I visited Waterstone's this week (for non-UKers, Waterstone's is the main bookselling chain over here - in fact, just about the only, since Borders and some others closed down). Browsing in the YA section, as I always do, I saw that some books had huge purple stickers on them that read: "Not suitable for younger readers".
As an adult, child-free reader of YA, I admit my first thought was "Oh, great. Another bloody sticker that I have to try to remove without damaging the cover." Then I became curious about which books were deemed worthy of a sticker. I found 2: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma and Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace. For those of you who don't know, Forbidden is about incest between a brother and sister and Out of Shadows, the friendship between a white boy and a black boy growing up in 1980's Zimbabwe (Not a, uh, fun place to be. Pretty much every review describes this book as "harrowing").
So the question is...is this necessary? I can't help but think, well, Forbidden has a synopsis on the back which clearly states it's about a brother and sister falling in love. Any parent who wants to protect their child from a book about incest, only has to put in 60 seconds of investigation. Do they really need a huge, glaring sign, too? I think a "Not Suitable" sticker of that size (and it was really big; I wish I'd had my camera so I could show you) is almost like a scarlet letter - proclaiming a book as 'bad'. Parents might be more likely to immediately stay away, envisioning a book filled with drug-taking and orgies, when perhaps their child would be mature enough and benefit from reading a sensitive take on a difficult subject matter. Not only that, for kids it's like a big neon arrow telling them that if they're looking for sex and violence, come on over here! I don't see the sticker putting teens off, but I do imagine it causing them to hide their reading from their parents.
In an ideal world, parents and kids would choose books together and parents would decide for themselves which books are suitable for their child. However, I completely understand that the demands of the modern world make this very difficult. I'm exhausted every day from working a full-time job; I cannot even imagine how it is to go home after and not relax, but look after children. It's often suggested that parents should read books before their kids do, but for many, there are just not enough hours in the day to do that. So I can see how a labelling system like this makes it quick and convenient for parents to avoid certain books and make safer choices.
I think for me it ultimately comes down to: Who should be the one making these choices and do I trust their judgment to do so? A perusal of the internet revealed that the first book Waterstone's put this sticker on was Jacqueline Wilson's Kiss in 2007. Because it featured a gay kiss. So, um, yeah, that's a problem. I'm sure I don't have to describe what kind of message it sends to gay teens, to have their kisses branded with a warning, when heterosexual kisses are not. Forgive me if it makes me give the side-eye to these kind of labels.
I understand this is an issue that can be discussed forever and has so many different factors in it that I haven't addressed, because if I did, I'd be here all day. Such as: Movies have age certificates, why shouldn't books? And how many people pay attention to these labels, anyway? Still, I was prompted by this particular warning sticker and I would be interested in hearing anyone's thoughts on the matter.
So YA with warning labels? Yay or nay?