Last week, the Association of American Publishers announced hardcover Children’s or Young Adult (YA) fiction sales had increased nearly 14% in the last year. As optimistic as this is for the industry, which has seen adult fiction sales decline in recent months, parents hoping to snatch the computer and shove a book in front of their children may want to re-consider the current YA market.
At first glance, the numbers appear to communicate one positive thing: Kids are reading! Unfortunately, many of the books published in the YA category that readers are devouring at higher rates than their adult counterparts are either poorly written, communicate "adult" themes to a audience of minors, or demonstrate conflicting (if any) moral principles.
The Hunger Games trilogy is currently a best-selling, science fiction series. A cross between war and reality TV, kids and adults have devoured these as fast as author Suzanne Collins could pen them (the final novel was released in August; a film is forthcoming). The series takes place in a post-apocalyptic time and country. Every year a powerful, Big Brother government selects several boys and girls between 12 and 18 years of age to gather in one place and forces them to fight to the death, à la Roman gladiators, on live television, until one remains. The books follow several main characters who attempt to survive the Hunger Games. Critics have lauded the series for its thematic elements – such as government control, sacrifice, and personal independence – and the author’s writing style, developed characters, and action elements. So far the first two books have won multiple awards and much recognition.
Beyond the commercial and critical acclaim, the basic premise seems, pardon my old-fashioned thinking, gruesome subject matter for young adults, the youngest being 14. It’s as though George Orwell’s 1984 and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road met Survivor (the television show) and invited it to stay the night. The writing may be impeccable and the themes relevant for today’s Iraq-war-enduring teens, but the violence in the book is vivid and brutal. No doubt legal adults can handle the lucid fighting descriptions and mature themes of dystopia-era Big Brother environment – but a 14-year-old? He might be able to wrap his head around it, but just because he can, should he?