Many of the other reviews on here aren't really expressing what this book has to offer. Sure it has some violence, but I started reading this series (or rather having it read to me) when I was five years old. I enjoyed every word of it and every time I got a new book I would stay up late reading it cover-to-cover.
Not to mention, I was a sensitive kid back then, a very nice, sensitive and rather intelligent little one. For little kids like me who are above their age in reading it is terrific. I am a picky reader but this series had me hooked from the beginning. You have to overlook the violence and occasional mention of alchohol (oh come on, those kids are seeing worse on TV). This book isn't all about gore.
The main character, Darren, is a good character who truly loved his family and friends and he was a very good boy, and a loving big brother. But as he is separated from them, he even begins to form strong bonds with his companions despite their differences. He tries to do the right thing and he is a good character and he is so brave and strong despite his youth and all the things that happen around him. He has on several occasions proved that he is willing to sacrifice his own life to save his friends. This book also deals with his coping of death where in some situations he could be at death's door at any given moment and in another situation far into the series he copes with the very sad death of one of his good friends.
If you think your child isn't ready for it, then don't let them read it! Save until they are old enough to understand the book. It is a Young Adult Fiction book for a reason. I was able to understand it at five and I was an avid fan of vampires back then (I wanted to be one). And like I said, I was the sweetest kid you could ever meet and very intelligent despite my young age. I just happened to want to be a vampire instead of a superhero. But no two kids are exactly alike.
Parents and teachers, read it for yourselves. Overlook the drinking and "swearing" and violence. If you look in there without letting yourself fall victim to immediate disgust without reading the whole book and the others in its series (they get better and better after the first) you will never see the true characterization and meaning behind the book, you will never see the mind-blowing amount of wit the book contains and you will never get to know the characters and trust me, there is some real character development in there. If you don't even bother to read it, you are missing out on an amazing book. If a five-year-old could pick the book up and understand each word and discover the true meanings of the book in a heartbeat after reading each new book, then why can't you?