestly tell me that you have read and/or researched every book your child/teenager has ever read? Of course not. Especially, if your teenager is anything like I was! I don’t even know how I found enough hours in the day to get through all the books I read let alone an adult with far more demands on their time than I had at 14! So how do you decide what is appropriate?

Maybe a book that has won a children’s book award?

So…like The Bunker Diary…which won the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal. It won an award for children’s books so surely it is appropriate for my child…as long as my child can deal with abduction and torture

Books are a great way to teach children and teenagers about the world, I have no doubt about that. And I am in no way trying to boycott novels which contain sex, drugs, death, etc. I just wonder if somehow teenagers could be more informed about the content of a book before they read it.

I was shocked to learn in my studies just how much some adults do censor what their children read (one person discouraged their son from reading a book about farting (WHICH THEY FOUND HILARIOUS) because it didn’t educate him in any way!).

I am not suggesting censoring books in anyway or trying to shield children from harsh reality, I just think that there should be some kind of guidelines on what exactly we consider to be a work of Young Adult fiction and what is a children’s book.

I personally don’t think I would have been able to cope with the disturbing content of The Bunker Diary at 14.

‘Excuse me then. You know my heart, / But dearest friends, alas! must part.’

John Gay


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