Like many girls my age, I learned about puberty by reading Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume. Sure, my mom had read me a book called Period and taken me to a horrible “my body is changing seminar at the local hospital, but Margaret answered my real questions. After reading the book, I recommended it to a school friend. She informed me that her mother has warned her that the book was not for Christian girls. I couldn’t (and still can’t) fathom what was anti-Christian in the text. I wasn’t aware that certain books were banned or considered inappropriate. My parents are both readers and never saw the need to censor my book selections. I read Flowers in the Attic, Forever, Bridge to Terabithia, and Huckleberry Finn in late elementary school/early junior high while maintaining my naiveté. I didn’t rush out and have sex or begin using the “N” word after reading the books. I simply continued reading. I don’t remember finding any of these books shocking. Maybe my immature brain stuck to the content I could grasp and allowed the other “risqué” content to whisk over my head? So often my reading ability led me to books that were outside of my maturity level. I don’t remember there being much of a young adult section at our local library. There was one row of “Junior Reader” books but it was full of Christopher Pike, RL Stine, and Sweet Valley High books. All were fun for a period, but became redundant. I craved something more. I’m envious of the young readers today. There are so many young adult choices. Plus, there is now a separate category called Emergent Readers. Where were these books when I was younger? (Teachers and librarians may be rolling their eyes because these classifications have been around for a long time but they have only recently entered into my awareness.)
In junior high, I read as many Stephen King books as I could get my hands on. They were super scary! While I’d like to pretend I don’t care what people think, I do/did. It boosted my ego to carry around those heavy books. I felt special when peers would question if I was truly reading “that book.”. Leave it to a book nerd to view big books as a status booster rather than big boobs, name brands, or a hot boyfriend!?
Sometime in early high school , I stumbled upon Clan of the Cave Bear. For the first time, I blushed while reading. The book was incredible but also thorough in descriptions of body parts and sex. (at least in my memory) Still, the descriptions were metaphoric and flowered. This is the first book I remember only reading at home and only alone in my room. I thought about the characters throughout the day and would feel my skin turning a deep red as I wondered if anyone knew what I was reading. Again, I was naïve. I’m well aware that many of my peers were physically more experienced than I was at the time but we just didn’t talk about sex in my peer group.
When working with teenagers in my job, it is often hard to relate. So many of them are sexually experienced at the age I was still playing with Barbies and putting on obnoxious plays for my parents. I understand that there were exceptions then and there are exceptions now. After reading a positive review, I decided to read The Duff which has been made into a movie. The review said “This book accurately describes the youth of today.” While I’m enjoying to book, I’m simultaneously shocked by the casual nature of sex among the high school characters. By page 10 (or in kindle terms by 3%), there was a hook up and 7 mentions of sex. I’m now at 64% and the characters are continuing to have sex without guilt, shame, or embarrassment. They are honest about their desires and one character has the insight to recognize hooking up is a distraction from her family problems that also makes her feel good about her body. Judy Blume’s Forever remains banned in most school libraries because the main character decides to have sex with her long time boyfriend and explores contraception before hand. “The Duff” refers to condoms but in a nonchalant manner.
I’m left caught between opinions. I’m glad that young adults have more books about characters their own age to choose from. As an enlightened person, I’m glad that teens can read about sex and relationships without feeling shameful about their own natural desires. BUT…as a parent and former naïve kid, I’m shocked at how much sex is a “nonissue.” This book makes me feel like “The Church Lady.” I want to shield my boys from characters that casually hook up and view sex as a hobby rather than an act of intimacy. YIKES! I’m so old! I do want them to recognize the importance of contraception if they choose to have sex and I want them to be able to not feel shameful or guilty about the choices they make…unless they make poor choice that hurts someone. See!? This book has my brain working overtime!
With all this said, I do plan to finish the book and, as previously stated, I am enjoying it. Most of all, I’m enjoying the debates the book is inspiring in my head. Isn’t that the testament of a good book? A book that sticks with you long after you’ve closed the back cover (or…pushed the power button).