Blog, Writing

Forget hormones in poultry – what about teen lit?

While I was growing up, I always had a book in my hand. The love with books started when I was an infant, and I have my mom and dad to thank for that.

My mom would take me to weekly library trips, where we would sit for hours, sometimes perched in the geometrical cut-outs in the wall (I remember a triangle, a square, and a circle, each with a dark, royally colored carpet: red, purple, blue). The books I remember most from this era were The Adventures of Theo (or rather, Las Aventuras de Teo, since my mom read them to me in Spanish) – a different book for a different adventure for the main character, Theo.

During my childhood, my parents built my library, one book at a time (and mostly books in Spanish). I only remember a couple of the titles (like El Conde Lucanor, Corazon, Como Surgieron Los Seres y Las Cosas, Cuentos Picarescos Para Ninos de Latinoamerica, and El Principito), but I still have a few of them at home, now sitting in my son’s library, ready for when he’s old enough to read them. When I was a bit older, I remember reading many Alexander Dumas books, in particular The Three Musketeers and others in that series (or would those be sequels?). Adventures took me by the hand and let me enter other worlds, times. I was fascinated with the power of the written word to transport me from my mundane reality into another, more exciting one.

Now that I’m taking this Children’s Writing workshop, more titles of books I read as a child and young adult are coming back to me, books in popular series like Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, Choose Your Own Adventure. I remember going to the bookstore, anxious to see what new book I could read. I read Edgar Allan Poe tailored for children; I read all the books assigned in my English classes, even Shakespeare. I read the classics and popular fiction alike; I didn’t discriminate. A good book was one that could grab my attention and hold it until I turned the last page, coming back for air.

What I don’t remember are half-naked people or sexual contexts on the covers of books.

I took a stroll through my local Barnes & Noble, leafing through books by age group. I looked at covers, meandered through the aisles, enthralled by the scent of books and coffee. (Coincidentally and unrelated, while I think eReaders are cool, they don’t beat the act of picking up a real book, opening it up and inhaling that scent of paper and ink, feeling the pages between my fingers. Nothing beats that! But that’s a story for another time). Well, my spell started fading when I reached some of the middle-grade books, and it vanished completely when I reached the teen lit area. If there’s any proof that today’s youth is being immersed in the world of adults at a much younger age, it’s in the book covers!

Now I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (pun and cliché intended!) but really, what are we telling our youth? I don’t think I’m that far removed not to remember the curiosities and obsessions with love, sex (and rock and roll?), but it just seemed, I don’t know – a different world in the world of teen lit. As an adult, the only teen lit that I’ve read is the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series. And I have to say that Twilight, though sexualized more in the movies, really wasn’t as bad as what some of the other books seemed by their covers.

Maybe I’m just too old to understand now. And if that’s so, god help me when my son is a teenager!

Am I the only one who thinks this?