Nathan Bransford recently made a post that discussed violence in children’s literature, though the excerpt he included from a post on Shelf Awareness used ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy as an example. I’ve already commented on Nathan’s post about where the limit for violence is, and was going to comment again to say that ‘The Hunger Games’ books are not for children and that Young Adult is a separate part of literature altogether, but decided to rant here instead.
First of all, anyone who cannot distinguish between children’s literature and Young Adult literature should probably be very careful with their generalisations. The Young Adult section may be close to the children’s one in some bookstores, but they are about as different as apples and oranges, and as such have different limitations. Children’s books generally, as I understand it, require much more morality and ‘nicer’ stories than, say middle-grade and ESPECIALLY Young Adult.
As Young Adult literature is written for adolescents who are not nearly as naive and innocent as we may have been in a past era, the books should not be, either. We’re supposed to be coming into the real world. We all know that the world is violent, terrifying and wonderful all at once so sugar-coating everything is not the way to go. Guess where the sugar-coma books in my house end up? Oh, there’s one, soaring across the room, smacking into the wall and falling into a heap in the corner. That is where such books belong in my house. Sometimes I consider giving them to my friend who is less…discerning than I am, but I never get around to it because I really don’t care what happens to the book.
There is violence in real life so there should be violence in our literature. Art imitates life and all that. Sure, not every book needs it, but a book should not be discounted by a reader because it has some. Provided there is a good reason for the violence and the writer exercises some common sense in how much the book needs, go for it. Some of my most recent reads have been ‘Break’ by Hannah Moskowitz, about a boy who breaks his own bones; ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher, a book about a boy listening to the reasons why the girl he liked killed herself; and ‘Linger’ by Maggie Stiefvater, a continuation of the werewolf boy loves girl story in ‘Shiver’. All of these books had some form of violence in them. Was it too much? No. The author in each case knew his or her limits.
That’s the thing. You want violence in your novel? Know your limits. Don’t include it just to scare people, or because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do these days. Just like sex, swearing and, actually, any scene in your novel, it should move the story forward, enrich it, add to the experience.