“Paper Towns”

January 5, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Posted in Fiction, Young Adult Fiction | 9 Comments

John Green’s Paper Towns is an excellent read.  Unfortunately, it’s probably a better read for adults than for the young adult audience to which it’s aimed.  I found this out the hard way while reading it to the 14-year-old Sweetie Junior on our last road trip.

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We learned from reading Gemma Malley’s The Resistance that it was best to vet a book for language and content before reading it, since SJ is a little shy about even mild swearing, much less “adult” topics.  I clicked the link on my library’s website for the Publishers Weekly review, and it marked Paper Towns for ages 12 and up.  I thought this sounded like a good substitute for reading the same book twice; as conscientious as I try to be, I’m not actually a parent and I do prefer to read my own stuff.

The story is fantastic.  The characters are believable and multi-dimensional, and the dialogue is hysterically funny.  In fact, there were several points when we had to stop reading because we were all laughing too hard.  We were beside ourselves to get through this 300+ page book, which took about 12 hours to read aloud.

So what’s the problem?  Well, I would rather have had SJ read it when she was 16 – and there’s absolutely no way I would have been happy to have a 12-year-old read it.  It was full of f-bombs, for one thing, not to mention a full panoply of other swear words.  There were discussions about social diseases and a running joke about male anatomy.  There were vast quantities of alcohol, teen drinking, and even a keg stand.  There was a thread about suicide, too.  Like I said, it was a great read, but for a 12-year-old?  What kind of 12-year-olds hang out at Publishers Weekly, anyway?

On the way home, after finishing the book, we actually got into a bit of an argument about appropriate reading matter for young people.  My man Rocket Scientist has been put off by his daughter’s interest in the Twilight series – he’s the sort who can’t watch horror films – and he wanted her to quit reading it, on the one hand, and start reading a better quality of literature, on the other.  She threw a fit and said he could neither force her to read books she didn’t want to read nor to quit reading something before she’d finished the series.  (She’s a completist, something I understand but let go of years ago when I realized the Clan of the Cave Bear series wasn’t exactly improving).  We haven’t resolved this situation yet.

It’s extremely challenging, to put it mildly, to find reading material for young teenagers that interests them, much less material that’s also actually appropriate.  Books like Paper Towns succeed wildly on the first count, though unfortunately aren’t quite there on the second count.  It makes me wish we could count on authors themselves to provide a reliable recommended lower age range for their works.

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