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Memory Monday — Age Appropriate... Or, not.

I was sitting here, trying to decide which of the many, many books from my childhood I should talk about this week. I was skimming my (definitely incomplete) list of possible Memory Monday post ideas and one title jumped out at me. I've been waiting for a good time to write about this memory, because it's one that I felt needed a specific mindset to do it justice. Well guys, I found it.

I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker when I was 12 years old. I found it in a pile of books someone had dropped off at my house, knowing we were a family full of readers. There were books in there for all ages, so I didn't think anything of picking this one up. I don't know how many of you have read this book, but let me tell you... This is not the typical 12 year old book. And I knew that. My little 12 year old brain picked up on that fact immediately, because the book starts with 14 year old Celie being raped by her father because her mother is too sick to have sex. O_O

I knew I shouldn't have been reading the book. I knew it. I knew that 12 was too young for me to be reading this book. That's why I read most of the book sitting in my bedroom closet, slipping the book in the dirty clothes basket and pretending to look for shoes if my parents happened to come by my room.

So, why this book? Why now? It's another piece of my thoughts on the whole WSJ article debate and the various responses to it.

I've been seeking out as many replies to the article as I can find. I'm fascinated by them. All of them. There aren't many, but I've also made it a point to read posts made my bloggers who support the article, or at the very least, support what they think Meghan was trying to accomplish with her article. Some of these posts supporting Meghan are very well written. But one of them made my blood boil. Made me angry to the point that I had to close the window before I threw or broke something. Not because of the post itself (that was fine and quite interesting) but because of the comments.

A mom in the comments mentioned how glad she was that her 13 year old daughter had decided to just skip YA entirely and go straight from middle grade to adult fiction. Her reasoning? Because at least the dark stuff in adult books was also full of wit and intelligence and good writing. I'm paraphrasing here a little bit, because I can't remember her exact wording and I'd get too angry if I tried to go find the post again, but that was the gist of it. And the author of the post replied to this mom and said Yes! That's a great idea! Why can't more kids just skip this YA stuff and go right to adult fiction?!

Seriously?! You seriously just said that... Like, fer serious. Really? Really?! You just said that you hoped more kids would avoid YA, books written specifically for that age group, and jump right into books that don't consider the age of their audience when writing stuff..

Anger. Anger in my face.

This statement bothers me for a lot of reasons. I could go into them. I could spend time describing every reason that I think this is a terrible thing to say and an even worse thing to believe. But I'm not going to do that. I'll share a little more, but I'm really here to talk about The Color Purple, so I'll make sure I tone it down some.

I don't think there is anything wrong with kids reading adult books. Nothing at all. I read my first Mary Higgins Clark book the year I turned 12 and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I loved it. I read every MHC book I could find and I made it a point to seek out similar stories. But the Queen of Suspense, writing about bad guys, doing bad things and then going to jail for it is very, very different than reading about a 14 year old girl who is repeatedly raped by her father, gets pregnant (twice), has her babies stolen from her in the middle of the night, is then sent off to marry a man she despises with horrid nasty children who hate her, he doesn't care for her at all, he forces her to have sex with him on their wedding night when her head is bleeding from a rock thrown by one of the previously mentioned awful children, and she then then starts a lesbian affair with her husband's long time mistress (cuckolding the husband with his mistress?! O_O) and all sorts of other things a 12 year old shouldn't be spending her time thinking about. I mean, really.

This is one of the very, very few Memory Monday posts that will be tinged with regrets. I wish I had waited to read this book until I was older, until I was old enough to appreciate it and to understand it fully. Because when I hear people talk about this book, they talk about how it's a story of hope and redemption, a story of learning to rise about your situation, your trials and troubles and making something good of yourself. But, I don't remember any of that. I don't remember anything like that happening in this book. The only things I remember are the parts that reminded me why I was hiding this book from my parents. I remember the abuse, the pain and the bad stuff, but I don't remember any of the positive elements to the story, other than Celie being happy with the lesbian lover, who then walks out on her anyway. Why do I remember the book like this? Because this is not a book that was written for a 12 year old. It's a book written for adults.

Compare that to When She Hollers by Cynthia Voigt. It's a book that I talked about in a Memory Monday post a while back (read it here) . That book is about a 13 year old girl who is raped by her step-father. I read this book when I was 13. It's written for young adults. And you know what I remember from this book? You know what I took away from that experience? That you can fight back, that you don't have to be a victim, that even as a kid, if some one is doing something to you that you know is wrong, you can be strong and you can save yourself when the people who are supposed to protect you won't, when you can't get them to listen. You can be stronger than that.

Do you see the difference there? Do you see why I can say, truthfully, honestly and with my whole being that there are some books that should not be given to everyone? Why I am completely and totally in favor of parents having a say in what their children read? Sure, you reach an age when your parents shouldn't be dictating what you read anymore. When you are 16, 17, 18, you are probably old enough to make those decisions on your own, although having discussions with your parents about things you are reading is never a bad thing. But when you have a 10, 11, 12 year old with an adult reading level, you should absolutely be aware of what they are reading. And you should absolutely have some say in what books they are picking up.

I don't think reading The Color Purple 'damaged' me. I don't know how I would be different if I had waited a few years before picking up that book. But I do know that I did not get out of that book what I was supposed to. I know that I misunderstood a lot of things, and I know that my memories of it are skewed. For me, it wasn't a book about hope, or empowerment or rising above the bad things in life. For me, it was a book about a girl abused by her father, who had a seriously crappy life and tried to make her life better by becoming a lesbian and learning how to masturbate. And even that didn't work out so great in the end.

I imagine, that if Alice Walker knew that was all I had come away with from this book that she would be saddened. I have heard enough other things about this book to know that there is more, so much more to this story than what I saw. But I was, without a doubt, too young for this book. Any 12 year old is too young for this book. So, don't tell me that parents should never have any influence in what their kids read. And don't tell me that it would be better for every kid if they just skipped YA and went straight into adult fiction. YA fiction is here, and it's growing for a reason. It's important. It's necessary. (End rant)

This is a book I plan to reread sometime in the future, because I would like to give this book another chance to teach me what it's really trying to say. It's a message that needs a mind more developed than that of even the most advanced 12 year old, and I'd like to give it a chance to really shine.

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Memory Monday — Age Appropriate... Or, not. + TIME