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Navigating the World of Young Adult Fiction

March 16, 2012

There seems to be a tidal wave of post-apocalypse, dystopian literature marketed as young adult literature of which I have only recently become aware.  Navigating the sea of this genre is difficult, if not down right disturbing.  I was looking for reviews of the Hunger Games since I learned it is wildly popular among the students of my local middle schools. I found some helpful reviews at CCB Review, The Literate Mother, and Focus on the Family.

The following is a comment I made at CCB Review:

I am right in the middle of this controversy of the latest rush of dystopian “young adult” literature. A similar book was chosen for read aloud at my child’s middle school. In general, this is not a genre my kids are drawn to, so it was my first exposure to what is being marketed to tweens and teens.

I purchased the book my school was promoting and I only made if half way through. The violence made me sick.   Incidentally, the book in question was touted as “if you love Hunger Games, you’ll love this,” thus my online search for Hunger Games reviews. I know it is BIG among the students.

I am really struggling with the whole concept of using these books as a learning tool. I often hear the argument that kids of this age already see and know so much violence…  I really don’t understand that line of thinking at all. First of all, it simply isn’t true in many cases. We have always been very careful about the kind of movies and video games our kids watch- and I would add, I hold myself to a similar standard.

Secondly, I can’t ignore the Phil 4:8 scripture. I see it as advice straight from God. Advice to me. Advice for us. The Bible does not gloss over the atrocities of war, or man’s inhumanity to man, but here is this verse telling us to dwell on things that are pure and lovely and worthy of praise. If indeed we are surrounded by violence, atrocities, and injustices, should we also dwell on it as entertainment? If we are unwillingly subjected to it, should we willingly subject our minds to more? These are the questions I am asking.  I’m still trying to get my mind around this issue.

I have not avoided historical books on topics such as slavery, the Holocaust, war, etc. when it comes to my kids, but there seems to be a different dynamic to a fictional book that so draws the reader in and the main ‘heroes’ are fully engaged in atrocities and violence, as opposed to historical events that we look back on and as a community, condemn.

I agree that informative reviews are very helpful, as most of us can’t keep up with all the literature, and as the blogger says, some kids are reading books without our permission, so we need to keep informed, and I am glad for the blogger’s review.

One thing I do tell my kids: the publishers’ suggested age appropriate levels are purely market driven. They are not decided by someone who loves them, and most likely, not by anyone who has a Biblical world view.

There is more to discuss on this topic.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2012 10:29 AM

    At least one thing I believe the Christian must consider are the scriptures that mention what we ponder about, what we ‘meditate’ on, in the sense of what we fill our minds with. I believe what we read and watch is a large part of what fills our minds.

    I have to consider that there is only so much time in a day, and only so much visual and written material I can consume. Some of it comes to me from my environment, and I have no control over it, and some of it I choose. What does scripture tell me?

    Psalm 4:4,5

    Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the LORD.
    Psalm 77:12

    I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy;

  2. March 23, 2012 2:45 PM

    I’ve seen so much about Hunger Games in recent days, and it sounded horrible to me, so I googled Hunger Games Reviews Christian Perspective seeking what other Christians would be saying. I was appalled by the rave reviews–veiled by the token “not for younger children” caviat–by MOTHERS of tweens and teens who loved the books and think it’s just fine for their kids to read them and see the movie. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, my kids being in their 30s, but this just seems wrong to me. That’s why I appreciated your statements so much. As an author of Christian fiction, I’m constantly being blasted with “we have to make it edgy and ‘real-life’ for the reader’s sake,” and ‘it’s what’s really happening in the world.” I know that, which is why I don’t want my novels to look too much like the darkness that real-life offers. I totally agree with you that “If indeed we are surrounded by violence, atrocities, and injustices, should we also dwell on it as entertainment? If we are unwillingly subjected to it, should we willingly subject our minds to more?” I also love your statement about making our fictional heroes “fully engaged” in the things of this world. So thank you for being the first reviewer to state articulately exactly what I’ve been trying to express to fellow-writers for so long. Maybe someday, someone will listen.

    • March 25, 2012 9:20 AM

      Erin, thanks for your comments. I’m feeling a little lonely in these waters. I’m still thinking about this and I know that some would like to just think I am “old fashioned,” but it goes quite deeper than that. I am not sitting on some moral high ground or living in some bubble where all is glitter and unicorns, there is a real revulsion I feel when violence is described in detail page after page in these books, then I am supposed to feel some kind of resolution when, in the last ten pages, the protagonist chooses ‘right.’

      I have a very different reaction when I hear of real-life stories of victims of injustice. In those cases I feel a sense of outrage that spurs me to action- to voice my outrage, to give financially, to pray- or whatever can be done. I think these cases are a much better teaching tool for my children.

      I hope you pursue your writing. We need some good books! There are kids and families out there who want interesting fiction without sex, cussing and detailed violence.

  3. April 3, 2012 10:32 AM

    Thinking I found these pages at just the right time. Seemingly the lone voice against this book in particular, and forever short of time yet filled with a hunger that our children read ‘good stuff,’ your efforts are greatly appreciated! Looking forward to coming back with a cup of tea! Thank you!

    • April 14, 2012 4:13 PM

      Thank you for visiting ah1228. The world of young adult fiction is a little new to me, and I hope to have some books I can recommend soon.

  4. Cap'n J permalink
    April 15, 2012 4:16 PM

    Just curious, what is the book your child’s class will be reading?

  5. September 12, 2012 1:46 PM

    My 13 year old must read a dystopian book for 8th grade. She is an on fire for Christ teenager and has chosen not to read The Hunger Games, the dystopian book that most of her classmates read. Do you have any suggestions for a dystopian book?! We are at a loss for a book that fits this genre that is not filled with wickedness! THANK YOU.

    • September 13, 2012 6:56 PM


      That’s a tough one from my point of view. It’s a great question and one I am happy to try and address. I have some places to look, but with a quick search I did find this review of Swipe.

      I am going to do more research and reply to this thread again, hopefully giving you some places to start your search. I’ll try to get it done within the next 12 hours (check back Friday).

      Personally, I think a lot of YA fiction is ‘dystopian,’ but it probably isn’t actually classified as such!

    • September 13, 2012 9:43 PM

      One hurdle you will be facing is whether or not the book you choose fits the requirements of the assignment. When looking for a working definition of “Dystopian” fiction I came across this: “In its most basic sense, you could say that dystopia is the opposite of utopia, referring to fictional societies that are incredibly imperfect, lacking the harmonious and egalitarian qualities of life depicted in utopias.”
      from the U of C English Department.

      That’s pretty general and does not include the idea that the dystopian world must be futuristic, so your child’s teacher may or may not agree. Common to all dystopian fiction I have come across, is a depiction of how terrible humans can be, so I have little hope one can find anything in this genre that is not dark in some way, but here are some ideas to get you started.

      Going back to the early examples of the genre, you could research George Orwell’s 1984. I read it in high school, but that was so long ago, I can’t remember the details and if there are parts inappropriate to an eighth grader.For a very thorough examination of the themes portrayed, you can go to Trinitarian Don. Cliff Notes might be a good way to get more detail.

      I also read, but can’t remember Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Common Sense Media is a good resource you should visit. Read their review of Fahrenheit 451.

      Would Animal Farm qualify as dystopian?

      The Giver by Lois Lowry is popular. Progeny Press has a study guide you can purchase to help your child understand the themes. Be forewarned it has a scene where a baby is euthanized by injection (part of the dystopian selection process), so the topic of abortion is a discussion point with the reader. And here is Common Sense Media’s review.

      Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis is the first of a trilogy. It takes place on Mars, but it is a hostile society, so it may qualify. Here is an indepth review

      Redeemed Reader reviews a few possibilities here.

      There is only one I have recently read and can sort-of recommend, if it fits the requirements of the assignment, and that is The Mysterious Mr. Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. The plot is complex, and it is classified as Science Fiction (as are most dystopian novels at my library). While the world may not be in its darkest days yet, it is on the verge if the evil Mr. Curtain has his way. Since I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet, I’ll send you to Common Sense Media again.

      I’d love to hear back from you about what you choose and what your impressions are. If I have any new leads, I’ll contact you via email if that’s alright with you.

      Drop in again some time.

    • September 14, 2012 10:36 AM

      Hey, just wanted to clarify, Ashley, I have not read the books listed above so I am not recommending them as much as throwing some ideas out there for you to explore.

      Also, I was wondering, what about the Left Behind books (Tim LaHaye)? While I know some Christians do not like the books because they do not agree with the eschatology presented, I can’t imagine that being anymore of an issue than reading anyone else’s imagined ideas about post-apocalyptic/dystopian future scenarios. I think at least the Left Behind series have a pretty good chance of being low key in the violence and sex departments.

      I know one desperate mother whose daughter had an assigned reading that was very offensive to them. She let the teacher know that they were not going to read the book, but the student fulfilled requirements using Cliff Notes or some similar study guides.

      And hey, if someone is out there reading this, and you think this is some kind of fundamentalist Christian only issue, I know of a similar situation with a Hindu mom.

      Sometimes a parent just has to speak up! There is nothing wrong with letting educators know where you stand.


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