This question is one I ask myself almost every day. Sometimes innocently: How much is too much in the washing machine? Sometimes guiltily: How much is too much when scooping ice cream? But sometimes seriously: How much is too much when it comes to sex in a book?
As a romance novelist, it’s not a question I worry too much about. “Too much” is usually more of a marketing concern – who am I trying to sell my book to, and how much detail do they want. But as a mom, the question takes on an entirely different meaning—especially when it comes to what to allow my children to read.
I’m not a fan of banning books, far from it. But when told my daughter would be reading Like Water for Chocolate this year, that it was, in the teacher’s words “a little racy,” and that we’d have the option of substituting a different book, I paused. What was she being asked to read?
Now, my daughter’s teacher is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. He immediately sent home a copy of the book for me to read, and assured everyone that there would be no repercussions, should we decide it wasn’t the book for our kids. The decision was up to us as parents: How much is too much?
Well, I read it. It’s a fascinating book, built like one of the many dishes featured in its pages. Mexican folklore is layered on top of a classic Cinderella-like story, mixed in with a love of food and a sensual romance. It’s the “how sensual” part I worried about.
As far as romance novels (including mine) go, the sexual aspects could be considered a little on the tame side, I think. The interludes were short, and not explored as emotionally as they could have been. There was the occasional explicit reference to a woman’s physical response and some intimate touching. But is it too much?
Every situation is different, and considering my daughter, her experiences—and even my experiences and reading in high school—I’ve decided that no, it’s not too much. Based on the “family life” classes she’s had (aka sex ed), the discussions we’ve shared about a variety of topics, and her level of maturity, I’m okay with her reading it. But it’s not the kind of book I’d give to just anyone her age. And honestly, I’m not sure how the boys in her class will react to it.
The story does lend itself to discussions about physical attraction vs. “true love.” I’ll be curious to hear if that comes up in my daughter’s class discussions. But there are also themes of familial responsibility vs. independence, accepting the consequences of one’s actions, and finding one’s self. Taken as a whole, it’s a very thought-provoking book.
The most important thing is that the teacher asked us the question in the first place, and I thank him for giving us the opportunity to answer it.
As for my book? It’s definitely too much for her. But you have to love her: She’s counting the days until she heads off to college so she can read it then. Talk about loyalty!