Are Teen Books Making Our Youth Dumber?

For longer than I care to remember, I have been an Avid reader. In fact I cannot remember a time that I didn’t enjoy reading a book. I remember when I was a child my grandmother reading me a book about dinosaurs, and my grandfather reading me “The Monster At The End of This Book”. I remember being in first grade and picking up and reading “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and while I did not know all of what was going on in the book I happily read it because it was a book.

The one thing I look back on now is that while the people my age were in school there really wasn’t such a thing as Teen Literature. The only true Teen books were the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mystery books. Almost everything else was either made for children (Narnia, Boxcar Children, Bunicula, Wrinkle in Time) or was of the adult variety of books. Personally by 5th Grade I was done with Narnia and had read all of the Hardy Boy books (Thanks Uncle Paul…I loved that series) and had already moved on to some of the lighter weight fantasy and sci-fi books that adults read. By 8th Grade I was reading Stephen King, R.A. Salvator, Douglas Adams, Margaret Weise and Tracy Hickman. L. Ron Hubbard had some good Sci-Fi such as William Shatner with the Tek series and Issac Asimov had several series I had enjoyed as a child (Lucky star I believe was the title of one such series). Not a moment of free time went by when one would find me without a book in my hands, whether it be one of many Star Trek or Star Wars books, A D&D fantasy novel or even Stephen Kings the Stand.

Now in the world today, I am afraid that children just don’t develop as swiftly when it comes to reading levels as they used to. Many people blame the parents for not pushing the kids hard enough, many people also blame the schools for having dumbed down the curriculum for the kids so that they are all “on a level playing field” so to speak when it comes to reading levels. After all if one person in 4th grade knows what  the word prolific means and another doesn’t it might make the one that doesn’t upset. Wah boo hoo. While both of these are problems indeed, I also blame the Authors of the so called “Teen” books now a days. As most people know the various book stores are now carrying hundreds of books marketed especially for teens. From the Fairy Tales of Holly Black to the Uglies of Scott Westerfield to the A-List and Gossip Girls it seems that today the Teen Fiction is the way to go to get the most sales. Now before I go on about some of the ones I think are making things harder for the kids, let me mention that I do not think that ALL of the Teen section is to blame just certain parts of it and certain authors. But what scares me the most is that the kids seem to be drawn to these dregs of the literary world like moths to a flame and leave the true literary gems on the way side.

For Example:

3446344928_b4336dbdd0_oA Series of Unfortunate Events: by Lemony Snicket. In my mind this series should be called a Series of Unfortunate Books because of how disturbing they are. I read the first book in the series and I absolutely could NOT put it down. Not because it was superbly written (which it was honestly), but because of the fact that it reminded me of a train crash or a multi car wreck on the freeway. You know something horrible has happened but you just have to watch in the hopes that something good might make itself known. I read the first book in this series in about an hour, it is set for children and is light on the description so honestly the kids can go and imagine just about anything for the main characters they wish. The biggest problems I had with the book were:

1) It talked down to the children, in some cases large words were just left alone whereas some simpler words were then followed by their meaning and a synonym for it in parentheses. I could understand maybe doing this for the harder words but not for the simple ones that kids should know.

2)The book was downright brutally depressing. On just about every page I wanted to shed a tear for the poor children in the story for all the hardships that they were going through. From the death of their parents to being stuck with a guy who only wanted to use them and abused them physically and mentally to the one last ray of hope being pulled from their clutches at the last moment at the end of the book. By the time I was done reading this book I was drained emotionally and just wanted to sit there crying.

Yet this series of 13 books is a favorite among children. I personally wonder at times how a child can read something like that and not feel depressed by it? Is it simply because at such a young age they can more easily distance themselves from those feelings because they may not have had something they can equate them to? As I said to begin with the series is wonderfully written but it is too brutal for my tastes and I think it does nothing more than desensitize children to sensing the pain that some of their fellow kids may be going through.

Eclipse-The-Twilight-Saga-twilight-series-12006965-1680-1050In many ways the desensitizing of things is what brings me back to the Twilight series of books. I think a friend of mine had a very good point when she said:

“I agree that this series really shook up the “norms” of what a vampire IS – but let’s be honest, vampires are things of legend and fiction, just like aliens (so far, haha). What’s wrong with having a new take on an old idea?”

So here is my rebuttal to that. In the old tales, Vampires, Werewolves, even the Boogey Man are all cautionary tales. These tales are ways of teaching kids that not everything is as it appears. Sometimes the things that come in the most gorgeous of wrappers is still something that can harm you. THAT is the basis behind the vampire legends and myths, that is what draws people to the vampires so much and that is what Miss Meyers took away from the legend in the book Twilight. Edward was not a thing to be feared. Edward was sparkly. Yes he was moody (I think he was having PMS half of the time in the book) and he claimed he could be dangerous… but honestly how dangerous can some guy who sparkles in the daytime be? Let’s compare some of the main vamps in fiction shall we.

Dracula1stDracula- Lost his wife, blasphemed against god, and became an undead killing machine. Hates anything to do with religion and it can harm him (Crosses etc), has an aversion to garlic and can’t stand the rays of the sun. Drinks the blood of humans to survive. Can only drink the blood of humans. Can command wolves and bats, possibly can take those shapes or at least make someone believe he can through hypnosis. In some stories can also assume the form of mist. Only way to kill him is put a stake through his heart to pin him down, use a sword to chop off his head and then set fire to both head and body. Or leave him out in the sun where the sun’s rays go straight to step 3 for you. A handsome noble man if one were to look at him. All in all a pretty gruesome character.

Interview_With_the_Vampire,_Anne_RiceVampires from Anne Rice- A lot like the ones from Dracula. A lot of the same vices, a lot of the same weaknesses but for a whole society. So in this case a whole society of badasses. These vamps were noble, regal, smart, cunning, deceptive, dangerous, and ruthless. Most did not care for humans and had lost all touch with humanity- it was the one outcast in her stories that did not like what he had become as a vampire and fought it.

 

 

 

4212112834_442ba0dd23_oWamphryi- One of the best damned sets of Vampires out there this series is by Brian Lumbly. A symbiote takes a human as a host, gives said human a thirst for blood with human blood being the best and strongest to drink (other than other wamphryi of course). Every lord or lady of the Wamphryi can shift their features to give themselves the most beautiful or handsome complexions imaginable. Each of them is a skilled liar and master of word games. Each of them has limited shape shifting abilities, many have some sort of mind reading ability or some other form of ESP. Each can only create one other Wamphryi but an unlimited number of Vampire lieutenant or thralls. Each is a supreme biologist able to use their genetics to mold human bodies into whatever they wish from fearsome warrior beasts to manta like flyers. The first Wamphrye is known as Shai’tan and his only remembrance of his past is that he was “Cast out” for supposedly being too beautiful (hmmmm remind you of a certain biblical figure yet?). wamphryi are extremely sensual and sexual and at the same time deadly as can be.

Way_of_the_wolf_coverVampire Earth by E. E. Knight- Aliens that use constructs called Reapers to suck the life force out of humans by sticking a long probe like tongue into a humans spinal column. Limited powers during the day. By night extreme psychic powers, virtually indestructible since they never fight directly but use the reapers instead. Only known weakness a type of wood from Jamaica called Quick Wood that reacts with reaper blood to make it hard as concrete.

 

 

 

Anita_Blake_Circus_of_the_Damned_-_The_Scoundrel_Vol_1_3

 

 

Anita Blake Vamps- Take the best of Anne Rice and Dracula and create sexy yet deadly vampires and vampiresses. Vamps so damn hot most people would gladly be their snacks and yet they are very very deadly.

 

 

 

 

 

Edward: Sparkles in the sunlight, can read minds (Except for Bella), feeds off of animals yet seems to be as strong as human feeding vamps. Is into Statutory rape and child molestation (hey hundred some year old vamp coming on to a sixteen year old girl…there’s gotta be laws against that in most states…except maybe Arkansas and West Virginia) In Twilight, James makes a good Vampire but he’s relegated to a bit part, in fact his is one part that could have been good but was killed at the last instant. I found Twilight to be very boring, too much useless dialogue that reinforced only 3 basic principles. 1) Bella thinks she is clumsy and undeserving of things 2) Edward wants Bella but also says he is dangerous 3) Jacob thinks his granddad is nuts for thinking that Edward and his family are the legendary “cold ones” but is willing to talk to Bella about it.

Edward acts like a fricken 16 year old kid…which I could understand if he was but he’s not he’s over a hundred. Bella can do nothing other than whine about how clumsy she is and how she doesn’t deserve Edward and how she’s not afraid of him and he’s not scary. Edward is relegated to saying over and over in several hundred ways “Bella I love you…but I’m dangerous to be around you shouldn’t be near me.” I have seen better writing and dialogue in online RP sessions and that’s saying A LOT.

But that’s ok you say, because it’s made for teens not for adults. Well I’m sorry but I call bullshit on that. Teens should have a reading level that allows them to read adult books. Teens should not be so damned lazy that they want an audio book for Jonathan Livingston’s Seagull which is not even an inch thick! The writing in Twilight is barely fit for a fifth grader to read. The romantic side of the story is flimsy, the dramatic side of the story is hogwash, there is next to no action and what action there is has no real climax that means anything. It’s a lot of build up for nothing. It’s like taking the Death Star run from Star Wars a new hope and instead of the huge explosion at the end just having a sparkler go off in one of the Death Stars windows! Everything about it was childish, boring, unrealistic, horribly written, and complete crap (in my opinion).

The big problem is that many authors subscribe to this same idea of writing. They keep it simplistic for Teens, where as some of the children’s writers are getting the idea and coming out with truly epic story lines that could easily overshadow these horrible teen books if people would show an ounce of common sense.

So what are some good stories out there and what sections do they fall in?

3175273078_5608ec13f71) Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling has done a wonderful job with this epic seven book series that is placed in the children’s section of bookstores even though it appeals to all ages of readers. It has a gripping story line, it has romance, it has danger and excitement, and it puts a new spin on the old myths of witches and wizards. I highly recommend this series of books! Each book gets 5 out of 5 on the Coryell review

 

 

Marked2) House of Night Series: A wonderful new rendition of vampires and how they come to be. When one gets old enough there is a chance that a dormant gene will cause you to become a vampire and when you are marked you go to a school to learn about being a good vamp. In some ways a Harry Potter of the vampire world type of thing. This series is absolutely awesome, I started reading it and wasn’t able to put it down and it is in the teen section of the book stores. This has romance, teen angst, action, adventure, typical girl problems and vampires all in one and unlike twilight it’s NOT crap. It even delves into some other religions and shows how sometimes Christianity can be very closed minded about some things. This series is by P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristen Cast. Each book gets 5 out of 5 on the Coryell Review.

7985779796_d995ff0198_b3) Uglies, Pretties, Specials & Extras: All four books are by Scott Westerfeld and are expertly written. They can be found in the teen section in the book store. Reading up about them I first thought interesting concept but not something I would likely read. Once I started reading them though I found they were well thought out and very enjoyable. They follow Tally Youngblood as she approaches her 16th Birthday when she will be able to get the cosmetic surgery that everyone gets at 16 to go from being ugly to pretty. Of course some things get in the way of it but I won’t divulge it here as I don’t want to give it away. It is a wonderful story line about how one sees themselves and proving that different is not always a bad thing. In extras it’s more about popularity not always being the best thing.

4629542939_4aa01f29e2_o4) Spiderwick: Wonderful books by Holly Black in the children’s section of the stores. Fantasy that takes place in present day and is full of action, excellent story telling, lifelike memorable characters, and many other amazing aspects that make this a wonderful read!

 

 

 

 

2666075) Valiant, Tithe, Ironside: A series also by Holly Black in the Teen section this time. Honestly I was surprised that this was in teen considering that the first book tackles drugs and relationships. I mean hell it finds the main girl finding her boyfriend kissing her mom in the first chapter. It also deals with the teen running away from home. It is a dark book make no mistake about it but it is well written and well worth reading.

 

 

 

If people are wondering about other good books that don’t belittle the teens reading them feel free to ask me. Having been a manager at a bookstore, I know quite a bit about what books are good for children, teens and adults alike. I already have a collection of books for my son to enjoy when he is a teen so he can see what good literature is like!

 

Some other good kids/teen books.
Pendragon series by D.J. Machale
Percy Jones Series
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series (kid not teen)
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson

Photo’s Courtesy of:

Anita Blake: Marvel Wikia

Vampire Earth: Wikipedia.org

house of night: wikipedia.org

valiant: goodreads.com

8 thoughts on “Are Teen Books Making Our Youth Dumber?

  1. I think it highly depends on the books. Some books are definitelly bad and pointless, while others are very good, informative and in many cases character building for a teen to read. However the search for those is not always easy and some parent effort has to be put into this.

  2. It seems that you are also a vampire lover like me! I love to read vampire books in my school days. My sister gifted my Interview with the vampire when I was in high school and I must say I enjoyed that book too much. BTW, you have some great collection of vampire books in your library. Beside vampire, Harry Potter Series was the one which make my childhood memorable.

  3. I definitely agree with it depending on the book. I have read some superb children’s or teen’s books published during the past several years ( apart from the ones mentioned in the article with whom I mostly agree, although two of the series failed to impress me ) and at the same time I have read some dreadful ones that made me wonder why in the world I had spent the past X hours reading such drivel.

    But, this fault does not lay solely on this particular age range, but on all of them. I have read some so-called New Adult books that were completely cringe worthy and downright stupid in some parts, blatantly belittling cultures, genders and minorities.

    I think, in the end, it depends on how much the parent researches a book before buying it for his child and how much they go with the trend, with what they see as being ‘cool’ at the moment of their purchase. After all, there are wonderful classic kids can use to develop their tastes in literature and understand what sets apart a good book from a bad one before embarking on the rather daunting task of tackling nowadays literature and figuring out what sets apart a complex one from on that falls in the same category as Twilight. They don’t necessarily have to buy kids all the new books of the market when they can also rely on the things that made their childhood special.

  4. Your recommendations are very good. For example I grew up with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, all Agatha Christie novels, but one of my favourites, which I would like to add in your list, was “His dark materials” written by Philip Pullman. I loved it so much that I’ve read all 3 books during one week, believe me – no sleep, no food, just reading :)) Wonderful experience!

  5. Interesting Observation! I too grew up when there wasn’t a teen section. I do however remember being addicted to the kids section of our school library all through grade school. To answer your question I think it depends on the book. As an adult I tend to stop by the teen section every now and then because I’ve found some good reads.

  6. I think the older I get the more I notice the “kids these days” thing. While I agree with you across the board, looking at many of your example books, I can’t hep but wonder what adults thought of them back in their day. But thoughts are that anything that gets a kid to read is a good thing. When I was growing up, we had time at school just for free time. I spent it all in the library. Now days they spend it on the computer. Which is fine, I don’t want to be a codger about it. So, if they read then they read and it makes me happy. Maybe they’ll read something better next.

  7. I read many chapter books starting in 4th grade and by the time I got to middle school, I was reading my mom’s books which varied from Stephen King to V.C Andrews. The YA novels at that time just were not up to par. I still read a lot and while my 3rd grader loves the Harry Potter series, I have not read them myself. The only recent YA novel that I have read and liked was James Patterson’s Confessions series. The YA novels that seem to do teen justice are the ones that put the teens in more adult situations.

  8. When I read the title, I immediately thought of “Twilight” (not knowing you made reference to it later on)…I found it amusing that we have the same sentiments, also how you mentioned that Edward seemed to have PMS half of the time. ha ha ha! I grew up in the Harry Potter and the Series of Unfortunate Events times, so I can personally recommend how awesome reads they are. I’m purchasing Spiderwick for my younger cousin as a birthday gift (she’s quite the bookworm), I hope she’ll enjoy it!

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