Safe Experience: A Parent’s Thoughts on Censorship

“Only the foolish learn from experience — the wise learn from the experience of others.”

~Romanian Proverb

It was hard to decide where to begin once I committed myself to another Banned Books Week post. My other one served me well; I felt like it showed a good balance between both sides of the censorship issue.

Haha — the only trouble is that I’ll be the first to tell you there are hardly ever only two sides to anything. Issues are complex. There’s always more to explore.

Simpsons vs. Jetsons

Take, for example, an episode that aired several reruns at our house. Hubby grew up loving The Simpsons; I grew up with a dad who discouraged us from watching it, on the grounds that it showed inappropriate behavior. I’ve come to appreciate the show for its literary allusions, but I still felt our kids weren’t old enough to watch it (our oldest is six). Whenever I would catch Hubby turning on The Simpsons while the boys were in the room, I griped, “Please! Please change it to something else! Find Cartoon Network. Turn on The Jetsons or The Flitstones — something that’s meant for kids!”

After months of this, I finally confronted Hubby when the kids were in bed. I was angry that he ignored my requests and horrified that he wasn’t concerned about the kids’ exposure to mature content.

“Have you seen The Jetsons recently?” he asked.

The question stopped me. “What do you mean?”

“I tried what you suggested. We watched Jetsons for a while, and I was totally disgusted by the way they show women. I don’t want my boys growing up thinking that women are only good for shopping and cleaning. But with The Simpsons, at least I know every episode and I don’t show them the bad ones.”

Now, with Hubby it’s completely possible that he was just messing with me. The combination of him being good at lying and me being too gullible sometimes lets him get away with too much. But in this case, he’d given me a revelation.

There’s more to media than the obvious violence, swearing, crudity, etc, that impacts the rating. There’s the underlying issue of the worldview the media portrays. The Jetsons premiered in 1962; it sort of can’t help portraying mentalities from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s about gender roles and consumerism, etc. I think Hubby’s right: we don’t want to pass those on to our kids. And letting them watch those kind of shows might reinforce that antiquated worldview, dangerously setting it into their subconscious as “normal.”

On the other hand, history is full of sexism portrayed through the media of the time period, whether in Shakespeare or Dickens or sitcoms like I Love Lucy. So to label The Jetsons as bad simply because it reflects the culture of the time doesn’t seem right. However, I like the point that we need to consider more than just the obvious when it comes to the influences on our children.

(Whether or not this exonerates The Simpsons and sanctions it for young viewers . . . well, it’s one of those cases where I’m choosing to lay down my sword and give up on that battle for now.)

Cruella vs. Woody

What I’m trying to say so far is that it’s complicated. It’s not easy to label any media, even media specifically designed for children, as good or bad, harmful or benign.

Think about Disney.

I’m not talking about what shows up when you freeze-frame certain scenes. I’m talking about something much simpler: when my oldest kid started using the word “idiot” at age three or four.

“That’s not a very nice word,” I told him. “Where did you hear that?”

“Dalmatians,” he said.

“Oh. Well, Cruella isn’t a very nice person. She doesn’t say very nice things. We don’t want to be like her, do we?”

He shook his head, and I felt all proud of myself for handling a “teaching moment” so well.

Then he asked, “But what about Woody?”


“Woody says ‘idiot’ too. He calls Buzz idiot.”

I had to stop and think how to explain.

“Sometimes even good people mess up and say things that aren’t nice. It’s just not a nice word. I don’t want you to call yourself an idiot or call anybody else an idiot, okay?”


That teaching moment might have been more for me than for him. This was before our Simpsons vs Jetsons episodes, before I’d had really any experience at all with my kids encountering “bad” content. It taught me the simple lesson that I can’t shield them from everything, but I can discuss it with them and help them put it into context.

My oldest quit using the word “idiot” thanks to that quick chat. Now years later he still sometimes reports to me about what he’s seen in terms like, “Last night, on Simpsons, Bart hit Lisa, and that wasn’t very nice, so we don’t want to do that.” He can evaluate media and he can discuss it with us, and I think those habits/skills are far more valuable than protecting his innocence with an all-out ban.

Uncomfortable vs. Safe

What this finally brings me to is the idea that maybe it’s actually good for our kids (and us) to encounter certain harsh truths through media. I would much rather my six-year-old learn that it’s bad to hit your siblings by extrapolating that from TV than by hitting his four-year-old brother and learning from the resulting time-out.

In some ways, isn’t that the point of stories, whether told out loud or in books or as TV shows or movies? To make us wiser by helping us learn from others’ experience rather than having to learn everything “the hard way”?

Last summer I wrote about it in regards to experiencing death in a post called “Killing off Characters,” saying,

Maybe we need to contemplate death through fiction . . . because it helps us reconcile one of the most frightening parts of our existence. Fiction is a fantastic place to wrestle with questions about life, and so it’s probably also an appropriate place to wrestle with questions about death.

For example, in Shannon Hale’s Actor and the Housewife, there’s a death that made me cry for a solid hour. . . . Even though it was a wretched hour of heavy tears, I was grateful for the opportunity to go through it in fiction, to see the main character survive, and to think to myself that I could survive it, too, if I had to.

I think a lot of us can agree that we’d rather go through something horrible in fiction than in real life. I think we can probably even agree that fiction prepares us to better handle hard things in life. And maybe that even applies to the content we might at first be inclined to censor.

In the post that I republished on Monday, my friend Leisha and I conversed about this idea in the comments:

A couple of years ago I went to a school book fair and tried to buy a copy of the Hunger Games. The attendants ran over to me when I picked it up off the shelf and whispered, “Do you know what that book is about?” I stared back and told them yes. They then asked if I still wanted to buy it because there was nudity in it. And violence. And death. And kids killing kids. I just stared some more before grinning and saying, “Heck yeah! I love a good dystopian. Bring on the body count.”

It’s such a strange thing, isn’t it? Because when you list it out like that — nudity, violence, death, kids killing kids — it sounds horrifying. Well, it is horrifying, actually. But horrifying is THE POINT. I think of dystopian fiction as a warning of what-might-happen-IF… Plus I think fiction is the place for us to deal safely with horrific things, to experience death and decide how we might cope, even if we only think about it on a subconscious level. (Whoa, sorry to go all literary theory on you.)

I know! I spent a lot of time thinking about what led that society to that point, and through the safety of the story I was willing to ponder on what could happen to ours IF things went awry. Stories deal with uncomfortable issues in a safe environment, it’s an emotional workout that lets me measure and even strengthen my moral codes. They allow speculation and experiences in situations I’d never dare to seek out in real life because I’m not fond of dying or pain, but I will face it in a book and emerge a better person for facing it. And I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t face. I reserve that right for myself. I will decide what is my limit.

On the one hand, you could argue that Leisha reading The Hunger Games as an adult is completely different than having that book be geared toward teens. But I argue that most teens can handle it and that they need to. They need books that allow them to encounter those gruesome experiences precisely because we don’t want them to have to experience any of that firsthand. The lessons of war, etc, are sobering lessons that I want my kids to understand without having to go to war.

And I’m hoping that by the time my kids are teenagers, they’ll be prepared to decide for themselves, like Leisha, whether or not a book such as The Hunger Games is a good idea for them.

Uncomfortable versus safe? Hubby’s not comfortable with Jetsons, I’m not comfortable with Simpsons; but at least in either case our kids are learning that it’s safe to talk to us about media, just like I feel it’s safe to encounter tough issues in a book or movie, to grapple with experience of all levels in a place where we have the distance to evaluate it and decide how to apply it to ourselves.

Rather than having anyone censor books for me or my kids, I’d rather make those decisions for ourselves. Sure, right now I’m trying to shelter our kids a little, questioning everything from Disney to Simpsons to whether or not they’re old enough for Harry Potter. But gradually I’m turning the decisions over to them as we discuss the issues and they become better at recognizing the “good” and “bad.” They’ll get to be the ones to decide what they’re ready for.

It is a strange thing, I know, to say that I hope my kids will someday choose to read books about horrifying things when they’re ready. I hope they’ll read about ideas that are uncomfortable, that challenge their worldviews. I want them to be evaluative readers who weigh consequences and consider applications to their own lives.

I want my children to be wise.

What do you think? How do you look at censorship from a parenting viewpoint?

Leave a comment!


Reprise: Homophones, Nazi Cows and Other Banned Books Dangers

I wrote this post two years ago for Banned Books Week 2009, and I’m re-posting it this week to kick off Banned Books Week 2011. There are some really extreme ideas out there about what censorship means, so I share this post in the hope of illuminating a moderate view. Later this week I plan to write more on the subject. Enjoy!


speak your mind

It’s a little funny at first, the whole concept of reading banned books. I mean, it feels dangerous, right? It feels like you’re doing something you shouldn’t, peeking at something you have no business seeing.

Until somebody explains to you that Little House on the Prairie has been banned. Or The Giving Tree. Or Alice in Wonderland. Or The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

ACLU Freedom ConcertThen it just seems plain ridiculous.

I think my students recognized this yesterday when I introduced the concept of Banned Books Week to them.

Their first reaction was confusion, since they thought I was telling them Harry Potter is a “band” book (oh, the joy of homophones).

Their second reaction, after I showed them the PTA meeting clip from Field of Dreams (“Step outside, you Nazi cow!”), was laughter mixed with a tinge of uncertainty. After all, aren’t banned books banned for a reason?

Their third reaction, when I showed them the covers of the children’s books I mentioned above, was a collective gasp. 

“Wait a second,” that gasp clearly said. “Something’s not right.”

Read Banned BooksIt seems to me that this is exactly what Banned Books Week is all about: showing people what censorship really looks like.

The trouble is, of course, that it’s complicated.

Does my freedom to have books available at the library impinge on your right not to walk into something offensive? If I want my children to read the picture book And Tango Makes Three, does having it on the library shelves endanger your children by exposure to the idea of gay adoption?

I live in a conservative community. I can’t pretend that I don’t understand that side of it. We all want to protect our children. But a lot of people don’t see it the way I do: that there are books and ideas out there that can save our children–except that if those books are banned, the children and the books might never meet.

For example, Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Twisted was challenged in at least two school districts this past month. She shared with blog readers the letter she was sending to those superintendents, and it included excerpts from letters she’s received from teen readers who were thinking of committing suicide–one who had even attempted it twice–and decided against it after reading Twisted.

So, yeah–I meant it literally when I say that books can save.

One of the comments in class last night that I really appreciated was that the way things should work is that parents should be in tune enough to their kids that they can communicate about every issue openly, whether suicidal feelings or gay adoption or racist terms in To Kill a Mockingbird. But too often children and teens can’t turn to their parents about the things troubling them, and it falls to a perceptive librarian or teacher to choose a book off a shelf and hand it to that student and say, “Here. Try this. See if this helps.”I read banned books.

That’s what I’m fighting for this week. I’m fighting for the right to have the right book on the shelf when the right reader needs it.

At the same time, I believe that parents should still have a say–for their own children.

In high school I did many alternate assignments in the library while my history or English classes watched R-rated movies, because my parents and I decided that movie rating was inappropriate for our family. We didn’t try to dictate, however, that the other students shouldn’t watch Braveheart either.

After discussing it as a class last night, it was great to see how a little bit of information helped open minds about the topic of banning books. That’s my hope for this blog post and this week, too: that a little bit of information will help stop censorship from removing books that are on the shelves for a reason.


*                    *                    *

On a side note, I once heard from some librarians at our university library that there is a case of certain books they keep locked away.

“Whoa!” I thought. “Those must be the really dangerous books.”


As it turned out, they were books that had been locked away for their own safety.

It was the readers who were dangerous to the books. Writing over offensive words with a permanent marker. Ripping out offensive pages. Shredding whole novels.

So the librarians locked the books away to keep them safe from the efforts of censors, and you had to get special permission to check them out.

Interesting, huh?

Kids’ Voices, Kings’ Speeches, Irish Accents, and the Damn Arbitrariness of Words

When you’re a parent, you find yourself having strange conversations now and then with your children. Sometimes they go like this (true story):

“Mom! He hit me in the butt!”

“We don’t say ‘butt.’ We say ‘bum.’ ”


“Well. Um. Just because. It sounds better.”

Or this one in the car not too long ago:

The six-year-old drops something and says, “Damn it!”

“Oops,” I say to Hubby. “Pretty sure he got that from me. Oh, man. What if he says that around other people? Then they’ll know that WE talk like that.” To the six-year-old: “You don’t say that at your friends’ houses, do you?”

“I said it at Spencer’s house.”

“Oh, great. Okay, well, we only say it at our house, okay? Because it’s okay in our family, but some families don’t like it.” To hubby again: “Is it a double standard if we let him say ‘damn’ but not ‘butt’?”

“Yes,” Hubby says, “but I’m okay with that because I don’t like ‘butt’ and I’m okay with ‘damn.'”

I laughed. “And what about ‘kick butt,’ like ‘kick-butt herbs’? For some reason I’m okay with that phrase. It’s all pretty arbitrary, isn’t it?”

And of course there was the time that the six-year-old, when he was four or five, pointed at someone’s stuff on the curb across the street, waiting to be picked up by Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and said, “What the hell is that?”

Yeah, we say that too. And we got a good laugh over hearing our kid imitate us. Somehow adult phrases sound so much funnier in kid voices.

Isn’t it crazy how arbitrary we can be about our word preferences? Arbitrary and yet absolute in our opinions.

We refuse to use either four-letter F word in our house, while most people probably struggle to think what the second one is (hint: we have our kids say they “passed gas” instead). I hate the sound of both of those F words, and Hubby does too.

On the other hand, I love the feel of “damn” or “hell” rolling off my tongue. It’s so mollifying when I’m frustrated. I justify it because you can find both of those words in the scriptures, and also because I only damn inanimate pronouns (strictly “it”) and never personal pronouns (like “you” or “him”), as I mentioned in a post back in October.

But then, at the same time, I can be so horribly fickle. During a warm weather day a week or so ago, I was talking outside with some moms in the neighborhood about the rating change for The King’s Speech. Hubby and I had seen the R-rated version and absolutely loved it, F-word and all. Once in a while, even though I dislike the word in general, it can work well and even be strangely tasteful in a particular context. When my neighbor told me they’d subbed the F-word with the S-word to make it PG-13, I was appalled and declared that I wanted the artistic integrity of the original version preserved. (Yeah, they looked at me like I was nuts, which I am.)

Who decided which of those is worse? Okay, yes, if you think about the semantics, I suppose what F means is worse than what S means. But with just the sound of the word? Both have a harsh sound, that hard, plosive consonant ending (as opposed to the soft ending of “damn” or “hell”). If I had to pick, merely according to aesthetics, I’d choose F simply because the “uh” vowel sound isn’t quite so awful on my ears as the nails-on-a-chalkboard “sh” followed by “ih.”

And then there’s the accent to consider. I don’t think I’ve ever liked either word said in an American accent in a film or real life, but with an English or Irish accent? It can be almost lovely.

We went and saw The Swell Season when they came to Salt Lake shortly after their song “Falling Slowly” (in the movie Once) won an Oscar a few years ago, and Glen Hansard used the F word all over the place in his narratives between songs, but he explained that it was his Irish way of getting back at the British by speaking an effed-up version of their language. Hilarious! I laughed and enjoyed the whole concert, not finding the word grating at all.

Maybe that’s because it sounds like a completely different word with an accent. It gets that tidy “aw” sound, like “clock,” rather than the trashy “uh” like “puck.” But even “tidy” and “trashy” are arbitrary labels, made up by me as I’m writing this, based on no authority but my own fickle opinions.

Where am I going with all this? Just that I find it funny. I get a good laugh at my own idiosyncracies, so sometimes I like to display them so others can have a laugh too.

Anybody else this way? What taboo words are you fine with and what others do you shun? What exceptions do you make?

Leave a comment!

p.s. sorry about my failure to post on Friday. It’s been a busy few days with grading final papers to give back to students last night. My 1010 students have now flown the coop, and while I’m sad to see them go, I’m looking forward to a month off before summer classes start. I’m planning to post again this Friday and get back on schedule.

Woefully, Thoroughly, Embarrassingly Spaced: A Case for Adverbs (and Swears)

If you stopped by on Friday, or Saturday, you may have wondered what happened to me this past week. Is she still alive? Is everything okay? Has she collapsed into postpartum depression?

Everything’s fine except my brain.

(Thursday was rough with the babe, but that’s because he was almost six weeks old. This is my third kid, and with all three I thought to myself right before six weeks hit, “Damn it! I can’t do this anymore. I can’t hold a baby this many hours a day. I can’t feed him this often. I can’t handle this much crying and fussing.” And then six weeks hit and they magically became good babies. So really on Friday I didn’t have an excuse anymore, other than recovering from Thursday, which I’ve dubbed Day of Massive Tears. Anyway.)

On Saturday, I began typing a tweet about spacing the post so thoroughly that “spaced” needed extra adverbs, but then my brain must still have been out to lunch because I couldn’t think of any clever adverbs to add to the tweet, so I deleted it.

But it made me think about adverbs in general, which IMHO have gotten a bad rep. Writing teachers love to rant about them and circle them with red pens: “No -ly words!” And really, what have the adverbs done to deserve this?

Now, granted, I do understand the point. I am a writing teacher, and I have cringed at plenty of “-ly words” myself. But maybe just because I love adding a new perspective to debates, I’m going to throw out the idea that it’s not the adverb itself that is bad; it’s the usage.

For example, think of the words we label as “bad” words. Go ahead. Think of a few of them. It’s sort of fun to let them roll through your head. They have a pleasingly rough sound to them, a hard consonant ending that stomps down to help us feel a little better just by slipping them out. I mean, when you’re upset, it’s natural to feel like you want to punch something, and an expletive is the verbal equivalent of that punch.

(My favorite is the mild-but-still-explosive “damn,” which I justify by only damning the pronoun “it,” never “you” or “him” or any other undeserving pronoun; somehow “it” just seems to ruin my life often enough to merit the curse.)

Anyhow, now I want you to think of a scenario where one of those bad words is really the only word that could possibly fit.

Maybe it’s because that word sums up a load of misery the size of a landfill; maybe it’s because that word perfectly fits the person/character saying it; maybe it’s because that word is just ironic enough in the context to shock everyone present into much-needed laughter.

(We named our baby after his great-great grandfather, and asked my husband’s grandparents to tell us about the namesake, and one of the first things Grandma Mantyla told us about her dad was that he loved to swear. I asked her if it was in anger or in jest, and she laughed and said it was always to be funny, because he was that kind of a character.)

See where I’m going with this?

I think there could potentially be a place for adverbs.

We try to avoid them on the principle that if your verb needs an adverb, you’re not using a strong enough verb — and therefore the issue is word choice. A writer’s job is to choose the best word possible for every situation, and that’s a challenge.

So maybe that’s why I bristle a little at the idea of being limited in my choices. I want to have every word at my disposal without being limited by ones that are supposedly “bad.”

Today I want to celebrate adverbs and give them the credit they are so often denied.

To the words “magically,” “thoroughly,” “pleasingly,” “perfectly,” “potentially,” and “supposedly” that slipped unintentionally into this post, thank you for adding that touch of emphasis I wanted in each place. (Note: There are more adverbs than that in this post, but these are the most obvious culprits that would offend certain past teachers of mine the most.) Sure, there might be a better verb that could eliminate the need for you, but since this post is already two days late and is written in your honor, I’m going to let you stay.

And perhaps we’ll make a game of it.

I’d love to hear your ideas. What words could I use to ditch the above-mentioned adverbs, or which of them do you think fit best and don’t need ditching? What are adverbs you’ve groaned over upon encountering and how would you have replaced them? What are your favorite adverbs and when could you justify using them? And best of all, what are some funny situations that just beg for a great swear word?

Leave a comment!

UPDATE 8pm: Okay, Hubby and I were chatting and suddenly realized that this movie clip below absoluteLY had to be part of this post. You might not understand at first, but you’ll hear it when you get to 1:37 and 2:56, and it’s awesome (IMHO). The movie is 1776 (the musical), and this is Ben Franklin and John Adams sending Richard Henry Lee off to convince Virginia to initiate the vote for independence. Enjoy!

UPDATE 5/2011: Sadly, the clip is gone and I can’t find another one from the movie, but you can find stage play versions on YouTube if you search for “1776 Lees of Old Virginia.” 😥

Morality in Fiction Is a Strange Beast

Here’s something odd I’ve been thinking about this week: Why do parents object to what they object to in novels?

Take for example Shannon Hale’s books. It blows my mind that anybody could complain about anything in her fiction, and yet she gets mothers who tell her they loved all her books up until they read fill-in-the-blank with such-and-such a kissing scene. Now they refuse to have that book in their home or let their daughters touch it for fear of contagion.

A kissing scene! Heaven forbid!

Goose Girlenna-burningbook of a thousand days

But the part that really boggles me is that they say they’ve loved Shannon’s books up to that point. Did they skip the parts in Goose Girl or Book of a Thousand Days that describe outright nudity? Or the parts in Enna Burning where Enna murders hundreds or thousands of people by burning them to death? They didn’t blink an eye at those huge moral issues, but they won’t have their daughters read kissing scenes?

I thought about this with The Hunger Games, too. After all, there is zero sex or swearing, and at first I caught myself feeling relieved. But then I woke up. Hello! Exactly how much violence is in The Hunger Games? More than in any other book I’ve ever read.


John Green recently wrote a post reacting to the challenges of his books in a Florida library, and he said something interesting:looking for alaska

Let me make this clear: An individual scene from a novel cannot be read out of context. It won’t make sense. It will seem other from what it is. You cannot know whether a novel is obscene from a screenshot of a single page on television news.

ALASKA is a novel about radical hope and the power of forgiveness, not about oral sex. The scene between Lara and Pudge–that humorous, massively unerotic scene–exists to argue AGAINST casual sexual encounters.

Strange, isn’t it? That having something “immoral” in a book can actually be an argument against that particular act?

But I think that’s true in Enna Burning, for example. Shannon’s certainly not endorcing burning people to death, and I think even the outraged-by-kissing-scenes parents could recognize that instantly. Enna is dealing with a complex moral dilemma in the book. So is Katniss in The Hunger Games. When your choice is kill or be killed, how do you preserve your own humanity?

Novels are a place to wrestle with those impossible scenarios in ways that strengthen our own morality, ironically enough.

I cheer for writers who can deal so honestly with the complexities of moral choice, and I think this goes back to censorship issues again. Do you want to shield your children from every little bad thing, or do you want to give them the better protection of being able to recognize things for what they are? If teens don’t encounter moral choice in novels, sometimes even seeing the consequences of *gasp* bad choices, how can we expect them to make good choices themselves?

forest born

Strangely enough, one of the kissing scenes objected to is the one in Forest Born that Rin remembers and hates herself for. The character isn’t justifying her own actions at all. She’s saying how much she regrets acting like that. Wouldn’t we rather have our daughters experiencing a regretable action in fiction than experiencing it in real life?

(A kiss, of course, being pretty far down on my list of worries as a parent, but the idea being that the vicarious experience helps prompt wiser choices in general, which I touched on somewhat in an earlier post.)

I realize it’s complicated. Not every “immoral” scene in a book or movie or TV show deals with legitimate consequences for bad behavior, but I think the media that does should be applauded, not criticized.

I welcome feedback from any perspective, however. Tell me if my thinking is off somewhere!

Literary Merit

TwistedThis blog of mine isn’t about reviewing books, but about questioning the way we read, write, and teach. And not questioning in the sense of finding fault, necessarily, but in the sense of exploration.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I read for Banned Books Week: Laurie Halse Anderson’s 2007 novel Twisted.

On her blog, she gave an update on the challenge in Kentucky, saying that now instead of the book being objected to by parents on the basis of content, it’s being objected to by the superintendent on the basis of literary merit. The class trying to use the book is an AP literature course and so, according to the superintendent, should only be reading books that would be taught in college.


Does anyone else have a hard time wrapping their head around that? I mean, I took an adolescent literature class in college where our “assigned” reading was 30 young adult lit books of our choice. That was the semester I finally got around to reading the Harry Potter series, thanks to that teacher. I think I also read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. So, if they teach young adult lit in college, wouldn’t that mean any YA book would qualify to be taught in an AP class?

And here’s my other thought: Does a book have to be hard to understand in order to be college-level and have literary merit?

Literary merit, to me, is that it shows a side of humanity I might not have considered before and does it in a way that opens my mind to new ideas and new tolerance of people.

This book does that.

I was blown away by how real this protagonist and his family felt. His father is referred to as a grade-A jerk, and yet the reader can tell that there’s more to him than that. He’s never the stereotypical jerk. He’s a father who doesn’t know how to be a father any more than his son knows how to be a “man.” Their relationship is complex, dipping low to points where the son imagines killing his father and then reversing completely, like when Tyler is up on the roof pulling down Christmas lights and his dad comes up the ladder to hand him pliers and experiences vertigo, and Tyler helps him down one shaky step at a time. Without giving away the ending, all I can say is that I teared up twice.

On a different note, I learned new sympathy for all the teenage guys in the world as I experienced through a book what it’s like to have to hide an erection so often. Yeah, this book is real in that sort of raw, uncensored way, too, which might be part of the reason for the challenges, but it’s also part of what gives it merit. It validates the story and experience of adolescence.

Life isn’t neat and tidy, life is raw and uncensored. And a book that will make teenagers think about life in new complex, complicated ways and reconsider people and themselves through new perspectives is a book that deserves to be read and taught.

[UPDATE: I just read Chris Crowe’s September 2001 article in English Journal called “Young Adult Literature: AP and YA?” which defends thought-provoking YA books as potential references for the open-ended question on the AP test and also points out that AP students dissect complex young adult novels with as much fervor as they do classics, pulling ample meaning from both. I’ve excerpted a bit and provided a link in the Quote of the Moment on the right.]