August 14, 2012
Reading While Thirteen
Posted by Christine Hurt

Having been 13 and now having a 13 year-old, I realize that reading is a tricky business.  Thirteen year-olds can read most words and have full access to an entire library full of books, full of violence, sex and new ideas.  Believe me, it was a sad moment when I realized that I just couldn't read every book my daughter read before she read it -- I was just going to have to let her fend for herself literature-wise and hope for the best.  But, in the current world, there are plenty of books out there written for 13 year-olds.  (Of course, 10 year-olds read them, but whatever.)  But back in the day, voracious readers of the young teen variety were left to their own devices.  WE hadn't been exposed to good literature in school as of yet, so we basically had to read what we found.

NPR's All Things Considered has been running a series called "PG-13" in which today's authors talk about dangerous books they read when they were 13.  Out of the five books listed there, I read two of them, also the summer when I was 13:  It and Flowers in the Attic

OK, so It wasn't published when I was 13, but I read a lot of Stephen King that summer, probably The Stand, Cujo, Christine (of course) and Pet Sematary.  I can't even imagine suggesting these to my own daughter, but I seemed to have survived this early exposure to horror (and occasional bizarre sex) at an early age.  I'm not sure why those books were so attractive to me.  They were accessible, ahd funny pop culture references and usually one or more really likeable characters.  I haven't reread these books since I was a teenager, but I can still feel how hot and thirsty the Cujo mom is trapped in the car with her son and how incredibly sad the Pet Sematary dad is when his two year-old is hit by the truck.  I'm not sure I could read those books now.  Maybe only when you are 13 and your world is incredibly safe and insulated can you happily read books about extreme tragedy, horror and fear.  (I also always think about the PR disaster at the beginning of Cujo as being a great example of correlation versus causation -- company that makes red cereal faces consumer outrage when a small number of kids vomit red after eating the cereal.)

Less understandably, I also read Flowers in the Attic and its sequels (yes, it had many sequels).  I guess this book was lying (laying?) around the house, abandoned by my mom or older sister, so of course I picked it up and started reading.  The premise is that four beautiful children are hidden in an attic after their father dies by their beautiful mother.  Why?  Because the mother is trying win back the millionaire father who disowned her, but feels that the grandfather will only accept her back if the marriage he opposed did not produce any children.  The beautiful but passively evil mother assures the children they will be able to leave the attic once she wins over Grandfather/once Grandfather dies/once the Cubs win the series/etc.  So, the story is basically about what four children do for years in an attic.  This is no Chronicles of Narnia.  More like The Blue Lagoon.  The oldest two children, barely teenagers, fall in love.  This beautiful incest story (??) apparently captivated millions of readers, including a few 13 year-olds.  But again, I seemed to have survived reading it.

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