If you have a teenage reader, you have had this problem. All through their childhood you have fed them good books, fended off junk and inappropriate material, and maybe even previewed library books they wanted to read. But one day they show up with a stack of Young Adult books, each one three to five hundred pages long, none of them familiar, and all of them so—so teen.
And you realize you just can’t do it anymore. You can’t keep up.
We hit this problem early with our first teen, Bernadette, and in a big way. Bernadette has always stood out in our family. She learned to read when she was four years old, and by age five she was reading the Narnia Chronicles. And she read at inhuman speeds. By her early teens she had consumed everything in our capacious family book collection, everything her extended family offered, and pretty much everything interesting at our local library.
She read so quickly, in fact, that we assumed she was just skimming books. We would whip out a book she had read recently, turn to a random page, and start quizzing her: “What was this character’s dog’s name? Where does this happen? Why does so-and-so think thus-and-such?” But to our dismay, she always knew the answer. She not only read at several times the speed of normal people, but she seemed to have near-perfect recall of what she had read.
Sound wonderful? Not if you’re a parent who has pre-viewed and pre-approved every book for years and years. No, it was a headache.
By her early teens, Bernadette had paired her voracious reading with a passion for writing. As she honed her own craft, she became more critical of what others have written, both in terms of style and in terms of content. So rather than forbid Bernadette to read anymore just because her parents are mere human beings and can’t process every multi-volume fantasy epic lugged home by the girl who annually wins the city library’s reading contest—rather than shut her abilities down, we tapped them as the solution. We asked her to write book reviews detailing potentially problematic content and offering her opinion as to the book’s overall worth.
She loved it. And she was good at it. Soon Bernadette was pre-reading books for a teenage friend whose mother wanted to “see inside” her books without having to read every one of them. One thing led to another, and Bernadette’s book review website was born.
Allow me to introduce X-Ray Reads. Motto: “Look before you read!”
Bernadette reviews everything from George Orwell to Douglas Adams. Each post features a plot summary, a category-by-category overview of potentially problematic content, and Bernadette’s personal reflection. And she takes requests:
Not finding what you’re looking for? Leave a comment below with the title and author you need, and I’ll look into reviewing it for you. I can usually get back to you with whether or not I’ll read it within one to two days, and actual reviewing time will depend on the circumstances.
Sometimes it’s hard to get hold of a book, and if that’s the case I may not be able to review it. (Feel free to offer to mail it to me. Just kidding… mostly.) I also reserve the right to refuse to review a book based on my personal beliefs or preferences.
So what began as our unusual problem evolved into an unusual solution. This has been a fun adventure, and I hope it turns out to be helpful for other families.