Is The First Assassin suitable for young readers? A number of e-mailers have asked. The question came to my attention again when the New Ledger included The First Assassin in its year-end round-up of recommended books:
This is an impressive first novel. … I consider this a “young adult” novel … This is an excellent historical novel for the history-minded teen or young adult.
If The First Assassin was a movie, I would rate it PG-13. It contains violence, but nothing too graphic or gratuitous. There are no sex scenes, though there are suggestions of off-stage encounters. The book also includes precisely one cuss word: It’s the punch line to a joke and adds an unexpected dimension to a certain character.
Is it a YA book? (YA = publisher talk for “young adult.”) I certainly never have viewed it this way. All of the major characters are adults. It seems to me that if YA books share one common ingredient, it’s that the main characters are children. So I don’t think the label is quite accurate.
Which is not to say that young readers can’t enjoy it. When I was a kid, I read a lot of fiction–some that the bookstores now shelve in the YA section, some that they don’t. Given the state of our culture, parents are always looking for guideposts. I don’t take my kids to a movie without first consulting a website such as this one. There’s nothing comparable for books: If we haven’t read them ourselves, we’re often left to guess about the content. Even in books labeled YA, the content can be downright objectionable. A lot depends on the kid, too: Some teens can handle R-rated movies. Others can’t.
The same rule holds for books. Consider The First Assassin a PG-13 and act accordingly.