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I <3 Lauren Myracle!

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Brett Berk: Lauren Myracle finally made it to number one on the American Library Association's most-wanted list -- and I am deliciously pleased.

Lauren Myracle

It was just announced that her teen book, "ttyl" -- which is written in the language and style of kids' text messages--has hit the top of the American Library Association's list of books that are most frequently challenged by parents and community members. (This means that they want the book to be pulled off the shelf of your local library.) You may recall that I spoke to Lauren last fall regarding another controversy in which she was embroiled, about her book, "Luv Ya Bunches" -- which features a pair of lesbian moms. Since this churchgoing, choir-singing Colorado mother of three can't seem to keep her mind (or keyboard) out of the gutter, I decided that she is my new favorite author -- and gave her another call to find out what makes her tick.

Brett Berk: Hey, Lauren. Congrats! You finally made the top of the list!

Lauren Myracle: Number one, baby!

BB: Number one is right! What does that actually mean?

LM: Well, libraries keep a log of all the official challenges that are issued against books. Not just complaints, or parents sneaking books off the shelves and not returning them, but filling out a complaint form that says, "I don't think that any kid should be able to read this book, and here's why." The Office of Intellectual Freedom at the ALA keeps track of all these complaints, and this year I was at the top of the list.

BB: How does that make you feel?

LM: Well, two years ago, when "ttyl" debuted on that list, I felt a little ashamed. But when it happened, my editor -- who is amazing and supportive and such an advocate for me -- said it means two things: One, you're writing books that kids read. And two, you struck a nerve. That year I was number seven, last year I was number three, and this year I was number one. So now when I got the news, I thought to myself, How awesome to be a springboard for parents and tweens and teens to talk about some of the things I address in the book.

BB: I'm sorry to say that, even though I'm pretty much a tween girl at heart, I haven't read "ttyl." So ... what does the book address?

LM: The things that seem to always make people most uncomfortable that I address have to do with sexuality and young girls' bodies. I'm telling the stories -- I'm the filter -- of young girls' stories and the decisions they make. The weird thing is, these books have total moral compasses -- and even if they didn't, that's not a reason to strip me off the shelves. My thinking is, ideas aren't the enemy.

BB: So what -- or who -- is the enemy?

LM: Ignorance. Or fear, I think. Let me give you an example. Last Saturday, I was at a teen-lit conference. And this Mormon girl came up to me -- she was about 15 -- and said that I seemed like an awesome author, but that my books have bad words in them, and she can't read them because she didn't want those words in her brain. She said, "I'm afraid that if I read those books, I won't be able to get the words out of my head." I told her that she needs to know that she's stronger than that, that these ideas aren't going to come and take her over, but give her a chance to figure out how she thinks about them and interacts with them. I told her, "Maybe you're in a better place to think about the world and deal with it if you let the ideas come in, than if you put up a wall and try to keep it out. Because that wall isn't going to last."

BB: That seems like good advice to me. I think we're almost always better off giving kids tools to think about and analyze issues and situations than we are burying our heads -- or trying to bury their heads -- in the sand.

LM: Exactly. People think my books are fluff, and think, "Who cares if you ban them, because they're trash?" But this little girl nailed it: For some people, ideas are scary. But we as humans are capable of dealing with these ideas.

BB: So, how many complaints were actually logged against your book? Do you know?

LM: I don't know. One thing I can tell you is that for every official complaint, there are 10 to 20 that are unofficial -- where they don't fill out the paperwork or whatever. So it's a lot.

BB: Now that you're number one, do you get to join, like, a special club -- like the people who've climbed Everest?

LM: I don't know about that. But every October in Chicago, they have a banned-book readout, and they get as many authors who have been challenged or banned as are able to come.

BB: Any special inside jokes or trash-talk that the banned-book authors engage in?

LM: I love talking to the other authors and hearing what they have to say. I guess the insider conversation I'm most interested in is about confronting yourself to not take the easy way out of dealing with the situation. It's very easy to take sides and laugh at or deride these people whose heads are buried in the sand as parents who don't want their little girls knowing what an erection is -- ever. It's easy to laugh at them.

But I'm always struggling to do that -- or not only do that -- because all that does is split you apart again. My thought is that I'm a parent and a reader, as well as a writer, and I want to bridge that gap. I feel like we need to listen to everyone with respect, or we're being just as bad as they are. Grownups who care about what kids are reading aren't the enemy, though it's easy to label them as such when they suggest that book-burnings be brought back into vogue -- with my books the first to be thrown on the flames.

BB: That's a good sentiment. You're a much more forgiving person than I am. So what's up next for you?

LM: Well, I have lots of speaking engagements coming up -- those suddenly popped up. And I'm working on a new book. It's set in a rural North Carolina town, and opens up with a young gay man who is found at a gas station after what looks like a hate crime. His dear friend decides that the local deputies are under the thumb of the killers, and it involves meth and sexual abuse and small-town politics, among other things.

BB: Well, that shouldn't raise any controversy!

LM: Ha! For me, it's about telling a story that means something, so I have to go where my heart is. It's also important for me as a writer to evolve. I have a lot of writer friends who I admire very much who tell me not to approach certain topics, or use certain words. But I always feel like it's my job to push boundaries. I always say that what the kids who are reading my books think is more important than what the adult gatekeepers -- who want to keep everything sanitary -- think. I'm not writing for the adults. I'm writing for the kids.

2009 Most Challenged Books

#1: 'ttyl,' 'ttfn,' 'l8r,' 'g8r' (series), by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

#2: 'And Tango Makes Three,' by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

Reasons: Homosexuality

#3: 'The Perks of Being A Wallflower,' by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

#4" 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' by Harper Lee

Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

#5: 'Twilight' (series) by Stephenie Meyer

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

#6: 'Catcher in the Rye,' by J.D. Salinger

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

#7: ;My Sister's Keeper,' by Jodi Picoult

Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

#8: 'The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big, Round Things,' by Carolyn Mackler

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

#9: 'The Color Purple,' by Alice Walker

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

#10: 'The Chocolate War,' by Robert Cormier

Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

next: Why Do More Black Babies Have Syphilis?
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rita April 21, 2010, 12:41 PM

I don’t understand why parents ban books. They should just be happy their child is reading! I don’t think these parents have actually read the books in question, they just decide they don’t like it because it might corrupt their child. Hey, you know what, pick up the book and read it. You never know. And it gives you a great opportunity to discuss with your children morals and your own beliefs.

Brenda April 21, 2010, 10:36 PM

I think it ignorant of the writer to assume the 15 year old girl was commenting out of ignorance or fear. Knowing the book contained foul language, from teens, teachers or book reviews, the 15 year old, may have made an educated conscious decision to exclude the book and sought other avenues for ideas and expression that did not offend her personal being. To make a point of saying the girl was Mormon, seems an attempt by the author to disparage young Mormon girls as ignorant and weak rather than to own to the fact that her book may not be for everyone.

Theresa April 22, 2010, 11:06 AM

@Brenda, the assessment of fear could have come from the girl’s words, e.g., “I’m afraid that if I read those books, I won’t be able to get the words out of my head.” Parents frequently (mis)use religion as leverage to make kids fearful of new ideas, and Mormons tend to fall in the more socially restrictive part of the spectrum, so that’s a reason why that identification might have been relevant.

I’m saying this in full knowledge that Mormons are often singled out or portrayed unfairly, so I hope I am right that it was a reasonable statement. For what it’s worth, I think the girl seemed thoughtful and assertive, though sheltered.

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