Tuesday, April 3, 2012


            I’m still on a break from the middle of that trilogy, mostly because the e-book I’ve switched to reading is on loan from the library, and I’m running out of days on it. I’m enjoying its very realistic teen narration…as a high school teacher, I know what sounds like an actual teenager. I’ve read some great YAs that come thisclose, but then they add in just a couple of wrong words or phrases, which I just can’t hear coming out of my students’ mouths.
            I thought my students would really like this one too, and since we’re revamping our summer reading list this year, I came thisclose to putting the book on the list. But the chapter I read today had an awful lot of f-word, and then a graphic reference to some sex that wasn’t even happening—and I changed my mind. It’s not that I will only send home books about girls with two fat braids who live on the prairie or in very tidy cabins, whose floors they keep clean with regular, dutiful sweeping. I can hang with a bit of realistic teen verbiage. But I’m just not comfortable sending home a barrage of f-bombs. So here’s my question: are books which contain a lot of obscenities missing some of the audience they might otherwise reach? I’d really like to connect some of my more reluctant readers with this author, and other similar ones. But I’m not sure if I can.
This situation reminds me of a review I read last week in EW, for the documentary film Bully. The MPAA was accused of being a bully, withholding a PG-13 rating, effectively keeping the film from being seen in schools and other venues where it might reach the very audience the film was made to impact. It is unlikely that a teen bully is going to say to himself, self—I think I’ll Redbox me a documentary film this evening, in the hopes that I might gain some personal edification. On the other hand, Miramax has refused to cut the language, which sort of makes sense if you think about it. If the film is meant to be an accurate portrayal of the way teen bullies and their victims interact, it is (again) unlikely that a teenage bully would avoid all profanity (Cheese and rice, you stupid fool, you’re so unpleasant to look at!)
This analogy is really super problematic when applied to my original question. The film Bully needs to keep some language in to realistically portray the world it’s trying to capture. In the same way, that’s certainly an important goal of a lot of YA fiction. So the language has to stay. On the other hand, if the MPAA doesn’t back down, and neither does the film company, a whole lot of kids are never going to see the film. And I’m sort of bookless for my summer list.
You kind of have to take my word here (if you’re not a teacher or a parent of a non-reading kid) that a huge (okay, depressingly gigantic) percentage of kids do not read, you know, books, unless prodded in some manner. And since I’m often the one holding the pitchfork, this issue is really of interest to me. I do know that for these kids, Hemingway or Joyce or Austen, awesome as they are, are not going to convince them that reading is potentially something they could actually enjoy. Brand-spanking new YA, about life in the post-millennium: texting, tweeting, and the whole nine—well, these books have a shot at least.
So I don’t really have an answer, but I do wish I could recommend this book I’m reading now to students. I feel like this one could have kept the real without the #@%$ parade, sort of a PG-13 happy medium, but in the end it’s a work of art, and the writer made the right choice for the book. But if anybody knows of some amazing new PG-ish titles out there, I’d love some ideas!  

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