Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is Toni Morrison's Beloved Appropriate for My 14-Year-Old?

I have three sons, two of which have grown up to be aliterate readers(they know how to read, they choose not to read). I know they can read with comprehension. I made sure of it. We may not have had much, but we were rich in books. The kids went to the library regularly. We all read. We did read alouds even when they were teens. This did not make them lifelong voluntary readers. That has nothing to do with me.

But my youngest is a voracious reader. That too has nothing to do with me. At 14, he has gone through the YA books and finds their predictability too one-dimensional. He read the Hunger Games Trilogy and doesn't need to read the other dystopian novels. He doesn't want to read paranormal. He does not gravitate towards the same kind of readings that I can "sell" to my reluctant readers. All of my tricks for book recommendations don't work on him.

I wanted to challenge him, so as a former AP English teacher, I decided to look through some of my old book lists and I created a challenge list for him with a short synopsis of the storyline. I told him we'd read it together and talk about it, but I wanted him to choose books he had never read before.

He chose Beloved and right away I got the same panicky feeling I got when I assigned it to my AP students. Did I really think this through? Was I going to be able to steer the students away from the horror and shock enough to really have valuable conversations about why Morrison may have chosen to tell this particular story in this particular way? Was it appropriate for this particular group of students? Did I really want this for my son? Should I have protected him a little while longer?

Beloved  has a history of being challenged in the schools, but isn't that why it SHOULD be read?  Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go actually created a tongue-in-cheek list of the top 10 "unsuitable" books for teens and Beloved is on it. These are really his list of books that kids should read because people will say that they're too young to read them.

 I remind myself that we are going to read this together. I can guide him. I trust my ability to see the worth of this book. This is a boy that can talk to me about Jem's frustration and "crying anger" at the injustice in the Tom Robinson verdict. He can tell me that Scout's confusion stems from her being too young to understand.

Is 14 too young? Will he tell me if he is bothered by something? Can we talk it out? Am I helping to challenge his thinking or am I simply exposing him to the horrors of a world that we wish were fictitious?

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