Back when Dreaming of Her and Other Stories, I got asked how appropriate the book would be for kids. Since this was something I’d thought about while writing the stories, I was prepared with an answer.
I don’t really write for certain age groups. I let the book take shape as it will, and then inform people after the fact about the potentially problematic elements it contains. This allows you to be fully informed about a story ahead of time, while allowing that story the freedom to be the fullest of what it can be.
Since Christmas is coming up, and now’s about the time everyone’s doing their Christmas shopping, I wanted to make sure all your questions about my books are answered as fully as possible before you decide on your gifts. This isn’t about censorship; it’s about the understanding that parents want their children to grow up well. And that means holding some aspects of life in reserve until their children are ready to deal with them in a healthy manner. Freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand: Increasing the former works best when the latter is ready for the challenge.
Of course, it’s not just parents who want to know about these things. Adults and teenagers are looking for this kind of information for their own sake. I remember looking for hours on the internet for a good site that would give me some more spoiler-free info on movies I wanted to see, but I could tell from the trailers that they might contain content I wasn’t interested in watching.
So, if you’ve ever found yourself wanting to get a book, but you find yourself saying: “What if it has ___?”, this is for you (feel free to skip through to whichever book you’re most interested in, or straight to the end for a great review resource):
Dreaming of Her and Other Stories
Most of this book is perfectly fine for elementary kids, with the only limitation being their reading ability. There are a few stories, however, that I would hesitate to recommend for these reasons:
Only Death: This story deals very explicitly with revenge and death. While there isn’t any gore, swearing, or intense violence, the theme is more mature, and is probably more appropriate for kids aged 16+.
Dreaming of Her: Again, the themes are more mature, dealing with death, and the imagery can be both intense and horrific. There is also one use of the f-word.
Gene Therapy: This story contains the sh-word, along with some violence, and drugs are hinted at, as well as illicit drug-related activities. It is definitely not appropriate for children 12 and under.
The Search: The only problematic element in this story is a little gore towards the end. I would also recommend having hot chocolate or some other hot drink handy while reading this story. Winter could almost be considered a character, which isn’t problematic, just cold. *shivers*
Mr Morkub, In Plain Sight, New Life, Swallow Troubles, Run Program?, Machine, and Glass are all fine, although I think elementary-aged kids would have a hard time connecting with the themes in Machine and Glass. They would most likely love Mr Morkub and Swallow Troubles, both of which are comedic, and the first of which runs mostly on the kind of humour a five-year-old boy would most readily appreciate.
Also, most of these stories have a cerebral quality to them, especially Only Death, Run Program?, and The Search. This isn’t problematic, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
A few can be a little depressing, especially “5:00”, which is the only poem that doesn’t end on a positive note, as well as the more sombre “Ending, An” (which does contain an overt mention of suicide), and “God”, both of which deal with pain: The first being the pain of growing up, the second being the pain of watching someone die.
In terms of swearing, “Hell Hath No Fury” has the fake swear “friggen” in it. I, personally, don’t consider this to be problematic, but you wouldn’t believe the controversy even words like this can cause.
“Daphne”, being based off of the Greek myth about the nymph Daphne escaping the attentions of Apollo, there are two very veiled references to sex, or sexual desire, enough so that they can be easily read without any sexual connotations.
Elf-Touched: There’s a hanging (not a spoiler- this is in the first sentence), so a dead body, as well as some violence towards the end. Some people might also find the main character’s lack of empathy disturbing. The story itself ends on a more ambiguous note.
Who is the River?: This one contains some violence (at a distance), as well as the word “damn”. Towards the middle, some fingers get chopped off, both metaphorically and literally, there are a few references to what is essentially suicide, and there’s one scene where the main character becomes a swamp that doesn’t contain anything overtly problematic, but the imagery does make me uncomfortable every time I reread it. The story overall, though, I have been told is very uplifting.
Nearly all the stories and poems end in a positive, hopeful manner. The only piece that ends in a more tragic light is the aforementioned “5:00” and a few pieces end in a more ambiguous manner, these being In Plain Sight, Gene Therapy, Run Program?, and Elf-Touched.
With all this considered, I would recommend that, for kids ages 13-16, that parents make decisions on a child-by-child basis. For kids 17+, it should be fine.
Of course, if you’re willing to let your children read all the original versions of fairy tales (and I mean the original original versions. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this doesn’t apply to you), then, aside from the language in a few stories, there’s nothing in this anthology that passes that particular level of intensity, and you may feel free to ignore any specific age recommendations I gave.
If you’re 13-16 and you’re reading this: Know thyself. And don’t worry if you’re not ready for some of the more mature elements yet. You’ll level up before you know it. :)
The Illuminated Heart
This is also a book that I can’t really pin an age range to, but I do call it inspirational dark fantasy for a reason, so I wouldn’t, in general, recommend this book to kids under the age of 14 (and, if you’re a teenager, sorry for calling you a kid, but I did refrain from calling you a child).
Problematic Story Bits
A major component of this story is the undead, and I’m not sparing in details about them, but they aren’t the kind who generally go around eating people, so there’s that.
The story begins with a funeral, and the second chapter contains some gore as well as nearly all of the darkest moments of the entire story (think lots of farm animals dying, as well as diseased vegetables). One of the undead also appears in the second and third chapters, and its appearance is pretty disturbing. There is a scene inside a barrow (a Viking-style burial mound), complete with a decomposing corpse.
Towards the middle of the third chapter, a character decides on being killed in exchange for help for their family, and the rest of that chapter, as well as the first half of the fourth chapter is rather depressing because of it.
Someone female sleeps in the same bed as an unknown (most likely male) character for a few months, but there is nothing sexual involved.
To put it in a nutshell, there’s lots of death and death-related things, although the human body count at the end isn’t what you’ll see coming, or what this all may have led you to believe.
For anyone who’s familiar with East of the Sun, West of the Moon (the fairy tale this is based off of), if you’re expecting romance, you’ll be disappointed. Honestly, I never read that story as a romance, and always thought the marriage in the end to be unnecessary. I also happen to think that fairy tales in general suffer from too much romance, in the same way that superheroes have too many capes and, as Edna would say,
While I’ve emphasized the dark part of this story, I will say that I also called it inspirational dark fantasy for a reason.
All in all, I would recommend, for kids aged 12-14, that parents decide on a child-by-child basis, and that kids aged 15+ should be fine reading it.
For the Rest of Your Christmas Shopping
The best site, hands-down, that I’ve ever found for giving reviews for everything you could possibly think of that could contain problematic content (and the website I wish I’d found when I was a teenager and still feeling out my personal limits) is Common Sense Media.
It rates everything you could possibly want to know about (including quality), all without giving any spoilers whatsoever. I hope it makes your gift-shopping easier. :)
And For Those Who’ve Already Read These Books
I did my best to mention everything that might be important to parents, and to recommend ages appropriately, but the fact remains that I’m not a parent yet, myself. It’s very important to me that people can be equipped to make informed choices about what they read and watch, and that kids are equipped to best learn what kind of content they are and aren’t comfortable with, and how they can spot it ahead of time. So:
If you think I’m off in any area, or if you want to add anything, please leave a comment and tell me about it. Even if you’re not a parent, I would appreciate any feedback you have. It will help make future reviews include the information that matters the most to you. :)