There's been some discussion online about the labelling of Hugh Howey's Wool as a book for teenagers or young adults.

The paperback version of Wool mentions The Hunger Games and this suggests that the publishers are aiming Wool at the same market.

Update: As this post has had some interest, I've recorded a follow-up video that you can see here: Watch the video

Like many people, I'm uncomfortable with the tendency to label books with age groups – especially when it's done for marketing purposes.

When I was a teenager, I read books for adults and I was enriched by it.  I loved P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie.  The only book that upset me was Oliver Twist; the graphic description of cruelty to starving children was too much for me.

Here are some of my thoughts, based on my experiences of the YA phenomenon.

I taught an 11 year old girl who was reading Jung Chan's Wild Swans and sharing the experience with her mother.  That was their choice and I applaud them for it.

Many adults who devour Harry Potter were the sort of people who had avoided reading in the past.  This is especially true of Rowling's male fans.  Sure, it's a shame that they don't read much else, but it's so much better than the alternatives: “I've never read a book in my life” or “Reading?  It's boring innit.” 

There isn't anything in Wool that will upset or confuse the average teenager, unless they've led a very sheltered life.  And if they don't fully understand some of the themes and sub-texts of Wool, or any other book, does it really matter?  If the teenager has enjoyed the pace of the story and was engaged with the characters, they may well have perceived more of the underlying substance than they can verbalise.  They are to be congratulated.  A good reader always pushes at the limits of their ability.

Does the Wool trilogy have some strong language?  Yes – a little but not a lot and not very harsh.  If you get yourself in a frenzy of indignation over this sort of thing, then please take a deep breath and review the contents of the average video game.  Then, think of the phrases they've already heard at school.

You may now safely untwist your knickers.

Life is complex, emotions run deep, the perceptions of others are hard to gauge.  What better way to explore some of the richness and tragedy of life than through a well-written story?  Story gives us an experience of the world that comes fitted with the safety net of fiction.

The Victorians knew this.  The tales that they told to their children are frankly terrifying.  And just as the little darlings were trembling with their cold blankets pressed up to their noses, what did their parents do?  They said goodnight, snuffed out the candle and left them alone.

Thankfully, we live in a kinder age but that doesn't mean we should shelter our teenagers from the raw edges of life.

Teens are all different, families are all different.

Who are we to say when a person is ready to read a book?

Let's teach our teenagers to be informed, be well-read, be critical.  And let's show them by example, that we should never be led by the nose by anyone – especially not by the folk in Marketing.

Read Wool?

You might also like: What to Read After Wool

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