NEW YORK • At book events, Melissa Scholes Young is often asked whether her debut novel, Flood, is appropriate for young readers.
The characters are modern-day Tom Sawyers and Becky Thatchers wrestling with issues of race, class and rural identity.
She suspects what people are really asking is: "Does your book have sex?" It does. Young said it would be difficult to write a coming-of-age tale authentically without adult situations. The sex is subtle, though, implied rather than graphic.
"My 10-year-old read it and loved it," she told these parents. "My 15-year-old found it tame."
But even if her novel had been written by someone else, Young said she would have let her kids read it.
"I've never censored their reading. I'd rather watch them stumble in their own reading discoveries than limit their exposure and I trust that the safest place for them to stretch their experiences is on the page," she pointed out.
As a parent and a teacher of middle-school, high-school and college students, she has found that reading begins more discussion than it ends. Reading about experiences different from the person's own encourages him to travel with his mind.
As author Mark Twain said, "travel is fatal to prejudice".
He knew well the loss when work is censored. His 1885 classic, Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, is one of the most frequently challenged books in the United States.
The language of the novel, especially his treatment of class and race, is difficult to digest by modern standards.
But if people dismiss the book for its imperfections, they miss an opportunity to learn from Twain's humanitarianism, which is larger than his book's pitfalls.
I've never censored their reading. I'd rather watch them stumble in their own reading discoveries than limit their exposure and I trust that the safest place for them to stretch their experiences is on the page.
AUTHOR MELISSA SCHOLES YOUNG, on not restricting her daughters' reading
Although Young does not restrict the works her daughters read, she does not leave them entirely on their own, either. She might scan their selections as they check out of the library. And she often reads along with them.
This allows her simply to be present - to help with unknown words, appreciate lovely language, explain a scene and answer questions about the text.
Other times, she will read in tandem with them or research the books they have chosen, so she knows what issues they might encounter.
When her oldest daughter read Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret out loud to her sister, she joined them, knowing that a book about coming of age in 1970 might present a dated perspective.
Young worried more about The Hunger Games series because of the violence, but thought the issues of class and gender made it worth reading.
Indeed, instead of censoring books, the American Library Association advocates "intellectual freedom" where readers are exposed to and may explore "information from all points of view without restriction".
During the decade she taught middle school and high school, the concerns Young often received from parents about reading assignments assumed that children needed protection, that they could not manage difficult material and that complexity or depth of theme might turn them off reading.
In her experience, she has found the exact opposite. "My students are often more mature than their parents realise and they can navigate nuances and engage in critical conversations with open, unformed opinions.
"Literature should unsettle us and I don't expect my students to have all the answers to the questions an author raises, but I do insist they think critically as they form their own arguments."