I definitely recommend reading all the relevant posts on the subject in their entirety as well as the plethora of comments on each post, as it's the kind of situation that makes you question your own position and your own beliefs and figure out where you stand. My thoughts and reactions are as follows, pretty much in the order they occurred to me:
1. Regarding concerns over how the reviewer came to acquire a copy of this book- not relevant. Even though it's an erotica title, it's available now, at least in the U.S. since that's my neck of the woods, at any major bookseller, and you don't need to show ID at Barnes and Noble. The debate over where the line is between the erotic and the pornographic has raged for generations and certainly was not resolved this time around either, but the fact stands, getting a copy of the book could be done easily and legally and even if someone else had lent the reviewer a copy, they did nothing illegal and in terms of morality are accountable to their own moral code on this one.
2. Some of the comments on the various posts asked questions about the impact of the reviewer's gender (male) on the situation and asked if people on any side of the issue would feel differently if the reviewer in question were fifteen years old still but a female. I didn't happen to read any answers to those questions but I think they're fair questions. Purely as a hypothetical situation, would people feel differently if the reviewer were talking, not about sexual content, but violence? What if he were reviewing Manhunt? Would people be concerned for his welfare, or just shrug and say something pithy about society today?
3. With regards to a minor discussing sexual content with adults on the internet: I think the sword cuts both ways on this one. The simple fact is, nobody exists in an insulated environment on the internet. Not kids, not teenagers, not adults. Minors are not immune from interacting with adults and adults are not immune from interacting with minors. Some would argue that people assume that because a website or blog focuses on what they perceive to be adult issues and topics (and what that means is open to interpretation as well and always has been) that they are free to discuss those topics without reservation and that no minors are exposed to or participating in the conversation. That assumption is false, as this situation plainly shows. Basically, you yourself (or I myself) are/am responsible for what you discuss and who you discuss it with; I'm sure there are minors that follow this blog, for example, and I choose to address that by using my Scandalous Books designation and explaining why I feel the book merits that designation. Other blogs take a less regulatory approach; other blogs take more. When you veer erratically onto the information super highway, you assume responsibility for the data that enters your head. I also want to point out that nowhere in the review of Sinful did the reviewer discuss any specific sexual acts, human anatomy, quote any part of the text relating to those subjects, and if anything professed a sort of innocence to the kind of content that many romance and erotica novels contain. Are people offended because a fifteen year old is publicly admitting that he knows what sex is and how it works?
Many people said, "what John reads is between him and his parents." I know my parents didn't police what I read while growing up; I was such a voracious reader that such a task would have been pretty time-consuming. They also did not monitor every moment I spent watching television, every conversation I had with my friends, every website I ever visited, or everything I learned from every possible outlet. Instead, the focus was on teaching me a set of values that I could use as a compass to guide me in making decisions about what I believe, what I accept as truth, and where I go to get factual information versus where I go to be entertained. John, the beleaguered reviewer in question, kicked some serious ass in his responses to all the comments, positive and negative, and kept his cool even when people seemed to be going out of their way to get a reaction. Major props, major props.
4. I was kind of appalled by comments I read where people indicated that they would call child protective services or similar authorities regarding this situation. I'm really, really nervous about classifying the reading of sexual material (again, where's the line between romance and erotica and between erotica and pornography) as endangering the welfare of a child. Who wants to volunteer to police that arena? Many commenters also said that they started reading romance/erotica/Harlequin/their moms' stashes of books at a similar or younger age. I know I did as well, and maybe the difference between us old timers and the reviewer in question is the platform on which the books are discussed.
This is not to say that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want and damn the consequences and the ramifications. Child protection laws exist for a reason, and a damn good one at that (I'm a mandated reporter too, you know.) There are adults who prey on children and use the internet as a vehicle by which to do that. There are teenagers who lack the maturity, common sense and life experience to keep themselves out of sticky and uncomfortable situations. Does condemning a teenager for reading an erotica novel and then having the audacity to critique the experience online prevent any of those bad things from happening? I don't think so.
Okay, those are my thoughts. You don't have to agree with me, but it definitely is something to really wrap your head around.
Image credits: here and here.