Dear would-be book banners:
I understand how you feel. Sort of. When my babies were born, fourteen weeks premature, no less, I was working on a novel about an all-girl punk rock band in 1980s Columbia, South Carolina. The girls in my book did not always make the right choices. They got mixed up with bad boys. They did drugs. They stole things and used fake I.D.s and disobeyed their parents. And there were consequences – occasionally very severe ones, as there are in real life. The girls in my book were like so many girls that I knew (like me) – smart, middle-class girls from good families who were curious and adventurous and who sometimes made the wrong choice.
Although these girls were not evil, I didn’t want my innocent, vulnerable babies anywhere near them. When it didn’t sell right away, I stuck the novel in a drawer. I hid it. I didn’t let my babies watch any TV for the first two years of their lives or look at newspaper photos. I did my best to shield them from any news of war, crime, and 9/11. I wanted them to be safe, happy, secure.
I wrote stories about children going to the zoo, or playing baseball in the backyard, or meeting mermaids underwater. I read stories to my children, including stories from the Bible (except for the one about Abraham intending to sacrifice his son). But as my children got older, they wanted to know things. How are babies made? Why do people do drugs? Why did the Americans drop an atomic bomb on Japan?
Of course I tried to talk to my children about all of these things. I still do. But after a certain age, kids begin to ask their friends about what they want to know instead of their parents. Or they search for the answers online. Or maybe, they read books.
Nothing makes me quite so happy as seeing a kid with a book. What better way for a kid to explore the world, to try out new identities, to travel, have adventures, than to dive into a well-written novel in the safety of home? Fiction gives readers a means of exploring possibilities. A book can give a kid hope. Some books inspire others to take action.
I think that the average kid who reads about teens involved in risky behavior in a realistic, contemporary novel would come to understand that there is fall-out. A novel might help a reader make go down another, better path if faced with similar (bad) choices.
My kids are now fourteen and they have read books banned in both the United States and Japan, and that’s fine with me. They’re learning about the hazards of world in the safest way possible.
I recently dug my girl band novel, Screaming Divas, out of a drawer. It’ll be published in late 2014. You’ll probably want to ban it, but believe me, dear reader, nothing is quite so dangerous as ignorance.