Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Violence in Children's Literature: Is There a Line?

Today's Shelf Awareness includes a post by Sheryl Cotleur from the fantastic bookstore Book Passage about the uneasiness she felt when reading the final installment in the incredibly popular Hunger Games series, Mockingjay. From the post:

I am an adult book buyer, but our children's buyer convinced me to read the three Suzanne Collins books. I have just finished Hunger Games series, Mockingjay. I admit they are compelling and one reads steadily to learn what happens next. They are even inventive and the characters are fascinating people, yet the more I read, the more uneasy I became until I could barely get through to the end of the third book. Why, I wonder, is no one (that I am aware of) talking about how violent these books are? [Ed: emphasis mine. The post goes on to describe some of the violent scenes in Mockingjay, which I won't quote out of spoiler concerns, but which you should click through to read if you're curious.]

Well, let's talk about it.

Some of my absolute favorite children's books of all time are violent -- beloved characters dying, murder committed, danger around every corner. And certainly going all the way back to Aesop's Fables and the Brothers Grimm, instilling morality in children by way of scaring the bejeezus out of them is a very old tradition.

But is there a line? If so, where's it at? How much is too much?

Speaking personally, ever since a high school classmate of mine was murdered I've tended to be more squeamish about violence in books and movies than the average American, but that's not to say I don't ever enjoy violent stories provided the violence is true to the story and not gratuitous. It's all case-by-case for me.

What about you?






172 comments:

Catherine Meyer said...

One of the things that I think causes people to not point out all of the violence that Suzanne Collins writes (because there is a lot in the Gregor series, written for a younger audience, as well) is that she writes about it with what I have always seen as an anti-violence, anti-war agenda. I think that her message so clearly shows that this is not the way to do things.

I think that when violence is gratuitous, when it is not seen as harmful or dangerous or wrong, that that is when the line has been crossed.

Stephanie McGee said...

I think that if you set it up and frame it right, in such a way that makes it clear that violence isn't something that we should condone, it can work.

The most classic struggle is good vs. evil.

Narnia

Harry Potter

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Star Wars

There are countless more I could name. They all come down to one thing: the struggle to do what's right in a world full of cruelty and violence. To be that kind person when all around you would turn you to a different path.

Aren't all stories written, at least in some part no matter how small, to explore that issue of choices?

Shelli said...

I just finished Mockingjay, and I've read the rest of the series. I think parents need to be the judge of what material is appropriate for their children. This is a YA (young ADULT) book, not a children's book. I'd be OK with my teens reading it, but not younger than that. I felt the same way about the Twilight series.

Joel Q said...

Violence is part of our lives. So to have it in literature is normal. But the question of what should our kids be reading, well that is up to the parents. But the parents need to be proactive, preread the books (watch movies, TV shows, games) they have concerns about.
Are there web sites that discuss book content like "Plugged In" does for movies? That site has helped us determine which movies we'll let our kids watch.
What about other resources.
Parents it is time to purposefully engage with you children, what ever age they are.
Then again my girls are playing zombie Barbie, b/c Ken is missing his head.

Anonymous said...

I was actually thinking about this last week as I reread Hunger Games in anticipation for Mockingjay... The first book especially shows how despicable the Capital seems, gaining entertainment from violence inflicted on children. And I couldn't help but wonder how different I was from them? I'm certainly entertained by the series.

abc said...

I am waiting for my Mockingjay to arrive, but having read the first two, I can say that I'd have no qualms with letting my own kid (when she's old enough) read these books. I agree with Catherine. I think the violence isn't glamorized, it is troubling. And it SHOULD be troubling. With each terrible act one feels a sense of injustice and loss and anger rather than YES BRING ON THE BLOODSHED. At least I hope one does. I do.

Stoich91 said...

Violence has been proven to be very effectively channeled through the media. Unfortunately, what we constantly watch and read has been scientifically proven to effect our minds, especially children's minds, which are fresh and open to new ideas and possibilities.

I would no sooner sit a 12-year-old in front of a PG13 movie than I would hand them a PG13 book, which makes me wonder, by the way, why books aren't rated. But that's another story.

In conclusion, I think that if kids are actually anxious to read blood curdling horror or gut-wrenching, illegal-action-promoting violence in books, it's time we take our kids (and the publishing companies of America) aside for a talk.

Raval911 said...

Like Joel Q point out, violence is part of life, and the other, less spoken of extreme is to take out or (worse) syrupify violent or hard-to-swallow elements of life. This is especially troublesome given the assumptions about audience a lot of industry people (including us writers) make about our audiences. The question shouldn't be how much violence is too much but rather how does the violence serve the story, fit within the larger world of the story?

Romy said...

Violence in children's stories is nothing new. I just read my kids the classic 'Hansel and Gretel' this evening. Kidnapping, forced imprisonment, cannabilism - and we all cheer when Gretel pushes the old witch into the oven and she burns to death. And we're reading these to our kids just before they go to sleep!

I have no idea what effect violence in fiction might have on them but I fervently hope it helps them cope in an increasingly violent world rather than helping to perpetuate that violence.

Vanessa W. said...

I am iffy about violence in books (and other media directed at children/young adults). In fact, I find it interesting that all too often, violent books get a pass from the same kind of people who freak out about sex or religious issues.

I believe that the things that happen in books allow people to experience something secondhand so they can be prepared and educated should it happen in real life.

I don't think there should be a line within books. If anything, I think the line should be in real life, where parents and other people sit down with kids and say, "What happens in fiction is not real life. What happens even in nonfiction is not necessarily your life." So long as we distinguish between fact and fantasy, I think most people will be okay.

Great, thoughtful post, Nathan.

Natalie Whipple said...

I don't really have an answer, but my mom and I were talking about this, particularly in MG.

Why is it people can die all over the place in MG, and yet you throw in a kissing scene and OMG? It's kind of strange, isn't it?

Not to say kissing should be in MG books, but it can be surprising how much death/violence there is.

Shannon Dittemore said...

I agree with you. Nothing gratuitous, but if it fits the story and is handled well, I'm okay with it. My pet peeve is when authors are flippant about the value of human life. Suzanne Collins is anything but flippant.

You also have to look at the audience it's intended for. Suzanne Collins has written some books for young readers and the action doesn't resemble The Hunger Games trilogy in any way. Her trilogy was written for an older YA audience, and while, yes, parts of her novels are disturbing, they are essential to the story she's trying to tell.

Jason Black said...

Of course there's a line. I think every author for every audience has a duty to be respectful towards that audience. When writing for kids, we have a duty to be respectful towards what our readers may or may not be mature enough to handle.

The problem is, it's basically impossible to say in any kind of meaningful a-priori way just where that line is. As you say, it's always a case-by-case thing.

I recently finished Royce Buckingham's MG monster novel "Demonkeeper." In it, several kids die, done in by various demons in various ways. A couple of them, we're left to infer, probably got ripped apart and eaten alive. Violent? Sure. Over the line? No, because Buckingham left it off-camera. Had he shown it directly, describing which limbs came off in which order and how the poor victim screamed and thrashed about, that would probably have been over the line.

Katherine Longshore said...

I've been having this self-same discussion with my writer friends this morning. A 10-year-old girl in my son's class was very excited about Mockingjay's launch and it made me nervous. I agree with Catherine Meyer's comments about Collins' anti-war stance, and Anonymous 12:08's comment that Collins deftly puts the onus on the Capital. But that doesn't soften the violence itself.

Parents SHOULD be involved with what their children read, just like they should be involved with their children's education. Unfortunately, many are not.

That said, I don't have an answer. In light of Ellen Hopkins and the Humble, TX debacle, I'm pretty sure censorship isn't the way to go. But I do think that discussion, especially with the young people reading the books, is a great start.

Rowenna said...

First off, I don't know that I considered Hunger Games "children's lit"--I think there's a huge difference between children's books and middle grade to young adult books. I would define them all by very different appropriateness categories--no one expects young adult lit to have the sensibilities of Spot Goes Splash. By the time a kid is old enough to pick up Hunger Games, I assume they've seen worse on TV, quite frankly.

But this is also why parents should be aware of what their kids are reading--not to censor it, but to talk about it and help them understand the material and, in cases where a kid is old enough to process the book intellectually but not emotionally, to help the child make the decision to hold off on reading until he or she is older.

But in the end--the world is a scary, unfair, dangerous place where bad things happen to people. I'd rather my hypothetical children learn that from solid books with an ethical backbone than from gratuitous TV or movies.

Jackie said...

I don't know if it's right or acceptable because I haven't read the material, but what's the difference between violence in literature and PG-13 rated or even R rated cinematic violence?

Nina said...

There's a difference in writing:

"Maria flipped out the knife and shoved it in his stomach. The feeling that spread itself was only to be described like children opening their birthday presents on the morning of their birthday. She twisted the pointed blade around, feeling how the insides squirmed around. As she pulled the knife out, a stream of blood spluttered her white jumper. But she didn't care, and she didn't notice his desperate cry for help, or his agonizing moan as he inhaled his last breath. She was just happy he was dead"

and

"As Maria flipped out her knife to protect herself, she didn't realize how close he was. The knife penetrated hos torso, and he fell to the ground. After a few breaths, he was dead, and Maria could finally walk safely home."

My point is that as long as you leave out the details, you should be able to pass it through as a young adults book.

Anonymous said...

Americans are vastly more tolerant of expressions violence in media at all age levels than expressions of sexuality. Contrast this with some countries overseas, where it's the other way around.

Mac said...

Beauty isn't the only thing in the heart of the beholder. I'm in my fifties, still regret watching the movie Dear Hunter over thirty years ago. My wife is a sixth-grade English teacher, and uses Incident at Hawks Hill every year. I read the book and was aghast parents haven't strung her up for the violence in the book. I found it very troubling. Yet she says her kids love it. I wouldn't want my eleven-year-old reading Incident. I believe life is tough enough. Let our kids avoid reality as long as they can – Regards, Mac

Joann Swanson said...

For me the line is the same as it is in adult novels: when the violence becomes gratuitous. When it's purposeful (to show a character's descent into madness as Stephen King does in Apt Pupil, for example) and it makes sense to the story, I don't believe you can draw a specific line and say "here, but no further." I did struggle with this in my own YA thriller, but in the end the characters do what they do because of who they are. And one in particular is terribly violent. As far as The Hunger Games goes, I haven't come across anything that feels like violence for violence's sake - including Mockingjay (though I'm not quite finished yet).

Nathan - I had a friend die violently when I was a kid, too. Funnily, I turned to horror and thrillers for comfort. There's something about reading fictional violence that helped me accept how shockingly brutal real life can be. I'm not talking about desensitization. I think it's about commiseration. Or something. It's been 21 years since he died and I still don't fully understand it.

Marilyn Peake said...

I’m so sorry about your high school classmate, Nathan. That is very sad.

I haven’t read MOCKINGJAY or the other books in THE HUNGER GAMES seies, but I’ve noticed this problem in other recent YA and children’s books. My feelings toward this topic come from psychology and child development classes I took while earning my Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and my work, years ago, as a therapist. Back in the day of Aesop’s Fables and the Brothers Grimm, we didn’t know a whole lot about psychological development. Then we had an age of enlightenment, more or less, in which we started to understand healthy ways to raise well-disciplined, mentally healthy kids. I’m not sure what’s happening in our culture right now, but it seems that corporations are setting the moral standards. The approach seems to be: Hey, if kids will pay money for it, then put a YA label on it and market it to kids. A long time ago, children were treated as little adults. Then we had an age of enlightenment. Now our culture seems to be going back to treating kids like little adults, probably because that’s less boring and more profitable for the adults. The excuse tends to be, "Oh, don’t tell me kids aren’t looking at this stuff, anyway." Children don’t mature at the same rate. While some children try adult stuff early, most don’t unless someone exposes them to it. This approach frequently backfires later on in life because the child was asked to handle more than they were really able to deal with. We see this quite vividly with child movie stars who implode later in life. For a while, they seem to be handling things just fine. But, eventually, there’s a need to go back and experience the stages of childhood they missed out on in order to become more stable adults.

Sori said...

I read this with concern because I just gave Hunger Games to my daughter for her 12th birthday. At first I was a little disturbed and thought maybe I should check the books she reads more carefully and then I think of the mainstream middle school life she's leading where 2 weeks ago she heard about an 8th grader who was raped in a neighborhood park or the fb story where she knew a friend of a friend (also 8th grade)who'd played Russian Roulette and died from a self inflicted gunshot wound. I would much rather my child read a fiction story with violence then have brushes in their real life with it. The tough questions and discussions that have become necessary aren't from her reading materials and as much as I try to protect her from real life, she's growing up in a scary real world.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Something I think that quoted passage overlooks is that there is a difference in Children's literature and YA.

Children's literature is more often fantasy styled fare with abstract consequences for actions (like someone in TV show getting injured in one episode, then he/she is fine the next)

YA is for older readers. The fight between good and evil is real and violent to them. They're used to the revelation that, no matter what the teachers say, bullies don't usually back down if you stand up to them. They've seen friends and family get hurt. They understand death.

Teens live in a violent reality, and if you're going to make a believable world, some of that violence is going to be present, otherwise.

There's a belief that the only real fear is the fear of death and that all others are simply branches of that same fear. So, if the stakes are understood as MC fighting for survival, then whatever he/she comes up against has to be willing to end his/her life, and they have to get to a point where they accept that and choose to fight or give in accordingly.

I think most teens, handed a story like Hunger Games, would balk if the stakes didn't seem proportional to the universe created. If death isn't on the line, then there's really nothing worth fighting against because no one's "really" hurt. Their lives would go on.

Stephanie Barr said...

It's easy to forget that many children live in a very violent world, that overt violence was commonplace and visible everywhere not so long ago.

Write a book that pretends otherwise, especially for a teenager audience, and it may be hard for them teens to identify. But, with everything that's based on experience, your mileage varies.

Is there a line? Yes, and my daughter has read several books that cross what I would be willing to write myself, but she identified with pieces of them. they helped her in some ways, spoke to her.

Books can be an escape from violence, but they can also help provide meaning to violence and a way of demonstrating what is and isn't acceptable and WHY. You can draw the line, even in a world where violence is performed by protagonists and antagonists both, between good and bad.

It's not for everyone and some people are going to be thrown by violence and others are going to want to know that others understand their pain. No cure all, I think, for everyone.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Just as with other mediums of entertainment, parental involvement is the essential ingredient. The world children live in is full of real life situations that rival anything found in books, including death, violence, or sexuality. A relationship where my kids will trust my judgment about appropriateness is something I'm working for with them. The thing I hope for my own children is that they will come to me with questions when something bothers them, whether they see it in a book, in a movie, or on the evening news.

MJR said...

I couldn't put HUNGER GAMES down, but I really had qualms about the violence in the novel--almost to the point that I wished I hadn't read it. Granted it's very well written and a great story and I don't think the violence is gratuitous, but I still felt the novel had way too much violence. I was shocked actually...

Anonymous said...

Anon @12:39 PM - Good point. Ours is a culture of violence. And our art reflects that. It also perpetuates it.

Liz Fichera said...

Whether the line is drawn is up to a child or teen's parent to decide. Conversely, YA writers should ask themselves, "Would I want my child/niece/nephew to read my book?"

Giles Hash said...

This is a complicated issue. One I tackled in an essay about violence in video games (you can check that out here, if you're interested: http://gilesth.blogspot.com/2007/05/now-that-my-grades-are-posted-for-those.html).

At the end of the day, I think it depends on the purpose of the violence. And it's also up to the parents (if the children are younger) to decide for themselves whether they want their children to read something that's violent.

As far as I care, a writer can write whatever they want, and a publisher can publish whatever they want (freedom of speech, and so on).

Stephanie said...

I definitely think there should be a line when it comes to violence in children's literature. And when I say children's literature I don't mean YA, I mean middle grade and younger books.

I agree that it's good for parents to pre-read books for their kids, but I don't think a book marketed and written for children in elementary school should need to be pre-read. I could be way off base about this, though, I am a very idealistic person.

However, I don't necessarily agree with the opinion that violence is acceptable as long as it is shown as a bad thing, or as long as the bad guys get their due in the end. For me this doesn't negate the fact that children are being exposed to violence, which can be very disturbing for young minds.

Anonymous said...

Excellent topic.

My critique group recently wanted to know if- morally- I shjould put a safe sex paragraph into a YA novel WiP, but were not the least bit concerned with the very violent monsters in the novel (which made the protagonist much, much more in danger).

My own question has been: if this work is true to its story and form, then the sex and violence are part of that. BUT is it appropriate for YA?

Personally, I would rate it "mature seventeen audience only." (if I could)

kerrygans said...

“Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” — G.K. Chesterton

I love this quote, because that is what violence in children's literature should be--not to scare the pants off them, but to show that even though bad things happen, they can be overcome.

Violence is a reality in kids lives--often far more than we realize these days. I agree the violence in books must serve the story and not be gratuitous or overly-graphic. I majorly agree that parents should pre-screen books so they can decide 1) if it's appropriate for their child and 2) so they can discuss any troubling parts with the child.

I did a blog post about this not so long ago, and most commenters felt the same way.

So there is a line, but it differs from child to child.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

It really depends on the kid. My oldest isn't much affected by violence (he's 11 and we let him see some pg13 movies - some of which, btw, are aimed at kids. He's cool with it. None of it keeps him up nights and the other day when some kid pushed him at school I asked if he pushed him back and he said, "No. I'm not a fighter."

That's one of my kids.

The other one is really affected by stuff she sees, wants to skip the fight scenes in the Narnia movies (she loves them for the animals and the world). She's also always been a "Hitter" so she doesn't need any more encouragement on that front! So it depends on the kid.

I think as long as parents actually PARENT their children, it's all good.

Katie Fries said...

I've never commented here before but couldn't stop myself from adding my two cents. In addition to what everyone else has said about Collins' very deliberate anti-violence/war agenda, this book is intended for a YA audience. I would say a mature YA audience. When I was in high school we were assigned reading lists that included books like Catch 22, The Grapes of Wrath, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Lord of the Flies...you get the picture. (And yeah, I suppose some parents did object to those selections but the school district thought they were fine.) Kids who are mature enough to read these are mature enough for The Hunger Games. I would not put the book in the hands of my 7 year old, even though he would probably be able to read it with little outside help.

There will always be kids--advanced readers--who read books intended for an older audience. Just as there are kids who watch movies or play video games that aren't age appropriate.

swampfox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ARJules said...

I, along with others who have commented, believe it is dependent on the story. I'm going to speak in generalities here as I have no read the Suzanne Collins series. ... Wow. I just heard gasps around the internet at that statement. Sorry! I'll get right on that. :)

Do I like gratuitous violence? No. Is there a place for it in stories, young adult or otherwise? Yes. I'm okay with it as long as there is meaning and it shows a deeper perspective. For instance, if the story shows how people deal with something as horrible as death. Or the ramifications that can happen by having sex. Or if there is a death, that it makes sense in the story and not just because... well, because the author just thought it would be a lark.

In all actuality, these are things that kids have to deal with. To pretend that death, sex, and all sorts of other "taboo" subjects aren't a part of their lives is not only naive, but can be rather dangerous. It's there. I'd rather have a book that deals with the issues, and shows them from a real point of view.

That, of course, is just my opinion.

Jessica Lee said...

What an interesting topic. I think there's a line in how it is described. Violence in Twilight is written very, very differently than in Harry Potter, or even in Horowitz' Alex Rider series. Some books go into great length, and others don't--and shouldn't--need to do that. I haven't read Hunger Games but the violence isn't going to put me off. I'm thinking that if the violence was played down or if it was absent altogether, the book wouldn't be as investing. I don't think it would be as good. The message depends on it. It goes the same for Ender's game.

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned the Ellen Hopkins debate as censorship. The word "censorship" was used to criticize parents who didn't want their own children exposed to adult material in a school setting. No one suggested that individual children whose parents felt they could benefit from Ellen's books should be forbidden to read them. No one suggested burning the books. Some parents didn't want their own children put in a situation where they might be exposed to topics of drugs and prostitution beyond which they could personally handle it. If you want kids exposed to adult material in a school, then let's talk about exposing them to Calculus or Astrophysics or some other advanced material within the appropriate realm of public schooling.

Shayda Bakhshi said...

I think readers are sophisticated enough to understand that within the frame of Suzanne Collins' world, this violence is bestial and wrong. THE HUNGER GAMES represent a tyranny and crushing absolutism that threatens freedom, and I think that really resonates with readers. Maybe some children aren't ready to read things like this, but--once I have kids--I'd let mine read this as soon as they asked to.

Only one YA book has ever made me truly wonder where that line is, and it's actually the only book to do so--even pitted against Joyce Carol Oates' more violent and disturbing works. LIVING DEAD GIRL (Elizabeth Scott) was one of those books that made me really think, "Is this necessary?" The book was awful and beautiful and terrible all at once. The writing was gritty and masterful. But I put the book down wondering if it had to be done that way. I was shaken and couldn't stop thinking about it for days, which is usually the mark of an excellent writer. And I think Elizabeth Scott is that, but I was never able wholly justify the rawness of that book to myself.

All in all, though, I think real fiction makes you think. Makes you question the world and how and why it works. THE HUNGER GAMES stays with you in the most cerebral, thoughtful way, and I think that in this case, the violence was a necessary evil in the novel and series.

ryan field said...

Would prefer not to see any violence at all in children's literature. The sub-conscious picks up everything whether we are aware of it or not.

Lisa B said...

I feel that violence portrayed in a book/movie just for the sake of showing violence is a waste of time. However, I have never minded violence when there is a bigger picture or a "moral to the story." Our children today are innundated with bloody, senseless violence. Showing the aftermath of killing (on the victim, the perpetrator and the families of both) has a moral purpose.

swampfox said...

I'm a father and Middle School teacher, and believe me, kids don't need violence in literature to compel them into acts of violence. Peer pressure is probably the leading cause of that.

Might violence in books, movies, or video games increase the likelihood of violence? I'd like to see some research on that. I've heard the argument that it desensitizes kids to violence. Maybe there's some logic there. And for some kids, it could be true.

But wiith proper adult role models, proper parenting, and established guidelines of behavior, a kid knows what is right and what is wrong.

The problem is not what kids see in movies or read in books, but the lack of guidelines and role modeling in their lives.

Becca said...

I am perfectly fine with violence if it fits. What I mean is, violence is out there in the world, and it's stupid to keep it out of books just to shield children from it, because that shielding won't last long.

However, if the violence is there just for the sake of violence, then it's too much. If it's something realistic... like it makes sense that this would happen, (within the context of the story) then it's fine. As long as the book isn't glorifying violence and telling kids that murder is the answer to everything.

I was going through the comments and saw a mention of "good vs. evil," and that made me think about how interesting it is when it isn't a clear cut "good vs. evil." More realistic in my opinion.

TKAstle said...

I totally agree on the case by case thing.

Unfortunately, this world we live in can be a very violent place and because of that I don't think writing about violence should be avoided at all times. That being said, I think the way a violent act is written about and the attitude toward it are what makes it acceptable or unacceptable to me.

One of the things I love about reading as opposed to viewing a story is that when you read YOU are the one who develops the picture in your mind of what something looks like rather than having someone else's vision imposed on you. In my mind I will only create pictures that personally can deal with. If something I am reading is becoming too graphic for my taste I can skim the words to get the idea of what's happening without dwelling on the scene.

In the Hunger Games series (yes, I've finished Mockingjay, too) the violence is treated in a way that caused me uneasiness - which is good - but not revulsion. The feelings about and consequences of the violence are so well handled that it didn't cross the line for me.

As far as children reading about violence - that's where each parent needs to be involved with what their own kids are reading and decide for themselves where the line is.

Melissa Gill said...

I haven't read Mockingjay yet, but the first two books had a very anti-violence theme. And this is the same basic story Steven King told in the Long Walk 20-30 yers ago.

I think kids are exposed to a lot of things that are more violent, without the message that THG has.

I'm far more concerned that a young person will think the perfect solution to their problems is to commit suicide and then make tapes for 13 of their class mates.

The truth is that our society is facinated with these Survivor type scenarios. Haven't you noticed the number of "injuries" shooting up on the Surviror series every year. How long is it going to be before someone gets killed on that show, "whoops" our bad. We do everything to protect the players...

Bane of Anubis said...

Violence should never be glorified, IMO, but it shouldn't be shied from. We live in a brutal world with brutal people.

It one wants roses and faeries, there are other genres for that. For dystopian fiction, the faeries probably need to be carrying machetes just to make it past the mutated roses.

That being said, our culture is highly desensitized to violence. But I would say this stems more from the gaming/movie/media realm where explosions and death = success... in books, one can synthesize the events more in context with the emotional arc of the character and, hopefully, come to the conclusion that author was targeting.

Amy said...

Yes, the Hunger Games series is extremely violent. But I think the violence in that series is handled more responsibly than it is in many other books/movies. The books contain a clear anti-violence, anti-war message. Furthermore, the books powerfully demonstrate that violence has an impact on the person committing it, not just on the victim. Katniss had little choice about the violence she was forced to engage it--but it left its scars anyway. Isn't that a more accurate representation than something like Star Wars where our heroes blast their enemies left and right without ever being affected by the pile of corpses they left behind, or experiencing any remorse?

Nick said...

I have no problems with violence, so long as the level of violence is proportional to the situation. The third (fourth?) EDA novel, The Bodysnatchers, goes to unnecessary lengths to describe some of the more gruesome things. Yet I've read crime novels that go pretty well into detail and am fine with it. Turning your book into Saw or Hostel is unnecessary. But I'm all well and good with describing the carnage of a bombing if it's appropriate to your story.

Marilyn Peake said...

I should have added this to my earlier comment, but just thought of it now – a really interesting point I learned in child development classes in graduate school: The reason that so many children’s books and TV show cartoons feature animals in the roles of people is because young children are able to process the information more easily when they can dissociate humans from it a bit. If a bear is behaving badly, for instance, they willingly think, "Oh, that’s terrible!", while not having to actually think about humans behaving that way. They learn a lesson without having to think about how badly humans can behave toward each other. This is for very young children who are just learning how to distinguish what is real from what is fantasy, what is right from what is wrong. It’s best for children to learn about the real world only in stages that they can handle.

bfav said...

I love the Hunger Games series. I just finished Mockingjay and it was by far the most violent of the three. As an adult, the violence bothered me. Did I still enjoy the story: yes.

As a parent, I wouldn't let my children read these until they were at least 17. I know of a middle grade English teacher who made it mandatory reading for her 7th graders. Is this irresponsible? I would have been shocked if my child was being required to read it. But I think parents are ultimately responsible for their children. They should be aware of the books their children are reading, and censor based on personal family standards.

Nick said...

Equally, I say expose them to violence young. Switching mediums here, but I have a bit more knowledge in this area than I do in YA/Children's lit: Cartoons these days are heavily watered down from the 80s and 90s. To the point where Cartoon Network now put a parental warning before shows rated TV-PG. I grew up watching shows like DBZ and Yu Yu Hakusho that were minimally edited, had only the more extreme of swear words replaced, and were still rated TV-Y7 or TV-PG. I'm not traumatized because I watched people having arms ripped off or having holes shot through their chests by energy beams. Why should we suffer books to the same watering down?

Aoife.Troxel said...

I think it depends. Is it better to have violence in books so that children will be more prepared to deal with violence in real life? Or does it make it worse, as you said, for those who have already experienced it? Some great stories have no violence and some have lots of it. I think the problem is with stories that you don't expect to be violent being violent. There is always opportunity to weed out certain books for whatever reason, but when you expect one to be a certain way, and it's not, I think that is the real issue.
Personally, I am on the fence as to how much violence is okay, but it would not stop me picking up a book. That said, everyone has the right to read non-violent books.

Liz said...

I agree with other commenters that the line should be drawn by parents who know their children's maturity levels. I personally get a bit squeamish about the level of violence in books, movies, television, etc. not because the violence itself bothers me, but because I'm so used to it that it doesn't bother me. What does that say about our society, I wonder?

chris said...

I believe you have to vet this stuff personally as a parent.

You can never leave it to a censorship board.

Case in point: Toy Story 3 received a 'G' Rating but the movie was anything but 'G' in several instances. Placing characters in mortal jeopardy (ie, heading into a furnace) certainly had a huge effect on my four year old.

Books are no different. We check content for suitability. To assume your kids can process and understand adult concepts is a recipe for creating a confused and anxious child. I'm not saying censor everything ... just use common-sense.

my lonely journal said...

Re: the springboard for this post (which is a great post and poses a great question!), I think people *are* talking about the violence in these books. Quote -- "More maudlin than the first two books in the series, 'Mockingjay' is also the most violent and bloody ..." -- from the LA times online.

Steph said...

I was just telling a friend about The Hunger Games today and finding myself admitting that while the premise of the games is horrifying, I didn't find it unacceptable. For one, I'm squeamish about censorship, and I wouldn't necessarily call this a kids' book. Second, I also think it depends on the context and manner in which the violence is treated.

In fact, Catherine Meyer and several others pretty much sum up what I'm thinking. And I can't recall any violence I've read in children's or even teen lit that offended me. It's more in adult fiction that I find I have a boundary. Sometimes Chuck Palahniuk is hard to swallow, for example.

RosieC said...

As a teen, I read horror novels almost exclusively, so I'm desensitized to it now. I don't like the gratuitous descriptions of flinging guts and gore, but we live in a violent world. To write MG and YA stories that are all ice cream and puppies is a disservice to the upcoming generations. Limits need to be respected, of course--there's no sense and handing a 14-yr-old blood-porn--but sugarcoating the world is almost just as bad.

Claire said...

I think as long as the violence is there for a purpose, rather than gratuitously, it's acceptable and even necessary.

In the case of THE HUNGER GAMES, the violence helps Collins tell her story, which doesn't condone the violence or portray it positively. In fact, quite the opposite. Her heroine struggles with the emotions and moral questions surrounding all the violence she is basically forced to partake in -- how it affects her, how it affects her fellow competitors, etc. And the Capitol -- the instigator of all this violence -- is portrayed as evil, wrong, and cruel.

Admittedly, these and similar books are really for a more mature audience of young people, not for the younger crowd. That's where librarians, teacher, and parents come in. They have a responsibility to guide young people to what is emotionally and mentally appropriate for their ages, and to discuss these issues afterward.

Sometimes violence can illustrate a point -- the triumph of good over evil, doing the right thing, adhering to morality and principles -- more effectively than anything else. Again, as long as it's not gratuitous, serves a higher storytelling purpose, and isn't inappropriate for the age group at hand, I think violence in children's literature can actually be a good thing.

Phyllis said...

@ Marilyn Peake
It’s best for children to learn about the real world only in stages that they can handle.

I agree and I think your comment would make a good guideline for children's literature.

I know very little about children's development. (I did a class on language acquisition with a bit of Piaget, but that's all.) So I wonder if there are studies about how much violence children can handle at what age, what their understanding is.

Kelly Wittmann said...

I think people are just too sensitive about it today. Kids' books were pretty violent back in the day ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," anyone?), but I don't feel it scarred me emotionally. Children need to confront and work through their fears about violence.

Jennifer said...

You know, I'd read this series, but the whole kids-slaughtering-kids thing, at the bequest of the government, just completely gives me the heebie-jeebies. I read books about serial killers, but there's something about this whole Battle Royale plot idea that makes me not want to read them no matter how supergood they are. I have a high tolerance for reading bad scenes (hell, I finished the second Dexter book and that's the worst I've ever seen), but the concept of teenagers constantly slaughtering each other because the government makes them? Ugh!

Stu Pitt said...

Prudes will be prudes; best ignore them and read what you like. Any kind of editorializing in criticism (too violent, too sexual) is insipid.

Don't let them near Julius Caeser or Macbeth until they're 18!

Elie said...

I think the boundaries have been pushed too far. Now, there's a sense that stories have to include a certain level of violence to be taken seriously enough to be published and popular, IMO.
And, if as a reader you really identify with the protagonist, live vividly inside the story with them, reading can then become a very disturbing experience.

Carol Riggs said...

Oh dear, I have MOCKINGJAY on my coffee table but I haven't delved into it yet. I'm not happy to hear it's more violent than the other two. I guess I am impressionable or sensitive? I don't like very descriptive violence. I don't like violence in movies, either; I still have scenes from GLADIATOR and THE JACKAL (Jack Black's arm getting blasted off, anyone?) seared into my image brain cells. This is "entertainment," people?

I liked reading HUNGER GAMES and CATCHING FIRE because of the plot, but winced at the violence in places. I liked the story of HUNGER GAMES and recommended it to my mom, who couldn't get past the first coupla chapters because she didn't like the premise (whew, good thing she didn't read the rest!). My first husband's sister was murdered...violence in reality is not a pretty thing.

minawitteman said...

If it is functional and put in perspective, violence in literature (any literature, be it children's, YA or adult) will show readers the difference between good and evil, just like myths, legends and fairy tales have done for centuries. It is up to the reader to learn from it and eventually be able to draw the line for himself in reading AND in real life.
As a writer I make sure that my readers know why the violence is in my books and where it comes from. I show them the consequences (the upsides as well as the downsides) and I hope it will make my readers think about violence and about good and evil. If they do, I have done my job well.
As a reader I draw the line at 'empty' violence, violence just used for the sake of padding the novel.
And I do think parents should know what their children are reading and coach them if necessary.

Tessa Quin said...

If it's not important to the plot, it doesn't need to be there.

Having characters die is a different matter. Usually there's strong emotional scene after, and the protagonist will either change their mind about something, or firmly decide to do something, so it's usually related to the plot anyway (though not always).

Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
marjoriekaye said...

I agree with Swampfox.

Other Lisa said...

@Jennifer: but the concept of teenagers constantly slaughtering each other because the government makes them? Ugh!

Well, we have wars. And the soldiers in those wars are frequently teenagers, or very young adults. That's the world we are actually living in, and that very much includes the US. Since WW2, when has this country not been involved in a foreign war, which is to say, people slaughtering each other by government mandate?

I personally think that the impact of war, not just on the soldiers who fight in wars but on the society that sends them to fight and to which they must return, is one of the major causes of the high level of violence in this country.

Now I want to read these books. If they are helping teens think critically about these issues, more power to them.

(ETA for grammar)

Scott said...

Although I haven't gotten to Hunger Games yet (darn middle-schoolers have all copies reserved at the library for the next 12 years... guess I'll have to buy it), I asked my sister about this issue because I was curious. She was of the opinion expressed by many here: that while the books do contain substantial violence, it is treated responsibly.

My question is, is there EVER a 'responsible' way to treat the premise of children being encouraged to kill other children (albeit by 'evil' people) in a work that is intended to be read by children (<18 years old)? I would expect that of a slightly sadistic Stephen King novel, but not a YA sci-fi story.

I am all about LOTR and Star Wars and Narnia, but I will admit that some of the more gratuitous, in-your-face killing in the Prince Caspian movie turned me off a little. That wasn't in the book, but it was shown as exciting and heroic in the movie.

I'm a little disturbed that it sounds like Collins' books are basically about figuring out the next ingenious method of killing, and once the reasons for killing have been done away with, the story ends and the characters/world are no longer interesting enough to readers to justify continuing the series.

Can someone who has read the books in question tell me if all the killing really leads young readers to understand more about life/themselves/how to make our world better? I am skeptical but very intrigued, and will definitely read the books soon.

Becca C. said...

I'm 19 now, but even when I was 13 I was totally prepared to handle violence, sex, drugs, etc. in fiction, and if my parents had tried to get all in my face (luckily, they didn't), I would've blown a gasket. At that age, they know these things exist. Trying to pretend otherwise is just dishonest, and there's nothing teens hate more than dishonesty. There's also no worse feeling than having your mom tell you "Honey, I'm not going to let you read this stuff anymore," especially if she's saying it about your very favourite book. That's just going to piss them off.

Let's face it. The kids who are going to perpetuate violence are not the ones reading books. So I would advise parents of teens to back off, and be grateful that they have a smart kid who is staying home reading instead of going out to party. They can handle anything a book can throw at them.

lora96 said...

The message of the Collins books, imho, is one of nonviolence. The very senselessness is part of the moral to the story.

The books are much more gratuitously violent than my personal taste usually warrants. However, HG and Graceling were both such superior reads that I can forgive the violence. I squalled and bawled when Rue was killed in book 1, I confess.

However, in Fire, I couldn't stand the animal torture. In Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier, the brutal rape and strangling of a child got the book's cover ripped off and a trip to the garbage can. There was no *reason* in the story for such appalling violence.

In most cases, I believe that violence in books/movies/games/television can give cruel but unimaginative people really sadistic ideas they will enjoy. I object heartily to violence for the sake of entertainment and the desensitization that may result from exposure to such.

That being said, I find these particular books to be meaningful but do not excuse the practice of, say, the heartless murder of children for a reality show such as Collins portrays. In fact, it condemns the nihilism and hedonism of the Capital.

I can't wait to read Mockingjay.

Ramsey Hootman said...

There's a scene in Shogun (not a kid's book - it's been a long time, so I might not have this exactly) where two samurai are fighting in the street and one kills the other. On the sidelines is a mother and her little boy. The little boy is frightened and tries to hide in his mother's skirts, but instead of protecting him she bends down and turns him around so that he will see.

That scene has stayed with me since I read it years ago. Now that I'm a parent, I often think that is what I want to do for my child. It's not my job to protect him from the world, which is a sad, violent place. It's my job, while I have him in my care, to equip him for life without me.

Becca C. said...

PS, although I'm only halfway through Mockingjay, I don't find it more violent than the other two. Without Katniss being in the arena, there aren't people dying left and right.

Sommer Leigh said...

My answer, as usual, is "It depends."

If the reason for uneasiness about violence in books for Young Adults is just because they are young adults and we, as adults, want to somehow protect them from this, then that's not a good enough reason to draw the line.

You cannot teach about the problems of war, tyranny, social and cultural control, violence inflicted upon citizens by its government without, well, the violence. What exactly would we protect young adults from by disallowing violence from their books? Violence, war, and oppression are real. One only needs to turn on the news to see that.

The difference is, in YA books (for the most part) there are messages, lessons, and hope embedded between the lines that I believe are far more important than sheltering kids from honest discussion and an outlet for critical thinking about subjects they are surrounded by everyday, in one form or another.

Suzanne Collins doesn't glorify the violence. Some of the characters embody the role of soldier, but it is never glamorous.

In general I don't think YA books have the problem that Hollywood movies have in glorifying and romanticizing violence. I've read plenty of dystopian YA and while many of them have some violence, there is a deeper, more important lessons at stake that cannot otherwise be taught.

Doug Pardee said...

I'm not a fan of sadistic violence as entertainment for any age.

Many commenters have written something similar to, "We live in a violent world." Sorry to hear about your world. My world isn't violent. I can't remember the last time I felt physically threatened by another person.

We see violence on the news, we watch violence in the movies and on the TV, we read violence in our books, and we come to think of the world as violent. We come to believe that violence is normal in our world.

It's not.

But the world of fiction isn't our world, is it? The world of fiction is larger than life, exaggerated. When we write fiction, we intentionally choose themes, plots, and scenes with conflict. Conflict, however, does not have to mean sadism. Haven't we authors been told that the most interesting villain is one who is human, whom we can identify with?

Let's put some creativity in there, instead of relying on serial killers and sadists as our heavies.

Other Lisa said...

Yes, but.

We live in a society that enables violence. Our nation is fighting wars in two countries (at least). We have citizens who are refugees from all kinds of violence.

I think we have a responsibility to face that reality. And our children are going to inherit the reality we've created.

Other Lisa said...

And as a p.s., I don't like gratuitous, unrealistic serial-killer-type violence either. But I don't think that's what we're talking about here, is it?

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

It's important to remember that Grimm and Aesop were not writing children's stories at all but simply stories for adults. (Until the last few hundred years few children were not sheltered from adult sexuality or violence.) Lately we seem to be returning to that era where children may not be exposed to adult thinking and mature analysis of ideas, but to the rough and tumble of violence and sex.

There is a tendency to assume, especially in America perhaps, that stories with children in them are intended for adult readers and that stories which are something other than "realist" are also intended for children. This helps explain the unfortunate place of Lord of the Flies in the canon for 14 year olds. Animal Farm was not intended to be read by children, but by adults.

I am not above teaching controversial books—I teach The Bluest Eye to 16/17 year olds. But because the novel includes 11 year old characters it is sometimes taught to much younger children. Is that appropriate? Is it okay to allow children to read whatever excites and interests them? Is it unwarranted censorship to protect our children while we can? Four year olds in R-rated movies? Is that okay?

Very young children do not understand the difference between fiction and fact—some adults have trouble with that too, of course. Given support and open discussion, children can handle more than we give them credit for. One thing they must be taught is how to evaluate and question what they read, how to put themselves in the story and also how to get themselves back out when they need to.

Whether violence works for the story is important, but it isn't the only question. Gratuitous or not, we should be thinking about what we want children to read, at what age even a well-written horror story or terrifying film is appropriate, and how we can support them in using fiction to make sense of their own lives... which is another issue altogether.

Laura said...

Sex and violence are seen on tv, movies, cartoons, etc... We are living in a time when we are at war with 'bad' people. People die in a war. It's violent, bloody and a necessary evil.

In this post 9/11 world, nothing should faze anyone anymore. We watched ON LIVE TV, airplanes crash into two skyscrapers over and over again for weeks following the attack. There is a bit of desensitization that has happened. We cannot keep everything away from our teens, they learn about wars in school, they know how bloody the American Revolution was or how devastating the Civil War was. They can handle it. How Jewish persons were gassed in Germany during WW2. Even younger kids are becoming desensitized by the cartoons they watch. How many times did Wily Coyote lose his life to the Road Runner?

Violence is a way of life. Deal with it or create a M. Night Shymalan type Village we're everything is censored.

Caleb Carr's, The Alienist was very violent, yet because it's literary, it is swept under the radar.

Horserider said...

I'm 17. I finished Mockingjay yesterday.

We live in the real world. There's war. There's death. There's violence. I like how Suzanne portrayed war. Wonderful people died, families were broken apart, corruption happened, people had secret agendas. That's how things happen in the real world. That's how things should happen in books.

Anyone who thinks Hunger Games is too violent, drive to your nearest video game store and look at the racks. There are games where you can be a soldier and shoot your friends. I've played them. Everyone I know plays them. Pretty much from the time they can hold the controller.

ilyakogan said...

Life is violent. Art imitates life.

L.C. Gant said...

Wow. Everything I wanted to say (and a lot of things I hadn't thought of) has already been said. Bravo, fellow writers! Ya'll are some deep folk :-)

The only thing I'll add is that I grew up reading all the Brothers Grimm and Aesop fables I could find, plus watching more than my fair share of Bugs Bunny, and I turned out just fine...I think. Wait, lemme get back to you on that...

steveb said...

Living overseas, my perspective is that violence has become an omnipresent part of the American lifestyle. Yes, violence exists everywhere, but American movies and TV have made it appear virtually commonplace.

Once the dramatic tension of life vs. death is used in a movie or in a book, it is extremely hard to bring out the drama in the subtle nuances of ordinary relationships and life. In short, violence breeds violence even on the page.

Rick Daley said...

Our kids are inundated with violence. I wince sometimes when my kids see the evening news on TV, let alone what's out there in form of video games and movies. I'm aware that it's out there, and I feel it's my duty as a parent to be accountable to how my kids are exposed to it.

In regard to books marketed to a middle-grade audience, as long as the violence is not glorified or gratuitous I'm just happy when kids are reading.

MJR said...

re comments above: Just because there is lots of violence in society, video games etc, doesn't mean we should be blase about it. My sons hated violent video games--they had to leave the room when their friends were playing them (Super Smash Bros was more their speed). Reading about children killing other children in a Survivor-type game of the future (HUNGER GAMES) just didn't sit well with me. I wouldn't give it to my 16-year-old niece to read...I personally found the novel disturbing--yet also compelling. Most definitely for mature readers...

Carradee said...

I don't remember it, but my mother tells me that the first stories I told as a child were of a bad man who attacked my grandmother and tied her up in the closet. I knew they were made up. My mother had no idea where I came up with such morbid material.

The recurring dreams I had as a child were nightmares, usually of freakish things trying to kill or eat me and/or my brother. By later elementary school, even the cannibalism ones just made me sigh and accept "This one again."

Now, imagine what would've resulted if everything I read had condoned such abuse, beatings, and cannibalism. Not a pretty thought. Instead, what I read demonstrated why they were bad, so I had even more reason to be repulsed by them.

Part of what I love about The Hunger Games is that they don't shy from showing how that culture's way of thinking produces violence, without the author reveling in that violence.

I've read stories that seemed to celebrate the psychopath's insanity and think it oh-so-cool. My reaction? Excuse me while I back away slowly and hope that I never meet the author in person…

Karen Peterson said...

The books are incredibly violent. I admit I was a bit squeamish at times, too.

But I don't worry too much about violence appearing in a novel like this. It's not like these books are targeted at first graders. It's a series obviously intended for older readers that have the capacity to understand that it's not about shocking the audience, but to make a broader point about the futility of war and violence.

I, for one, applaud Suzanne Collins for not shying away from violence and death. It happens. It's an unfortunate part of life. I think Twilight might have been worthwhile if Stephenie Meyer hadn't been afraid to let tragic things happen to her characters.

jan said...

Although I am not comfortable with graphic violence in children's books, I haven't really seen a lot of it either. I would be a big fat hypocrit is I had a problem with it in teen books. When I was a teen, the YA book hadn't really burst upon the scene so I read adult science fiction, horror and thrillers. And the violence in some of them was just plain gratuitous.

Plus, my assigned school reading included things that gave me nightmares more than the horror/science fiction/thrillers I chose on my own. I still shudder at the rats in the mask of 1984 and the horrible things in Lord of the Flies -- and I read those as SCHOOL ASSIGNMENTS.

Violence in literature is hardly new. Teens reading it is hardly new. No, I don't think graphic violence is appropriate for *children* but when I was a TEEN, we certainly read plenty of it and some of it was even supposed to be good for me...or at least it was assigned reading.

LaylaF said...

Wow, great topic and one I actually battled with in writing my young adult novel about two girls growing up.

I struggled with including or deleting some scenes in which a mother beats her children...it was somewhat graphic.

One of my test readers thought it was "gruesome" while others told me it made them appreciate what they had in life and that ultimately it was very heartfelt.

In the end, I kept the scenes in, as I thought they were crucial in depicting a certain level of realism.

I can only hope that my readers are mature enough to deal with it.

Frankly, I think most young adults are more mature and sophisticated than we may think.

The Weavers said...

It's called read the books your children read and talk to the about it. Leaving kids (even YA) to work through some of these things without putting them into perspective is irresponsible, imho. It also provides parents with the opportunity to talk with their children at an age the kids too often are trying to avoid them.

Example--Stalker Edward in the Twilight series. So many people thought it was romantic that he was sneaking into Bella's room at night while she slept. What might seem romantic in a fairy tale book would be seriously creepy (and restraining order eligible) in real life. Parents need to talk to their kids to help put this kind of thing in perspective--and to help them decide when the violence is pertinent to the story or it's gratuitous.

Matthew Rush said...

Well Nathan as usual you've asked a deep and thought provoking question. I do notice that you haven't responded to any comments on this thread, but I imagine you're still busy policing the query dis thread from yesterday.

I haven't read the Suzanne Collins books, though I intend to, but I also think the issue , in general, is universal. Violence in Children's lit, IMHO, is like many things in real life that don't translate onto the page with equal balance.

Violence exists. In fact on Planet Earth more children suffer from extreme violence each year than don't. But ... just become something happens in real life, and just because it's written authentically, doesn't mean that it will work as far as readers are concerned.

stacy said...

In this post 9/11 world, nothing should faze anyone anymore. We watched ON LIVE TV, airplanes crash into two skyscrapers over and over again for weeks following the attack. There is a bit of desensitization that has happened.

I actually think the opposite has happened. I know I've personally become more sensitive to violence ever since 9/11 because I saw its effects in real life. It wasn't just something that happened in the movies anymore.

John Jack said...

The line for me falls where violence, sex, whatever, religion, politics, mature themes, etc,, relate to the real world experiences children are exposed to.

I don't care for gratiutous content regardless of age bracket.

If it involves challenging, fostering, indoctrinating a targeted reader to question and learn to think for him- or herself and helps them to accommodate to a personally complicated dilemma, it's good. If not, it's gratuitious.

Guardians dictating content to younger people have a responsibilty to shelter young people from what they can't handle yet, but the trend errs on the side of overabundant caution, not always in any given child's better interests.

I believe children aren't given enough credit for their intelligence and maturity. Too many are held back, not allowed to test their tolerance limits, and disadvantaged for it.

Cyndy Aleo said...

I have a precocious reader. At 10, she has the reading level of a 12th grader, which leaves me in a bind to find books she isn't bored by, yet are thematically appropriate. I read Mockingjay on release day, and she read it yesterday. I didn't think twice about it. The violence isn't gratuitous, and that makes a difference. She's read Harry Potter in its entirety, and knows that some characters may be hurt, maimed, or killed as part of a battle between good and evil.

I'm much more comfortable allowing that than the gratuitous sex that pops up in a lot of YA novels (the discussion of oral sex in the first book of the Marked was a personal Waterloo as a parent, since I for once, didn't read the book first).

Heather said...

I agree with those who've said that, in Collins' case, she handles it with a very anti-war/anti-violence agenda. No one can read the Hunger Games series (or the Gregor the Overlander series) and walk away thinking, "Neat-o! Let's kill some peers!"

I think violence in children's literature is fine, as long as it's not gratuitous. It needs to serve a purpose and be written in a way that makes it easier for kids to process. (But NOT dumbed-down....never, ever dumbed-down.)

And while there may not have been any public discussions on this topic, or blog discussions, I know my book club discussed it at length as people read the books (it's an online book club and people have picked the books up here and there over the years.) The violence in the first book even repulsed some people so much that they weren't able to continue the series, which I think is a shame and makes me think they missed the point, but I respect their choice and completely understand where they're coming from. (I think they thought the descriptions were too graphic, but again, that's personal preference.)

I think it all comes down to parents needing to take an active role in what their children are reading, so they can discuss it and learn from it.

J. T. Shea said...

Violence in a series about teenage gladiators? Who’d have guessed?

Anonymous 12:08 pm, the difference between you and the Capital is you don’t actually kill people.

Kerrygans, I love that Chesterton dragon quote too.

Amy, why should the Star Wars heroes experience remorse for fighting and defeating a vast evil?

Critiques of fictional violence seem to divide into two mutually contradictory arguments:-
1 It will frighten people.
2 It will NOT frighten people, but instead make them insensitive to violence
Only argument 1 carries weight with me.

Most people are not pacifists, and therefore should not bandy about platitudes like ‘anti-violence’ and ‘anti-war’. Who is against violence to defend a life, or war against a great evil like tyranny or slavery or Fascism? Not all wars are equal.

L. C. Gant, Bugs Bunny corrupted me too...

Ishta Mercurio said...

I think that there are ages at which non-gratuitous violence in keeping with the storyline is appropriate, and ages at which it is not.

For extremely violent books like the Hunger Games series and for books like the Twilight series (because of violence and because of references to sex), I would say 15-and-up (or a very mature 14-year-old)is fine. I remember reading Lord of the Flies in my eighth grade honors class, and I remember our teacher having to have discussions with some parents who were uncomfortable with it. (The kids who weren't in Honors English read it in ninth grade.)

However, seeing these books labeled as "12-and-up" on the New York Times bestseller list bothers me. There is a huge gap, in my opinion, on the bookstore shelves, in between the "9-12" section and the "Young Adult" section. 15-18-year-olds are young adults; 13-year-olds are not. There is a world of difference in terms of social and emotional development.

Amanda Sablan said...

I don't have anything against violence in books (if I did, I'd have to call myself a hypocrite), but there should definitely be a line when it comes to violence in children's literature. Where that line begins is anyone's guess...

However, this did make me think of the film Fight Club, where violence is heavily used to depict the reasons for why it occurs. So there needs to be a point for having violence, not simply because it's "cool."

Tricia said...

I read Hunger Games but stopped at that one. While, yes, there are YA books with violence, and some against kids, but this was a fight to the death violence using kids as young as 12. I personally believe that steps over the line using a kill or be killed theme with kids that young.

Had she used strictly teenagers, I'd have been all over that series like a duck on a june bug. *kidding, people* (not really, he he)

Dominique said...

I think so long as the violence is not gratuitous and is well-handled, it can stay. As you mentioned, the Grimm's Fairy Tales are all rather violent, and I loved their Cinderella since I heard it, in part because the violence distinguished it from other books.

An older age example might be Ender's Game, which involves a lot of war games, not to mention several violent real world fights, but all the violence is well-handled, essential to the plot, and in keeping with the feel of the book, so it doesn't feel like too much.

T. Anne said...

Just finished MockingJay last night, and yes, at times it felt like a bit heavy with violence but I wouldn't keep my teenagers from reading it. And as a whole I wasn't thrilled with MockingJay. JMHO. Loved the first in the series.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

I haven't read the books. But as a general point of discussion, I agree with Katie Fries and Horserider. And thank you, Horserider, for speaking up.

First, I am not an advocate of violence, either in books or real life. In fact, I rarely write mysteries because I know when a P.I. gets ambushed or hit in the head, he's not likely got another book in him. He's not likely to get up. He's dead.

When I was 3 1/2, my parents first took me to India. I have never forgotten some of the people and things I saw, even at that age, like the woman with no nose and no mouth, a beggar on the side of the road, who had just a gaping hole where both normally would be.

When I was in pre-school, I had been awarded the baby chick that I carefully observed as an egg in an incubator at school until it hatched. In the week I had "Tabatha" (I also loved "Bewitched") home, she froze to death one night exposed on our side porch during a bout of frost (we lived, after all, in Wisconsin). With my parents help and discussion, I buried her in a shoe box at the side of the house.

I read "The Hound of the Baskervilles" between second and third grade, because it was lying around in a living room at a farm where I and my brother spent a few weeks.

I now have an 8-year-old. I was concerned reading "James and the Giant Peach" to him. Those aunts are more than mean. They're cruel. And scary. James sleeps in a well (sorry if I'm giving anything away here). And "Willy Wonka," or "Where The Wild Things Are"?

Let's go back, to the summer of 1968: I'm 9. In the same year, in addition to seeing video coverage of Americans wounded and fighting in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, every night, I have my favorite programs interupted, twice, by CBS Special reports. Two promising liberal social activists: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who preached non-violence like Mahatma Gandhi, who he studied, and Robert F. Kennedy, the late-president's brother, were assassinated.

What's my point? Parents can't protect their children from the world, much as we might want to. I view my job as a parent as making my son capable of surviving in the world without me. Hopefully, as was my father's wish, as a respectful, kind, generous, sensitive, and self-confident man.

Horserider: In a literature class in my junior year, we read "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote's groundbreaking and genre-making work. We also read Hemingway. And Faulkner. And Capote's friend Harper Lee. You are 100% correct. I'm not sure why or who thought up the concept of "Young Adult" novels, but the literature of our youth would no longer qualify.

Again, I haven't read the Collins books. Not sure I want to. But if they get my son to read, and he understands them, I'll be glad. I went from Hound of the Baskervilles to the Lew Archer series by Ross MacDonald, and Alistair MacLean (books my parents would let me read when they were done).

My parents, by the way, grew up reading comic strips like "Little Orphan Annie," and the original "Batman." Want a scary read for a kid? Do you know why/how Batman became "The Batman"? It wasn't because he read comic books...

We have no need for ratings on books. What we need is for parents to discuss the world with their kids. My son watches the news. We encourage questions. He isn't leading some carefully sheltered existence that can be shattered with his first contact with reality, like perhaps a bully or a stranger approaching him.

Oh. I also read and thoroughly enjoyed in high school "The Happy Hooker." Kids will get their hands on books that interest them. I prefer what interests them to be books.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion the violence in Mockingjay was overboard. I recommended Hunger Games right and left, myself barely disturbed by the violence, but now I'm hesitant to recommend the series. Yes there is violence in real live and yes violence in literature is not new, but at what point is desensitizing kids just for the shock value too much?

Anonymous said...

I abhore violence but I also abhore censoring what kids read.

As a kid I read everything I could get my hands on. Great Expectations, which I read when I was about 9, was, and remains, my favorite book of all time. The story is riddled with what we consider child abuse but the story is fabulous. It is also indicative of Dicken's time.

As I got older (11, 12) I would go go to the library, close my eyes, and just start picking books. I never read the covers first. This is how I was introduced to DH Lawrence, Frank Yerby, Earl Stanley Gardner, Barbara Courtland and Harold Robbins (not typical early teen stories). I remember staying up all night on a school to finish reading The Exorcist by flashlight. Coupled with reading the classics by Hawthorne, Poe, Steinbeck, Hemmingway and Twain, I was a well-read student.

I was always in advance English lit classes and always got along well with my teachers. In fact, by the time I reached high school, there were many times I introduced them to books, not the other way around. While students were struggling with The Grapes of Wrath or Animal Farm or 1984, I'd already read them a few years before. Needless to say, my English teachers loved me. :-)

Somewhere along the way I think we as parents forgot those fabulous books we read as kids. I think the key is to make sure you have an open line of communication with your chld so if there are questions, they can feel free to come to you and get honest answers.

All four of my kids read Huck Finn and Call of the Wild by the time they were in 3rd grade. They are avid readers now of many genres, and it all started with Where the Wild Things Are? and The Berenstein Bears "The Spooky Old Tree".

Books are treasured in my home. With young people turning more and more away from reading, I wish more parents would stop worrying about their kids are reading and focus more on praising them for reading at all. Nurture it, grow it and perhaps the love of reading will continue to pass from generation to generation, one book at a time.

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

Anonymous who loves Great Expectations: Have you read Mister Pip? It was short-listed for the Booker and I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Jan,

No, I have not read it yet. Looks like another trip to the library tomorrow. :-)

Mira said...

I'm also very sorry to hear about what happened your classmate, Nathan. So young, that's very tragic.

I do think violence in kid's books is a big deal. Some children are sensitive, or overly impressionable. Exposure to the realities of the world can happen in many ways; it doesn't have to be when a child is reading books for pleasure. I would argue that is actually not the best way to expose a child to harsh reality, and could even turn them off books.

I personally have no problem with a rating system for books.

I am strongly against censorship, but a rating system that follows certain set (and rational) guidelines would really help parents. People can always make their own decisions about a book regardless of ratings. But I think it's very hard on parents right now, who have to basically guess or find out by word of mouth what books may be right for their children. Or the kids themselves. A kid might want to know just how violent a book is before they read it.

(I do. I want all of Stephen King's books labeled: "Mira, do not read this, it will keep you up for weeks. Put the book down slowly." :)

I've heard there's been some discussion as well about an other age group addition. MG, YA and then something in between YA and adult. That could be a good idea.

The Hunger Games books would fall in the new category, I believe. I've read them, they are good. But they are not just violent, they are very disturbing. I really think they are for the 16+ age group. I would be very hesitant to go younger than that.

So my two cents.

Misha said...

I think it's a fine balance. Some stories can't be told without violence.

I'm writing one involving war and mayhem. I have one main character leaving his best friend behind...

Both are essential to the development of both characters. I absolutely despise when an author has a character's family shot, the character violently tortured and raped etc. etc. etc. when it has absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand. The fact that books containing that kind of gratuitous violence get published quite frankly sickens me.

I must say that I sometimes struggle to get both ideas through my writing. That it is good to take action to change things, and two that lots of blood doesn't bring glory. It brings horror. Killing people hurts the people doing it. If it doesn't hurt to hurt people, you've lost part of your humanity.

Point is that I'm writing for Young Adults aged at least sixteen. But specifically I'm writing for people that have the capacity to realize the difference between reality and what I wrote.

I think that a lot of responsibility lies with parents to make sure that their kids are raised to make responsible decisions when it comes to all things in life, not just what they read and watch. If the parent has doubts, s/he should read the book for him- or herself and decide.

Responsibility is the key word, for authors as well as prospective readers. If violence is treated responsibly on both sides, there shouldn't be a problem.

Polenth said...

I think every child has their own line. I was fine with fictional violence. Real violence bothered me.

That meant an adult horror book was fine (I read a number as a child), no matter how graphic the descriptions. A news story about a violent event wasn't fine, even though it didn't go into detail. My line was very much reality based.

Amy said...

Amy, why should the Star Wars heroes experience remorse for fighting and defeating a vast evil?

Because those were human beings behind the Stormtrooper masks.

Fiona Ingram said...

Let's revisit a real life horror story. How about kidnapping, torture and death by blunt instrument. Sounds too horrible for words. It gets worse. Does anyone remember a little British boy called Jamie Bulger? It happened about ten years ago in England. Two despicable, vicious little brutes (aged 10 and 12) kidnapped, tortured and bludgeoned a defenceless two-year-old to death. They did it wittingly; they did it knowingly; they took pleasure in it. They then left him on a railway track so that the train could run over his body and crush the evidence. They planned the whole thing and enjoyed it. They were caught, tried, placed in juvenile detention; they were then released, given new identities and relocated at enormous expense to the British tax payer. The older boy, now an adult, recently violated his parole and was caught with images of child sexual abuse on his computer. So, a young murderer effectively 'got away with murder', was pampered and protected from a howling mob, then given a new life, and shows his true nature is so venal he should be locked up for the rest of his life. My view: it's hard to say, as an adult, "Oh, but the author is showing what should NOT be done. The author doesn't mean for young children to read this awful tale of electrocution, sexual abuse, torture and decapitation! They wouldn't go out and do this." Wouldn't they? We read stories of kids as young as ten raping little ones. If so many parents cannot control their children most of the time re their behaviour, how do you expect them to control what their children read? The onus is upon writers to make sure their written product is blameless. It's too late afterwards to say, "But that's not what I meant to happen." If so many adults in this comment column say yes, the scenes are disturbing, how can you expect a YA or even a mature or older tween to read this violence with the understanding of a grown person? Catherine Meyer says the author means the message to read DO NOT do this. How many young people will see it from her point of view? In this world many criminals and wrongdoers 'get away with murder.' Look at all the iconic pop stars and dreadful role models that abound - Kate Moss sniffed cocaine... kept all her contracts. Lindsay Lohan ex-child star drunk and drugged up ... did not serve her sentence. In a world where many people are seen to escape punishment, how can anyone expect a young impressionable person not to think the same way. Just my opinion. Yes, I know I sound very old-fashioned. Maybe it's because I live in South Africa, a horrifically violent country where death and rape and murder are commonplace and people have become numb to the daily horror unfolding around them. Surely a good book does not need this kind of angle to capture an audience?

Anonymous said...

Swampfox asked: "Might violence in books, movies, or video games increase the likelihood of violence?"

You can dig up studies to prove the point either way. But I'll give you a whole country as proof -- Japan. I'm very anti-censorship, but they do have some of the most violent and in my opinion over the top, tastelessly violent graphic novels. However, their crime rate, particularly violent crime, is incredibly low.

I really do not believe that reading violence inspires real-life violence.

And the Hunger Games series is a fascinating trilogy where, as many said, her message is so clearly anti-war and anti-violence. I've read them all.

I'm disappointed that anyone working in the publishing industry would respond the way the Bookshelf person did. If you just read the one-liner, you shouldn't be surprised there is violence in the story. Long live Shakespeare.

Jenny Woolf said...

Interesting. I've written a children's story (for 10+) which I didn't intend to be violent but has come out surprisingly so. I have taken great care to put it in a moral context, becuause although many human beings are fascinated by violence, children are completely unable to understand the implications.

When you grow up it's easy to forget how when you were a child, the world just rushed past like traffic. It was hard to get a hold on anything - let alone see the implications of it, like adults could. I suppose that is one reason why children like familiarity; at least they can understand it a bit.

So It's really, really important in children's books to emphasise that violence is wrong. Children can hold onto the idea of wrongness, but they must learn to deal with violence, because it's an essential part of human existence.

Personally I think teens aren't yet old enough to understand the full implications of violent passages in books, so there should be a moral message in teen books too.

Interestingly, although the quality of of my book has been praised and even raved over by several editors(and it even reached acquisition stage at a major publishers) nobody has taken it on. I suspect squeamishness, but what do I know?

Ann Elise said...

I agree, Nathan, that the violence has to serve a purpose within the story. The novel I'm currently writing has some violent scenes in it, which I'm trying to handle as carefully as possible. It helps that the main character avoids looking at the damage whenever possible, since he doesn't have a very strong stomach.

I have 'The Hunger Games' and 'Catching Fire' on my shelf, the latter of which I need to read soon. I didn't find the violence in 'The Hunger Games' unreadable, but maybe that's just the warm-up act for the other two books. I should get to reading.

♥nat ♥ said...

This is a question I have wondered myself being that I spent 6 years as a middle school teacher (lets pause for a moment to acknowledge the fact that my students introduced me to The Twilight Saga and Charlaine Harris) and realize that children read what interests them. If YA authors want to keep their attention, they have to write what the kids of TODAY want to see. Our children are born digital - mice and keyboards in hand, knowing how to order the perfect Starbucks iced coffee, and understanding that violence is a way of life. The violence in video games is a mirror of what is seen on the world news and for any parent to think that kids aren't exposed to it early - even if you take these books out of their hands - well, those parents are fools. Those are the same parents that send their daughters to school dressed like pretty little dolls and they either change on the bus or in the bathroom, to the tween-hormone-driven girls with tons of makeup and short skirts.

As many have pointed out - violence has been in kidlit since the beginning of time. Parents need to stop sheltering their children and help them by teaching them this is not how you do things.

And yes...I HAVE two children.

school_of_tyrannus said...

I don't believe that violence in literature is dependent on the story. There are some books that simply go too far, even in adult lit. A violent act, much like a sex scene, is often more powerful when not described outright.

I believe Collins, and many other authors, would benefit from taking her violent descriptions down a notch or two. Her gratuitously violent descriptions distracted me from the story--not added to it.

Plus, there are some creeps who get off on such writing. There are a lot of good readers who might never give a book a chance because of the violence, and instead, it will only attract the readers who will read it for much different reasons than the author intended.

school_of_tyrannus said...

I am absolutely not opposed to violence in literature, after all . . . writers must tell the truth and violence is a part of our world. However, I'm absolutely opposed to detailed descriptions of violence. An author can write about violence and choose not to go into a lengthy description of how the sword felt as it sliced through the enemy's neck.

Although the violence was necessary to the story, I was very disturbed by Katniss' killer attitude. I don't believe Collins wrote a very good story about anti-violence. After killing all those kids, Katniss never stops to deal with the psychological effects of being a killer. Even during the climax of The Hunger Games, (SPOILER) Katniss was ready to kill Peeta in order to survive. That, to me, speaks of a violent nature condoned, especially since Katniss never rises above that violent brutality.

Misha said...

I'm also from South Africa. I was raised in border towns and on farms on these border.

I grew up on stories of our neighbors being attacked. One sixty year old man had boiling water poured over him before they STITCHED his eyes shut. I was eight when I heard this happen over our two way radio.

I guess it has made me numb to violence, although I always feel a stab of pain shoot through me when I think of those people behind the stories that had so much unnecessary pain inflicted on them. I think most people have that too, even if they don't notice it. That's what sets us appart from the monsters.

But the point remains that attrocities are mostly not committed by thirteen year olds that read too many violent books.

Attrocities are bred by hatred. Hatred is allowed to fester by the fact that no one seems to care for the person. It allows people to be rash. It let's them justify what they do.

Back to me hearing our neighbor being tortured and left for dead. The week after that I was tought how to fire a magnum and an nine millimeter semi-automatic. By ten I could fire guns. In fact, I am darn good at it too. Sounds terrible? If we were attacked and my parents were gunned down, I would at least had a chance to defend myself.

Anyway. The most important lesson my parents tought me about guns were to never EVER draw a target on someone that you didn't intend to shoot. While teaching me that, they tought me about the value of life.

That, just because I know that I am capable of shooting people, doesn't mean that I should.

Books tend to give a distilled indication of our capacity to be violent. But it DOES NOT permit children to be violent.

I'm going to throw a very heavy stone into the bushes and say that the parents so quick to blame media for their little innocent angel's crimes should take a very hard look at themselves and how they raised their children.

If parents spend more time with the child, from a young age, they won't spend too much time indulging in the media that "breeds violence". Parents can guide their children's perceptions of what they read and see. For example by explaining what's really going on in a violent book to them. In future they will have the frame of reference built by the parents by which they can make their own decision about what's right and wrong.

I know that parents these days are incredibly busy providing a future for their families, but that does not diminish their responsibility. The same why you can't expect teachers at school to teach the child manners.

So if parents are so busy that they can't take the above mentioned responsibility, that's fine. Accept it as an unsolvable problem and move on.

But don't blame book violence if the child acts out. It never was the author's job to raise the child.

We don't tend to think about it in this way, but most writer's operate under the assumption that their readers already have a sense of morality or at least ethics. If we didn't all of our book characters would have been without failing. Our stories would have been without drama. There would be nothing in the book that would make the reader think, because heaven forfend that the little angel comes to the wrong conclusion...

Anonymous said...

We read the first installment as part of our mother-son book club, and discussed this issue. We wondered whether if, with all the competition for readers' attention, authors are driven to extreme measures. Personally, while my son (12) and I enjoyed the first book I think I will have him wait a few years before finishing the trilogy. I will admit that I had let him select and read books on his own up to now, but that I will be more careful in the future.

jan said...

Although vicious brutal children might be drawn to violent media, any child given to feeing a rush from the power of being vicious and brutal didn't get that way by reading a book.

Zillions of perfectly nice people read violent books and go on to be perfectly nice people. If a vicious brute reads a violent book and commits brutal acts -- the book didn't make him do it. He would have come up with SOME kind of vicious brutal act just because he so very much wanted to do it.

In fact, being a vicious brutal monsterous child probably takes up a good bit of your time. Studies show they're prong to spending a fair bit of time catching and torturing small animals (for example). Doing that and covering it up has to take up a lot of your days. How much time do they have left for reading young adult literature?

I once knew a sadistic child. He was not a gifted student and rarely read anything. That didn't seem to keep him from coming up with nasty things to do to those with less power than himself. I don't know what made the little beast that way...he had two siblings who weren't like that at all...but I know it wasn't books.

Heather Dixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Just a quick addition about Mockingjay specifically. I just finished it last night. It's a dark book.

I won't spoil anything by saying I think the theme of the series is:

How to battle a despotic regime that maintains its power through the use of cruelty without becoming cruel yourself.

Throughout the series, the author doesn't flinch from describing the various forms of despotic cruelty, as well as the impact of the cruelty. She does describe some of the more disturbing versions from a distance, but she mentions them often.

I was a really sensitive kid. These would not have been books for me to read when I was young.

That said, I appreciate her exploration of a very dark theme. She writes very well and makes a powerful point.

J. T. Shea said...

Amy, I never assumed the Star Wars Stormtroopers were anything other than human beings. ONLY human beings are capable of the evils they perpetrated. The Rebels killed them when they had no other way to stop those evils. With all due respect to Mahatma Ghandi, I think Darth Vader would have simply brushed him aside, literally.

Now, the question of the Death Star construction workers that Kevin Smith's characters raise in the movie CLERKS is another day's work. George Lucas says the workers were robots, but the Star Wars robots were intelligent. Interesting...

Anonymous 11:19 pm, Japan has long been the elephant in the room in debates about fictional violence, combining the world's most violent pornography with one of the world's lowest crime rates. Blaming fictional violence for real violence is really a version of 'The Devil made me do it!' and the Twinky Defence.

Micky said...

I'm a 14 year old teen and I have read and enjoyed the entire Hunger Games series. I'll admit that the violence in the books, (and Mockingjay in particular), did leave me slightly uneasy. But I think that the unease that I experienced was important. There are horrible things going on all the time in the world, and I see no benefit in pretending that they don't exist. Isn't is easier to be exposed to them through fabulous literature? In conclusion, I believe that violence is an important element in YOUNG ADULT literature, though it is important to use good judgment when recommended violent books to children.

Crystal said...

This is fantastic. Why don't people talk about how violent our society is? Kids daily live through metal detectors at schools, siblings/parents being sent off to war, and the like - and I believe, strongly, that there needs to be a place for youth to think about the role of violence in their society. A book (with a very anti-war stance) that presents these arguments in a safe way, is needed. The arts is a mirror to the society - and violence is reflected in movies, video games, and yes, books. Suzanne Collins, in a recent interview that this series is about war, more than anything else. And it is a needed topic: we have war in the Middle East, on the streets of Chicago, in our schools and homes. Yes, we need books that present violence to us, that show us who we are and who we could be if we're not careful, and to give people a safe space to think about and discuss these things. It's not always easy to stomach these realities, especially for kids, but they are exposed to a lot more than we want to believe. Books like Hunger Games are a necessary guide, to reach them (and us) where they are.

D.G. Hudson said...

Violence in literature has gotten out of hand due to the spectacular effects the movie & game industry have been able to achieve. I'm not a fan of the author mentioned, Suzanne Collins, but she seems to have taken the 'amp it up to rake in sales philosophy' to heart. I doubt she cares what effect reading extreme violence will have on her audience. Sales numbers are what count.

If your writing is coasting on your past record, you add in some gore for the children that have been raised on many of the popular games available today. I don't like it. Okay for adults, not for kids. Keep in mind that this is the type of 'bestseller' writing this author is known for.

Quality should supercede cheap tricks, but shock value is rated high in today's public. I'm glad to see that Sheryl Cotleur has been brave enough to call attention to it.

Anonymous said...

It's the same as for movies -- violence is common place and not a concern, but sex is something that gets the ratings boards in a tizzy.

Same with YA -- books with violence usually aren't challenged, or removed from library shelves, but sex and sexuality is a reason for objection. Don't know why. People in general (not even talking about teens, really) are far more apt to have sex at some point in their life than they are to shoot, maime, or kill somoneone, aren't they?

Sara Murphy said...

It's case by case for me too. I love Stephen King, but get too creped out to read Koontz. As a kid I loved Anne Rice. I found Christopher Pike so disturbing I don't let my kids read him.

Where's the line? It’s wherever the reader (parent of the reader) draws it. However, like supper at your Aunt’s house, you need to try it before you decide not to have any.

What I let my children read differs greatly between them. There are things I know my son can handle better than my daughter. I try to read what they read so I can be available to discuss should they have questions or concerns on the material.

On the topic of children's literature, what is with the middle school reading list? All the books they make my son read in school are depressing. The only one he enjoyed was The Outsiders, and that's still sad.

Jeff S Fischer said...

As always, we are now coming back to the Platonic - Aristotelian arguments, discussions. Some folks might try to mimic the art, and some might use it as catharsis. I get depressed by the fact that after going on 3,000 years now we are still swirling around in the same wind tunnel.

Anonymous said...

I get depressed by facts too.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine a vampire book without some lust and blood and, along side eternal life (or damnation), mortality.

How would teens or adults respond to a vamp who just walked up and patted his victim on the head and said, "I'd like to drink your Pepsi, please." ?

Not.

So the vampire's got to be this driven being who goes ape over blood and is tormented as well as intriguing and hypnotic and scary as well as more cultured than the guy we should be dating... and then he sneaks into our room at night to... play chess???

Not Chess.

If we examine the archetype and what the character and story have to do to transcend and otherwise holdup the story arc, that's where the action has to happen.

And there are no real vampires. When the book ends, its very safe in the world of humans (from vamps anyway).

However, kids (adults too) will fantasize. They will pretend to be vamps just like they pretended to be Batman. Pretend games can go too far. That's a concern.

And even vamps can be overdone.

What's scarier are human violences.

And, no matter how Team Children the parents are, when the kid fashion advertisers are done, little kids are going to think the sooner they get sexual identities, the better.

I am a parent. I need my hand held.

You can hide the monsters, but they will still come out.

That is the scary truth. However, I still believe we have to do our best and try to preserve childhood and / or explain the bad things to our kids as best we can while we can.

I hate unnecessary or titillating violence -especially for kids or adults. That said, I still think stories should have the elements they need to work and some of those elements are from the dark side. I'm all for warnings on the covers: "17 or older" or "parents read first" but there will always be someone else's house where the parents don't know or don't care, even if there were such things as ID required reading.

But, to live with myself, it would still have to be a case by case choice. There are some "works of art" (or whatever) I personally wouldn't want (writer, agent, publisher, etc.) to be part of passing into this world.

veela-valoom said...

I know the Hunger Game series is violent but its never bothered me. The violence is meant to be disturbing, but not gratuitiously. It's a cautionary type of violence. Violence is not glorified - it is evil. Yes Katniss & Peeta kill their competitors but they (along with the other victors) are haunted by the violence. They have nightmares and can't sleep. Katniss can barely contain her guilt when she faces the Districs where she slayed their tribute.

Violence does not get you fame or glory or cause anything other than pain. Mockingjay shows this even more than the other novels. You see Annie, completely lost, Katniss also lost, and even the "good guys" aren't good guys. People lose themselves in the violence and their are always consequences.

I recently read another YA book where the violence felt much more disturbing. It was also kids-hurting-kids. In this book the killers had no real remorse. The shades of gray that Suzanne Collins uses brilliantly were missing. Some kids were evil, others were good, nobody (except 1 character) ever had regrets.

Suzanne Collins does an excellent job of letting us see in the inner-workings of her characters so we get to see how they suffer even after the violence has ended.

I don't think you can say "This is over the line," with any definition. Some books use violence incorrectly. But the correct use of violence is way to nuances for their to be a definite line.

veela-valoom said...

Oh and I forgot to add...

As much as I love Hunger Games I'm curious to see how this concept will go over in a movie. I know they are suppose to make a film of the book.

That might be hard to watch

Magdalena Munro said...

It's sad to me that most people utter the words that violence is a "part of our lives". I hate to crash a party, however, violence is not a part of my life, my husband's life, or our son's life. It's a shame that some compare Star Wars and the classic hero's journey to books like these (in fairness though I have not read them but did read a bit about them online) which appear to incorporate terror/violence to teach a moral lesson about it being the losing choice. The world is not any more or less violent than it's ever been, however, the media in all its shapes and forms has learned how to distract so many people into thinking that it's worse than it's ever been and that there is no escaping it. I simply don't agree. Our household is a big free will zone and I hope my son chooses to read Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil like his parents did as teenagers over these sorts of books.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yeah, I agree with Magdalena, that I'm surprised so many people say that violence is a part of life. I know, tragically, it is for a whole lot of people all around the world, but thank goodness in this country violence is a relatively rare phenomenon and something to be avoided at all costs. I don't feel like I need to inoculated against violence lest..... what? What would I be prepared for? I mean, reading gory scenes in a book isn't going to help me if I'm randomly attacked walking down the street.

I think there are plenty of reasons to defend violence in literature, but the "lesson" in it seems a little thin to me. What are we supposed to be learning?

Anonymous said...

My kid still is mad at me for censoring her as a teen. But up until she was seventeen, I read it first and/or with her and some things were fine, some really worthwhile, some worth discussions, and some things (very few actually) were not approved. Some things were just not going to happen on my watch.

I need a reason to expose a teen or myself to some things. If I can't find the reason, it's out. And even then, I have read some works that are quite compelling in their awfulness, but I still just can't keep them in my home afterward. Kind of like not letting rift-raft in again, once you know.

Nathan Bransford said...

Actually, to contradict myself, I think maybe the "lesson" in it is that violence can be overcome, and in that sense I can see how people might embrace fictional violence as a way of facing and conquering it safely. That wasn't my personal reaction, but we're all wired differently and I don't know that one way is better than the other.

Don't mind me, I'll just be talking to myself all day.

Anonymous said...

Re: "Let the Right One In" (Lindqvist):
I thought some of it too dark and unnecessary. Still the story is so compelling in the end...
I still haven't decided whether it stays or goes. But I wouldn't give it to a kid.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a cultural confusion at work in that when kids are the protagonist(s), that it is always kid reading. Sometimes a kid protagonist is an adult book.

Anonymous said...

Ditto NINA!

But I still think a rating system would be helpful. ie this book contains graphic or mild violence.

Chris J. Behrens said...

I just went through this while revising my own manuscript. I have an animal character die, which is crucial to the story. But after sitting with a friend's 8 yr. old at a b-day party, (she is my target age) I felt I had to soften the scene. I did and still is a very good and important scene just less scary for my readers-I hope!

Natasha Fondren said...

*jaw drops* Um, considering that the age groups that reads this could be going to WAR in one or two years, I don't have a problem with it at all. In fact, I've had a couple students who WANT to go to war, who idealize the life of a soldier. YES, it's horrible, but I send them to watch Saving Private Ryan. I'll add this to the list.

Seriously, I admire our soldiers. But if they can't handle READING about the violence of war at 16, then they sure as hell can't handle GOING to war at 18.

And to shelter a child so much that they can't even read about war until they're 18, and then send him or her off to war, is absolutely criminal.

Tina said...

Ultimately it falls to parents to guide what their children read, but we know kids will find a way to read the books their friends are reading. They always have (I know I did). I think it's in poor taste for publishers to add gratuitous sex and violence to young adult books. There are important lessons kids can learn from reading good novels, but publishers are clearly seeking to entertain and not educate. I think publishers are stooping to a new low and exploiting young readers.

Jeff S Fischer said...

Chris J. Behrens,
as far as death and what lesson there could possibly be in art, Old Yeller did the trick for me when I was a kid. It still does. And that was written not too long after the biggest blood bath humans have hosted. Old Yeller has all the emotional ingredients of the realities of life a kid should face at that age. But I'm afraid of violence.

howdidyougetthere said...

As a mother, I'm more concerned with my child watching sex scenes cause at some point I know she'll be *doing* that. I know she'll never commit a violent act, however.

I'm not concerned about violence that moves the plot along (aka there's gotta be a bad guy), as long as it's not disturbingly cruel and sadistic.

I, myself, don't watch/read Hannibal Lecture-type films/ books because people like Ted Bundy are really out there.

Excellent topic. There is a difference.

Kate said...

I'm inclined to think violence in media for any age group can have an impact. I don't think adults are any less prone to violent behavior than kids/teenagers. For example, I noticed a real change in my husband's behavior while we were watching The Sopranos. He even admitted that he felt edgier and more physical. I know that sounds weird and maybe a little personal for a blog comment, but it's the honest truth. And, yanno, violence in entertainment media is a runaway train. It is what it is.

I have not read the series but I'm familiar with the story. And I found out yesterday while talking to a friend about it that it's a YA series. I was really surprised.

Jess said...

I read the first book at the recommendation of a friend, but it was the violence that convinced me that the series wasn't for me. Some of my favorite books include quite a bit of violence--and indeed, my own WIP involves some--so it's not that violence in general keeps me from reading a book. I understand that violence is a part of society and I do appreciate that Collins adopts an anti-violence stance, but it felt contradictory to me to see that her descriptions were often unnecessarily gruesome.

I personally believe that the line between "appropriate" and gratuitous violence lies in how a book treats the concept of human life. In books about battles and war, violence is an unfortunate but necessary byproduct. None but the sickest individuals delight in the shedding of blood, and those sick individuals are meant to be hated. Life is respected through remorse.

But when even the good guys stop caring about the lives they are taking and violence become their norm, the line is crossed.

As I said earlier, I have only read the first book. But even in that one, I did not feel that the characters' alleged respect for the lives of their fellow Careers lined up with their actions. And books like that just aren't for me.

reader said...

I have to disagree with this, Nathan:

"...I know, tragically, it is for a whole lot of people all around the world, but thank goodness in this country violence is a relatively rare phenomenon and something to be avoided at all costs..."


Maybe in your neighborhood there is little violence, but plenty of young people in other neighborhoods deal with violence every day in the form of poverty, bullying, being pressured to do drungs, drop out of school, have sex before they are ready, and keep children they are ill equipt to raise -- they have parents in jail and on drugs.

They themselves may not face being murdered, per se, but it is a palpable force in their world, and they face FEAR in their lives -- fear of uncertain futures and lack of opportunity. The assault of which, I'm certain, feels violent when compared to who they wish they could be.

I imagine reading a book like The Hunger Games, in which the MC not only survives, but wins could be very empowering. Or at least offer them hope, of winning against their own struggles.

Kristan said...

Does the nightly news encourage violence? Did the Matrix cause Columbine? Or do individuals have responsibility for their actions? Should parents and society teach children how to discern right from wrong, and consider all the shades of grey in between?

Could a particular work of fiction have a particular influence over a particular person? Absolutely.

But is that novel to blame for that person's actions? Personally, I don't think so.

In short, I absolutely agree with what swampfox said. And I think in the cases where a parent does everything in their power to be a good role model, to be involved, etc. -- but their kid still acts out in a violent manner -- well, let's put it this way: a book wasn't going to be the deciding factor for that child.

Lum said...

Hi. I agree, they are super violent. I loved her Gregor books. They also had violence. Catherine Meyer has a good point, though: they show violence with consequences, and as a bad thing. They're also really exciting and draw people in.

Speaking for myself, I read the Hunger Games, skimming large quantities that were too violent for me. (I'm an adult, BTW.) The second book was even harsher, IMO, and I could not read it. I'm not going to even attempt the third--and I love the author! These are just too dark and graphic for me.

I would recommend the Gregor books to anyone, but not the Hunger Games books.

Tere Kirkland said...

"My world isn't violent. I can't remember the last time I felt physically threatened by another person."

"...but thank goodness in this country violence is a relatively rare phenomenon and something to be avoided at all costs."

Some places are more dangerous than wherever y'all must spend your time. I'm not trying to be rude, just honest.

My apartment was broken into last month by crackheads wanting anything they could sell to get their next fix. I don't dare walk in certain neighborhoods at night alone. Hell, I don't dare walk in certain neighborhoods during the day unless I want to have guys ten years my junior calling after me and then calling me a bi%ch when I ignore them. But if I let the violence bother me to the point where I don't want to leave my house, then I've let violence win.

Why do you think so many cities have "Take Back The Night" if they don't live in violent areas? Maybe saying "we" live in a violent world is not accurate, but some people in this country do. And in those places, violence begets violence.

I'm not saying this to condone violence in books, because I feel like Collins justifies every violent act she includes in her story, but it's not true that this country is as safe as some people would like to believe.

Jan Priddy said...

Our children are fully informed about violence, crudeness, fear, and vulgarity in distopian novels and films. What they don't get enough of is the opposite—utopia. If we want our children to live kinder lives, we have to show them how that's done on a larger scale.

If we are really interested in something other than violence as a way to solve problems, shouldn't those other methods be the ones to write about and film?Of course watching violence makes for more violence—Japanese anime notwithstanding—America is tolerant of violence, we worship it, we promote it. Use violence to demonstrate why there should be violence? Really? It that how we teach? We need to study rational, fair methods of problem solving, but how often are any of us exposed to peace as a viable choice?

Blood and sex sell. It's about market.

Nadia said...

First off, parental (and child) judgment has to of course be taken into account. If you have a kid that's torturing small animals, probably best not to feed his appetite with torture porn. If you have a very sensitive kid, probably best not to give them A Clockwork Orange. It always depends on the kid, and the material.

That said:

I don't understand why it's so surprising, Nathan, that people will say violence is a part of life. First of all, some children who endure violence could take serious comfort in realizing there are other children (characters) dealing with what they are dealing with - that they are not alone, they are not abnormal, they are not doomed. I know that was true for me (and guess what, I wrote about more violence too). (Other children with violence in their lives may take comfort in non-violent books, and that is also fine.) And quite frankly, children who have never witnessed any violence ought not to be spared depictions of violence, mostly so that they realize that not everyone is as privileged as they are, and that violence does happen in the world.

Also agree with Laura and Horserider. If you as an American don't think you live in a violent world, that is something you are actively choosing to believe despite clear evidence to the contrary. The U.S. has been at war for the past 9 years, people. Without getting too political here (hopefully), young Americans need to learn that violence has consequences, that real people can be hurt by other real people's actions, and that those wounds can last.

It's not about "inoculating you against violence." It's actually about sensitizing yourself to the fact that violence affects a lot of people around the world, and probably even people in your neighborhood, and that violence can be hurtful.

Again, it's a judgment call. But if somebody gets punched in your story, you know, you'd better show the blood. In real life, people are not cartoons that can just be "redrawn."

Nathan Bransford said...

nadia-

Do you believe people need to be sensitized to violence? I don't know, it seems the other way around - that we occasionally need to be shown the real life consequences of violence because stories have so thoroughly skewed our perspectives of violence.

And honestly, I bristle at this idea that I don't recognize how violent the world is. I've never lived in a war torn region or a horrifically violent neighborhood (though my hometown was plenty violent), and yeah, thank goodness for that. But in modern America, the extent to which we have to deal with violence on a day in day out basis... I mean, we should be thankful we can walk down the street everyday, not acting as if violence is a constant part of our everyday existence. For most of us it's not.

Nathan Bransford said...

Oh - but yeah, I completely agree with you that we should be aware that we're in a country at war. I'm just not sure how violence in stories dovetails with that.

Nadia said...

Nathan,

"that we occasionally need to be shown the real life consequences of violence because stories have so thoroughly skewed our perspectives of violence."

I totally and completely agree with this (although I would probably take out the "occasionally"). I fear that the alternative to what might be considered "torture porn" (gratuitous violence) is too often "no violence." That kind of absolutism isn't helpful, I think. I must admit that I come down on the side of showing violence and all its nasty consequences. And the reason I say it's necessary is because I have known people whose parents tried to protect them from all depictions of violence, believe it or not. And that didn't work out too well. And of course, all the people who have only seen consequence-less cartoon violence.

Yes, for most of "us" (as Americans?) it's not. But we might still vote for policies that promote violence, we might still work within the defense industry... and I am concerned about the awareness that Americans have of the reality of violence both in America and beyond it. Not saying that you think this way, but I think too often people dismiss victims of violence as yet another inevitable statistic, or something that happens elsewhere to other people, or something they just don't want to think about, etc. That's not an attitude that encourages change or compassion.

Maybe there is a difference between irresponsible/cartoon violence and responsible/realistic violence. Do gruesomely-written books about serial killers really inform anyone about the reality of violence? I don't know, but I doubt most of them do. If I were a parent, anyway, those are the lines along which I would make a judgment call.

Nathan Bransford said...

nadia-

Very interesting points.

Disgruntled Bear said...

I have a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, so I know what the literature says about exposure to violence for kids.

Basically, cartoonish stuff (e.g., Road Runner) doesn't have much of an impact. The more realistic the violence is, the more it affects kids. If the violence has consequences (for example, the violent person ends up in prison for life), it's actually not harmful. However, gratuitous violence, in which characters can kill or hurt others with impunity, can both increase childrens' fears of the world as well as make them more violent themselves. The Hunger Games series shows the consequences of violence and war--brutally. If anything, I suspect it could work to increase teenagers' compassion and sense of moral responsibility.

Jeff S Fischer said...

This is obviously a great forum post, but I think it might lose it's steam if it's kicked down to forum on your blog, Nathan. So, I gotta write, combining several recent posts from this blog, that I was recently pooped out of a university, and at my age, I'm closer to 50 than 40, I had mixed emotions about the wisdom of smartness. The only thing that is different about me after getting smart is I now have the language to explain. On the flip side of the language to explain is the very real ability to explain reasons for just about anything (again with the Plato Aristotle.) Humans, as far as I can tell, are ever evolving and war as we know it, much bigger than personal dispute, is a complete and total contrivance. There is no reason to train our children for it. Yes, death is a fact of life, but most people, believe it or not, die peacefully. We should, if we are writing about instruction manuals, instill in our children an abhorrence for hate and the violence that rides shotgun with hate. Call it fear - hate is based on fear. But!! more importantly we should instill in our children, if it's the only resource you have, an awe of life, and the knowledge that life is very good, almost all of the time. Literally, almost ALL of the time. Anyway, inherit the wind.

MaciWalker said...

I loved these books as do the adolescent students that I teach. Excellent prose, beautiful dynamic characters. Exciting plot and conflict that speaks to the reader in a modern world torn by war and propaganda.

Why do we want to censor what our kids read? I wonder why people jump on the bandwagon to criticize instead of use it as an opportunity to talk about the truths of humanity, including but not limited to violence.

Which brings a point of irony: Lord of the Flies - a very violent book - is heralded as a classic. Farenheit 451 is violent. The Giver. The list goes on . . .

Misha said...

I totally agree. Lord of the Flies was scary. Some of the children are killed by the other children. But the thing is that it wasn't the violence that scared me.

It was the fact that the author very clearly showed the dark side of the human soul. That some part of me recognised that darkness.

Reading the book and knowing that every person sitting next to me is capable of the same things. That scared me.

Could it be perhaps that it's not really the violence per se that scares us, but rather recognising that dark bit in our sould that makes us just as capable of the same levels of attrocities?

As for the comments about violence not being part of certain people's worlds. I'm glad for you. Really I am.

But saying that we should cut violence out of books because you haven't heard or seen or tasted or felt the fear associated with violence is a tad short sighted.

As I said before, I live in South Africa. I used to live in a part of the country that was scary violent. Aged seventeen I moved to the Western Cape, which, although not perfect seems like heaven in comparison. The only people I know that have been murdered are ones that I left in the Free State.

Fear becomes pervasive. It rules you in ways you can't begin to imagine until one day you are removed for it. It comes in big things lie knowing how to shoot. In small things like always feeling watched, even when you are in your own home.

I don't wish growing up like that on anyone. But guess what. At least half the people committing those attrocities in South Africa are either functionally illiterate due to our pathetic education system, or don't have money to buy books. So...

Still... Books with violence didn't bother me. Books with gratuitous violence did. Violence inspires violence, but has reading about it been proven to do so?

Violence is neither a good or a bad thing in a book. It's a plot devise. You can use it well to stimulate the desired reader reaction to it, or you don't.

Yes. Sometimes violence is market driven. True.... So if it bothers you, decrease the amound of demand one person at a time by not buying the book. Even if the demand doesn't decrease significantly, your child would have gone without reading it.

In all honesty, I think it is grossly unfair that people try to convince writers what they may or may not write.

We function as chroniclers of our times. We're supposed to see what the world would prefer not to look at and make them pay attention.

By placing lines on what a writer is allowed to write is no better that governments throwing journalists in jail for printing something the government didn't want them to.

Who do we think we are to attempt to censor what someone else writes?

Janiel Miller said...

I very much feel that I have a responsibility to make my children aware of what they will/may be facing in this world - especially in terms of violence and human sexuality. But I think it is my job to do so without either traumatizing them or desensitizing them - both of which, in my opinion - are distinct possibilities in today's steroidified media world.

The line we are talking about here, I believe, is the one between having violence in your book (movie, what-have-you) in order to be true to your characters, setting, and story, and having so much graphic description of the violence that the reader feels traumatized in some degree by it. Or eventually becomes numb to it. What is the point of creating either of these feelings? What purpose will they serve?

Awareness? Yes. Bludgeoning the reader? No. Parental involvement? Absolutely. Censorship? From me, not the government.

Being aware of the impact of what I write (Assuming, you know, that anyone other than my husband and crit group get to read it)? Paramount.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

This is a question close to my heart, as I'm one of those parents that believes children should be sheltered from inappropriate media violence/sexualization (visual and on the page) when they are young. The images and ideas that children are exposed to helps to form the people they are, and I think parents have a right and responsibility to monitor that media diet and not let all the brutalities of the world come crashing in, before children are capable of dealing with it.

All that being said, I've read all three books and am in awe of the story Suzanne Collins has created. But this is a teen book (especially Mockingjay, where the violence is extreme), marketed to teens, and I think teens (at least 13+) are usually emotionally mature enough to understand the horrors depicted and deal with it. And the book has some tremendous opportunities for discussions about moral decision making.

But it would be a mistake (IMHO) to give this to children younger than that (although each parent has to decide what's best for their kids). I'm going to be carrying those mental images around for a while, and I'm an adult. Little kids don't need to have that in their heads.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

p.s. there's also the issue of what happens when Hunger Games gets translated to the big screen, as Collins alludes to her in acknowledgements.

Cyndy Aleo said...

After reading all the comments, I asked my daughter once again if she "got it" when reading the violence in Mockingjay. Without so much as a moment's hesitation, she answered "Violence isn't the answer for the government. And you never get over feeling bad about killing someone; Katniss thought that when talking to Gale."

Dang. And she's 10. I think kids understand way more than we give them credit for. We're so busy trying to bubble wrap them and protect them from all the bad things that I sometimes think that they ARE missing lessons they could (and should) be learning.

As others have already noted, we were reading books like Lord of the Flies, and none of us in the comments (at least I hope) have gone on to become sociopaths, so I have confidence that the generation growing up reading the Hunger Games is learning the same lessons my daughter did.

Lyvia said...

Should we bar a 12 year old from reading Macbeth? What about Greek mythology? what about the Bible?

We must take into account that psychologically, everything that we take in through reading or seeing effects us. The question is how you were raised to deal with these inputs and do you have an informative adult to help the young mind?

My YA Novel (9th and above) has many historical subjects and I do NOT dilute History. If I want to show the 'bad guy' I will show why he is a bad guy. Did you know that the Mongols used to boil their victims live at times to harvest fat to be used for fuel in their fire cannonballs? Nasty.
My hero overcomes a bad guy and I describe the killing in detail. Sounds, smells, texture, etc. I want the reader to imagine how horrible it is to kill even an evil person. I also describe the horrible feeling that comes along with the triumph. A loss of innocence in humanity, our hero is the winner but also disillusioned.

Personally, my biggest problem is with sexual abuse/torture that is almost always directed at the female population. Its a huge problem in our society as a whole.

Nik said...

I’m now a grandparent and as far as I can see a lot of lines have been crossed already in fiction, the media and especially in TV and the movies. What scared me as a child – The Coral Island, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Quatermass – would not affect most kids of similar age now. Today, violence is more graphic, even in comicbooks. The argument goes if it’s shown to be ‘more real’ it will have greater impact and warn youngsters of the consequences of violence. I don’t know; the jury’s still out on that one. Wounds don’t heal completely, scar tissue remains. I was bullied at school, but I survived and I was lucky, it did me no lasting harm as I fought against it. Books will never be scarier than real life for those unfortunate enough to engage with violence in the real world; for the rest, it’s vicarious and possibly salutary. This subject has been with us at least since comicbooks were brought into the Comics Code and still there are no answers. Parents must do the best they can in the circumstances, as usual.
Nik Morton

Heather B. Moore said...

Most of the actual violence happens off-stage in the series. Perhaps that's why we can digest it more. The premise of the plot is very morbid, but it's a good warning to us all.

Anonymous said...

Might I mention that in the young adult section, books often to have a note that says something like "14 and up", or something similar. When I was a young teenager (now I am nearing my twenties), my parents allowed me to choose the books I wanted to read. Some of the books I chose were pretty graphic, but most people I know would describe me as nonviolent. I think that if the parent instills in their children the ideas of what it means to be kind to others, the young teen is smart enough to figure out that fiction is just that, and that just because one of the characters does something violent, doesn't mean they should do it too. Adults give young teenagers far too little credit. Any person I've known who has been violent, has something else in their life that produced them. Unless the book itself promotes violence, I do not see it teaching kids violent behaviors.

danaalisonlevy said...

Interesting discussion, but I think we have to look at author intent. What is Suzanne Collins doing here? Is she succeeding in doing it? I just blogged about Mockingjay, and more specifically, violence in Mockingjay, but here are my basic thoughts.

The Hunger Games books are not perfect, but they are ambitious and impressive. And the extreme violence is needed, I believe, for her to tell her story. The main characters all fall somewhere on the spectrum of comfort/willingness and discomfort with the violence their world requires. Snow, Coin, Haymitch, Gale, Katniss, Peeta: they each must use violence, but each is damaged by it (either through their own murders or through the psychological harm it inflicts). Peeta is the voice of compassionate reason. He states in Mockingjay, "[killing] costs a lot more than your life. To murder innocent people? It costs everything you are."

This message, I think, is the soul of the Hunger Games. The violence has real repercussions, even for the survivors, even for the pragmatists. Will I let my children read this when they are older? Absolutely. Will we talk long and hard about the book? You bet.

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