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Domestic violence in MG works

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The scene is as follows: boy gets in pulling match with step-father, mom tries to pull them apart, boy pushes step-father, and step-father accidentally clocks mom in the chin, causing her to bite her tongue. Blood appears on her lips.

Is this too violent for an MG audience?

Any thoughts would be welcome.
#1 - November 04, 2013, 05:04 PM

I think it's hard to tell without reading the scene and perhaps some of the rest of the book - and it may depend on the reader. For me, your description doesn't raise alarm.

Have you considered looking at some other MG books that have a domestic violence thread? Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt comes to mind.
#2 - November 05, 2013, 07:26 AM

I was going to mention Okay for Now, too.  Upsetting domestic violence but the way it's "told" by the narrator, the details are left to the reader's imagination.  We don't really *see* the worst of it as much as we're exposed to the aftermath in brief (but still upsetting) ways.
#3 - November 05, 2013, 08:13 AM

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I don't think it sounds too violent--certainly not any more violent than some scenes in published MG novels. But as with any question like this, there's a chance some people (especially some parents of MG readers) will disagree.

This kind of issue is unlikely to make or break a publisher's choice about the manuscript, so it's probably better not to self-censor. Be true to your story for now, and accept that an editor could ask you to make some changes down the road. 
#4 - November 05, 2013, 08:17 AM
Twitter: @MelissaKoosmann

Melissa is wise.

I'd also point out that any kind of violence in kids' books generally seems less threatening if the setting is fantasy or historical rather than contemporary. (You don't say what genre yours is.)
#5 - November 05, 2013, 08:58 AM
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It probably depends a little on whether it's early or later middle grade. Okay for Now is aimed at older readers, which makes it a little easier to deal with heavy topics.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer and Loteria by Mario Zambrano are a couple of other recent titles that have domestic abuse themes. I know there are others, but I haven't had enough coffee yet.
#6 - November 05, 2013, 08:59 AM
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Look at Waiting for Normal, as well. (Though that is more neglect than abuse.)
#7 - November 05, 2013, 09:03 AM


violence in kids' books generally seems less threatening if the setting is fantasy or historical rather than contemporary. (You don't say what genre yours is.)

It's sci-fi/fantasy but it starts in the real world with an Earth kid's experience. So the home situation is something he gets taken away from for the rest of the book.

It is strange the phenomenon you point out - there are other parts of the book with fighting, but they don't concern me, because it's "fantasy." Only the part with the "real" family concerns me.
#8 - November 05, 2013, 09:35 AM

It doesn't sound problematic enough to stop a potential editor from buying the book.  That said, it really boils down to whether the scene is necessary.  Is this part of a larger issue? What does it offer to the story as a whole? Is this issue integral to the plot?

In my first MG, the editor asked for a sentence to be removed bc of the abuse content in it.  She was right to do so. It was established that the character had an unhealthy home life, so that extra line was unnecessary.  (Note: The line was FAR less violent than the example you cite.)

OTOH, there were a couple sort of double-meaning typical 12 yr old boy jokes that I thought might be a shade too far, & the editor was fine with those. I even had her check with the School & Library team who also said I was worrying too much. So, I think that when you go into the editorial acquisition & revision process, there is always the potential for surprises on what is/is not a cause for stopping & considering.

RE: Your comment that
there are other parts of the book with fighting, but they don't concern me, because it's "fantasy." Only the part with the "real" family concerns me.

I think you are right to think this way.  My MG series is fantasy. There are fights with trolls, wolves, draugr,and various mythology beings.  None of those were an issue.  It was only the familial situations that were.  We seem to have different standards for human-on-human, human v monster, & human v family.
#9 - November 05, 2013, 10:02 AM

Mike Jung

ONE FOR THE MURPHYS contains some domestic violence - it largely happens offscreen, but it's clear that an adult is physically injuring a child in a significant way.
#10 - November 05, 2013, 10:06 AM

My book has a domestic violence scene...the dad has been drinking. There is arguing, mom throws a tray of food on the floor, a little pushing, dad hits his hip on a dresser, then slamming doors and the mom throws dad's things out on the driveway, dad drives away...

Don't self-sensor. If the story needs the scene, leave it. You can worry about it later.
#11 - November 05, 2013, 10:07 AM
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What Mike Jung said.
#12 - November 05, 2013, 01:17 PM
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In the opening scene of WHAT JAMIE SAW, by Carolyn Coman, which is not a real new book, the MC Jamie witnesses an adult throwing a baby across a room. It is MG.

Personally, that is too much for ME to take, but the book was published. I agree that the importance of the scene, the thrust of the book as a whole, and whether this is upper or lower MG might be factors in the decision.
#13 - November 05, 2013, 05:13 PM
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BIRD IN A BOX by Andrea Davis Pinkney is historical but one of the three main characters is physically abused.
#14 - November 05, 2013, 06:30 PM


Thank you everyone. Some very good advice.

I'm going to go the route of not self-censoring and leave it for now. After I put the manuscript away for a few months and take it back out to edit, I'll see if that scene is adding what I think it adds now (which is a glimpse of the MC's home life spinning out of control).
#15 - November 05, 2013, 06:32 PM

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Don't Hit Laurie - author evades me at the moment is a girl that gets hit by her mother, but younger brother and sister are left alone.  The mother excuses her broken bones, bruises away by her being clumsy.  Mother does get help at the end of the story.
#16 - November 05, 2013, 10:21 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt


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