Teaching my oldest to read was a struggle. The mechanics were easy; she could read competently in kindergarten, but reading was a chore to her, and just reading a few pages frequently brought us both to tears of frustration and anger. Eventually I gave up, and let her be. Of course, that’s when the reading bug bit her, and bit her hard.
She became a voracious reader, devouring series like the Rainbow Fairies and Camp Confidential. Then she discovered Harry Potter, and things got fun. We were finally able to have those mother daughter book discussions I always dreamed about, and I got to know her in a completely different way through our book talks. She’s not afraid to disagree with me, and her appetite for science fiction and historical fiction matches mine, proof that my DNA runs through the veins of this tall and willowy girl.
When the Hunger Games came out, I let her read the series. She was so excited to read them, and I didn’t want to censor her. I rationalized that the state mandated violence was less disturbing than reading Lord of the Flies or even Animal Farm as a child. We had wonderful discussions about reality television, the responsibilities of government, and the freedoms we enjoy in our society. Divergent and Insurgent also generated good discussions about peer pressure, group dynamics, and morality during war.
I heard about the Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker on NPR, and thought it would be another great candidate for a family read. It’s a young adult fiction novel about time slowing when the earth’s rotations around the sun suddenly and inexplicably change. The heroine is Julia, a shy 11-year old girl living in the suburbs in California. Her typical suburban life of 6th grade social stresses and soccer practice continues even as the days lengthen quickly. Daylight lasts 13 hours then 15, and soon a full 24 hours. Once the government decides to maintain a 24 hour schedule, Julia waits for the school bus in the dark, and struggles to fall asleep when the sun is blazing outside, but still worries about whether she’ll be invited to birthday parties.
My main criteria for deciding whether a young adult novel is appropriate to share with my 11-year old is sex. My daughter is still blissfully unimpressed by boys, and even the basic kissing scenes between Peeta and Katniss were an annoying disruption from the thrilling plot of the Hunger Games. Any young adult book that devotes more than a few paragraphs here and there to romantic longing, pining, or panting goes unshared.
Age of Miracles also went back on my bookshelf as inappropriate, but sex had little to do with my decision. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, but the premise was just too grim, too lacking hope. It left me with nightmares. Just like my 5th grade class was banned from watching the Morning After with its visions of life after nuclear war, I am declaring Age of Miracles as too much for my 5th grader. Some visions of possible futures are just too scary.
When I imagined my mother daughter book club, I pictured myself as a cheerleader, gleefully sharing favorite reads, opening the gate and inviting my daughter into secret worlds. Instead it seems that I’ve become a censor, shutting the blinds to keep out the light, just like Julia’s parents in Age of Miracles.
P.S. I’ve since learned that Age of Miracles is being marketed as adult fiction, not young adult which is a relief. However, I can’t imagine that I would be the only parent to assume that this is yet another apocalyptic young adult novel.