The Bunker Diary is narrated by a 16-year-old dropout, one of six victims, kidnapped and held in an underground prison by a captor who observes them with cameras and has them act out games. I haven’t read the book, but it has been described by one critic as a “uniquely sickening read” and has come under fire for its violent and graphic content. Since the win, literary critics and authors have debated on whether children’s books need to be hopeful and if dark themes can be too much for young adults to handle.
The issue for libraries that arises with books such as The Bunker Diary is how we handle them. Brooks’ novel is far from the first YA novel that deals with disturbing subject matter, though some may argue it takes it to a new level. Other popular titles, such as The Hunger Games contain death and disturbing themes. Another award-winning example, recently made into a movie, is The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak. As you’d expect from a book about the Holocaust, this powerful novel contains its fair share of human tragedy. There are going to be young patrons who come into the library wanting to read these books. Every reader is different – for some, this sort of novel may well be beyond their maturity level, and for others, these books can be a fitting avenue to learn about human tragedy.
Teens may not even realize a book they’ve picked up will be as graphic or disturbing as it is. In the case of The Bunker Diary, another criticism is that there is little indication from the cover of just how disturbing the content is. It is true though that there is no rating system for books the way there is for movies, and discussion about a YA rating system has been met with serious opposition from the American Library Association, who argue it wold amount to censorship. Is it necessary to give young adults some sort of indication that dark titles, such as The Bunker Diary contain potentially disturbing content? Could it be our job, as library staff, to try prepare young adults and children for heavy subject matter? If so, how can that be done?
These are the questions library professionals must ponder, and they become even more pressing as the dystopian genre of young adult fiction grows more and more popular. Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
- Should children’s books have a happy ending? The Guardian
- Carnegie medal under fire after 'vile and dangerous' Bunker Diary wins, The Guardian
- The Bunker Diary: why wish this book on a child? The Telegraph
- Children's books do not need happy endings, Carnegie Medal winner says, The Telegraph
- Carnegie Medal: 'the darkest children's book I've ever read,' The Telegraph
- The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks - review, The Guardian
- Why we're glad The Bunker Diary won the Carnegie, The Guardian
- Is It Time To Rate Young Adult Books for Mature Content? U.S. News