Wednesday, October 30, 2013



With the movie opening Nov 1st, Ender's Game is the #1 selling book on Amazon. Although Orson Scott Card's breakthrough novel is relatively tame compared to other adult sci-fi, there are a few things parents should be aware of.

The first time I read this was in college. Card is a master storyteller if he can manage to keep his plot in a straight line. It's easy to fall in love with Ender and easy to see why this novel rocketed Card to fame and fortune. What's less easy to see is why an author so opposed to gay marriage fills his books with references to the male genitalia. This book is appropriate for most older teens. As for the rest in the series, they are less kid-friendly. Not because they have more adult content (although some do) but because the stories get more political, philosophical, and family-drama-esque.

Ender's Game gets a (PG-13) rating for content.  

Three stars. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Letter from a School Bus Driver

thanks, moanaluapto for the pic

  Dear Story Surgeon General,
As a mother, grandmother, and someone who works on a daily basis with children and youth, I have a great interest in removing malignant tumors from their mental food. 
A junior high student left her library book on my bus one day. Curious about the title, I checked it out and found it was about a young girl who cut herself. I knew the student who had left the book, and she herself was a troubled teen. It made me sick to think of her taking those ideas into her mind. 
Where are the books that uplift and inspire? That bring hope and peace and a desire for goodness of character?



Thanks for your letter. I hope you don't mind that I edited it a bit for brevity.

It's easy to see why troubled teens turn to books like this. There is something extremely comforting to know there are other people out there with problems like ours (or even worse that ours.) I imagine that's why authors keep pumping these books out. They have an audience, and they think they are helping trouble teens everywhere to feel validated.

In the WSJ article I quoted in my first blog post, Ms. Gordon addresses this issue as well:

The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.
Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.

My two centavos:
I think these types of books can accomplish good. They may foster sympathy for people with mental illness, help teens to feel they're not alone, and perhaps even inspire them to find light in their world.
However, the question is whether the books also skew reality and make it seem as if the destructive behavior is normal. I've read books where a person who committed suicide becomes a sort of hero victim. The dangers of glamorizing suicide are obvious. Even if the authors are trying to discourage bullying or encourage kindness at school, inevitably some teens will finish the book with the resolve to leave their own bitter legacy.
Example: Nothing makes the news faster than a school shooting. But the massive coverage gives the illusion that it's much more common than it is. Factor in the dozens of novels on the subject and suddenly it becomes an option for any student with a grudge and access to weapons. They know at the very least they'll get their name all over the news. They won't be so alone in their pain.
I see these angst books as a band-aid on a gaping wound. The pain these kids are feeling is very real, but a novel with graphic themes is not going to solve much. The real issues need to be brought out in the open and dealt with. Trouble teens need to turn to parents or other adults they can trust, rather than to a sensationalized version of their own struggles.
I suppose it's up to us to be those adults they can turn to.

Saturday, October 26, 2013



Released earlier this week, REALITY BOY is being marketed as a contemporary YA/Adult crossover. Contemporary Young Adult means no magic, futuristic technology, or running for your life. Typically these novels move at a slower pace and center around buzz topics such as abuse, suicide, disability, sexual orientation, or terminal illness. (Usually with a side of romance/sexual coming-of-age.)

The term "crossover" means they're expecting the adults to enjoy this as much as teens, but in this case, it seems they're also using it as a license to fill this children's book with adult content. Although I only made it through the first third of the book, the stats I collected so far should give you an idea of whether you want to buy it for your teen.

Reality Boy is about a boy's struggle to overcome the emotional damage he received as a child TV reality star. For those that don't mind the coarse content (or lack of external plot), you'll probably fall in love with the characters. A.S. King writes well and with compassion. It's an important book as far as addressing mental disability and the necessary role of parents. I just wish she could have done it with a few less F-words.

Reality Boy gets an (R) rating (bordering on NC-17) for content.  

Two stars. 

(A copy of this book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for a review.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why This Blog is Not About Censorship

As a father of four kids under seven (your sympathy is appreciated), a reader of mostly young adult books (that has to do with my own maturity level), and a compulsive writer, I find myself juggling many opinions and priorities when it comes to literature. Let me start by saying I didn’t intend for this blog to be controversial or get anyone fired up. And I certainly don’t want to come off as self-righteous. I just want to fill a need.

It started out harmlessly enough. Since I’ve got my own soon-to-be-published YA novel, I knew I’d have to get out of my antisocial little cave and make some online friends. The only problem was what to offer in return. Most wouldn’t really care about my writerly journey. (Like, oh my gosh, I got 3,000 rejections and then someone finally didn’t hate my manuscript! *insert squee here*.) I thought about offering parenting or writing advice, but since I haven’t been proven effective in either of these areas, I might end up getting sued. Or worse—embarrassed on Facebook.

Then I remembered a website called Back in the day it was a free resource, advising parents of the questionable content in popular movies. My wife and I are conservative when it comes to media, so we used this site periodically to determine whether we’d enjoy certain films. (Nowadays the website charges, so we take our chances…did I mention we’re cheap as well?)

That’s when my brilliant idea hit me. Why not offer a tool to parents who want to guide their kids toward wholesome books, but don’t have time to read every YA novel in the library?

At this point, some of you will be preparing your vocal chords to scream YOU EVIL CENSORING PIG!!

Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t want children to grow up illiterate or hate reading. But I do believe children are more impressionable than adults and can be shaped negatively by the media they take into their trusting little brains. Rather than starting a campaign to get certain books off the shelves, I’m simply giving those parents who still take an interest in the emotional development of their children a free resource to make their job a little easier. (Emphasis on little.)

my unusually attractive wife reading a magazine to my abnormally adorable daughter

But is protecting kids really necessary? In fifth grade, my cousin first showed me a bad word in a Michael Crichton novel. I was intrigued and ended up reading Jurassic Park in its entirety. (It’s still one of my favorites.) Now as an adult, I don’t use that particular bad word, so I guess I’m living proof that one expletive isn’t going to turn you into a serial killer.

Neil Gaiman feels the same way. In a recent lecture at the Reading Agency he said:

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was R.L. Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy. It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness."

On the other hand, Meghan Cox Gordon, a children’s book reviewer for the New York Times had this to say:
"Every year the American Library Association delights in releasing a list of the most frequently challenged books.[…] "It almost makes me happy to hear books still have that kind of power," Mr. Alexie [an author of one of the books,] was quoted saying; "There's nothing in my book that even compares to what kids can find on the Internet." 
Oh, well, that's all right then. Except that it isn't. It is no comment on Mr. Alexie's work to say that one depravity does not justify another. If young people are encountering ghastly things on the Internet, that's a failure of the adults around them, not an excuse for more envelope-pushing.”
Ms. Gordon goes on to give specific, disturbing examples from YA books (books aimed at 12 to18-year-old readers) and the backlash from this article was legendary.

Gaiman’s article, too received a lot of attention, most of it positive.

This blog is not trying to determine who’s right (although I have my own opinions) and I’ll not necessarily be trying to convince anyone to take my standards as their own. This blog is, however, for those that want to err on the side of protecting their children.

I think Gordon picked the worst of the worst to comment on, and Gaiman picked the tamest of books to suit his own needs. Increasingly, those that side with Gordon are getting fewer and farther between. This, I think, is one reason why this blog is needed. Conservative readers need to stick together and support each other. We need to know that although we are the minority, we still have the right to protect our kids. It’s not censorship. It’s responsible parenting.

So here’s the plan.

I’ll use this blog primarily to review YA books. Those reviews will deal with general quality, but will also spell out specific content that parents should be aware of before buying the book for their teen.

Since I don’t get a huge amount of reading time (did I mention I have four kids under seven?) I’ll be needing your help with this. When you read a book (YA or otherwise) keep track of the content as best you can and share it with the rest of us. You can either email your review to me at storysurgeongeneral at gmail or you can contact me about doing a guest post. Either way, the more of us reviewing, the better prepared we’ll be when we take our kids to the library.

I’ll also be using this blog to promote an app that I’m developing. It’s called the Story Surgeon Editor, and when it’s finished, will allow parents to remove or change content from eBooks and share their filters with the world. (More on that later.)

Hopefully this blog will also help me make some friends so that when my own book finally comes out, I’ll sell more than twenty copies. (Just so you know, all followers of this blog are morally obligated to buy my book.)

And lastly, I plan on becoming so popular that JK Rowling asks me to lunch. Because what other worthy goal could anyone have in this life than to watch Harry Potter’s creator eat a salad?