How young is too young for a bit of sex and murder?

Posted on June 17, 2014 by

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A few years ago I had the awesome good fortune to meet Greta Wenzel at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Greta has many fantastic qualities, and she curates one of my favorite Pinterest humor boards. We cross paths on Facebook too, from time to time.

She also has children.

Because I have been posting a good deal lately about Child of a Hidden Sea, she reached out on the weekend and asked how kid-appropriate it might be. She is not concerned about her two eldest, but her youngest is eleven years old, and would love a seagoing fantasy adventure.

This is the kind of question I find incredibly difficult to answer, because I grew up in a house where nobody ever thought to try and stop me from reading whatever text happened to waft my way. I remember reading both Jaws and Roots at around eleven, for example. The former was gory and the latter was rapey, though neither was as sensational as the family pornography archive.

(I also remember asking about the plot of Romeo and Juliet after seeing an epic Man from Atlantis episode based thereon, whereupon one or the other parent handed me the complete works of William Shakespeare.)

Some of that reading was beyond me, and bits of all of the above-mentioned works went over my head. (Except, of course, the Man from Atlantis episode.) What I’m tempted to say when asked about who my books are fit for is “It kinda depends on the kid.” But that’s not a great answer for school librarians trying to figure out if my novel’s going to get them in trouble with the parents of children I’ve never met.

What I would always say with Indigo Springs was that there is a sex scene. Onstage sex! Not overtly raunchy, but nothing hidden either.

(I’m sure it’s tactful to pause here to allow any smuthounds time to rush out for a copy of that first book.)

Anyway, the new novel. Two of the characters do have a fling. But the steamy action’s not onstage. I’m trying to build up to the steaminess slowly, if you know what I mean.

As for violence and without getting spoilery, this book has a few on-stage killings. There’s mention of a possible sexual assault in the past. There are a couple of brawls. Some arm-breaking. At least one animal and a couple of monsters die. (The animal is not fluffy, if it makes a difference.)

So now I’m polling: What do you think? Would this have stopped you at eleven? Should it have? Would your parents have made you wait a couple years? I am especially interested in the answer to this if you have already read it and/or have children.

I’m thinking my standard answer should be that Child of a Hidden Sea falls somewhere between PG and PG13.

Response to How young is too young for a bit of sex and murder?

  1. I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s remark back in the Victorian era: “No young girl was ever ruined by a book.”

    So I’m pretty much of your opinion. There’s no point in trying to hide from children the fact that the world is so dangerous that nobody gets out of it alive, or that human beings can be (often are, in fact) extremely violent.

    After all, they’re going to leave the nest sometime, and the nest is no absolute protection anyway.

    I don’t see that CHILD OF A HIDDEN SEA is going to give many children nightmares.

    If they’re old enough to want to keep reading it for fun – which requires a comprehension of the story and characters – they’re old enough to read it.

    There are some things that do give you nightmares; when I was about 8 I snuck my dad’s copy of THE EFFECTS OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS out of his briefcase — and it was profusely illustrated. That one gave me the heebies for years. But short of that, yeah, let ’em read.

  2. That Twain quote is awesome!

    Thank you, Steve. I’m trying to remember the last time I hung out with an eleven year old and it was a really long time ago.