Saturday, May 27, 2006

ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT not "Age Appropriate"?

AS IF member David LaRochelle's comic novel ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT, about a gay teenager who is determined NOT to be gay, is under fire in Minnesota.
David LaRochelle, a prolific and popular children's author from White Bear Lake, is in demand at Young Authors' conferences across the state. But last week he was asked to leave his award-winning book for young people, "Absolutely, Positively Not ..." (Scholastic/Levine, 2005) at home.

The book, whose teenage protagonist is struggling with his sexual identity, wasn't allowed on the display tables at a Young Authors' event at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn., on May 18.

The event is geared toward fifth- through eighth-graders.

Minneapolis author John Coy, keynote speaker at the Thief River Falls event, was so upset over the decision that he ditched his prepared remarks and issued a protest to the 400 or so young attendees.

"I asked them how they felt about somebody making the decision to protect them from a book that was about a 16-year-old boy growing up in a small Minnesota town trying to figure out who he was," Coy said Thursday. "I told them the reason it was banned was because the main character is trying to figure out if he's gay, and some people don't think you can handle that topic."
First, can I just say that I'm in love with this John Coy person. John, will you marry me?

This is an interesting case because the argument that the book might not be appropriate for 5th graders seems, on its surface, to be plausible. But that's only if you ignore the fact there is nothing sexual or in any way edgy in David's book (not even a single swear word), except the fact that main character is gay. And the argument also only makes sense if ALL "teen" books were similarly banned from the event, which also isn't the case. This book, whose target audience includes people who were to be at the event, seems to have been singled out solely because some people thought the subject matter was so scandalous that the book shouldn't even be allowed in the same area as people below the book's target audience.

The organizers of the conference explained it thusly:
The book was not "banned," said Lloyd Styrwoll, a public school administrator for more than 30 years and director of the Northwest Service Cooperative, which sponsors the annual Young Authors Conference in Thief River Falls. "We just looked at the age level of our youngest students, which would be fifth-graders, and felt that may be too young an age [at which] to introduce this particular topic. This was certainly not an issue of not being accepting of alternative lifestyles. It's an issue of how you deal with the privilege of dealing with other people's children."
Here's my take. Maybe this is an "editorial decision," not "censorship" per se. But it's an editorial decision motivated by prejudice. The fact is, this level of scrutiny was clearly not given to all the other upper-age-appropriate books at this event, just the gay-themed one. When minorities complain about discrimination, this is exactly what they mean: not that the rules are different for them, but that the rules are enforced differently--to the very letter of the law in cases where they usually are not.

On the plus side, it sounds like David's book will be available at similar upcoming events:
While there was confusion Thursday about whether or not the book would be available at this week's event at Bethel University in Arden Hills, the parties had worked out their differences by day's end.

"The book will be there," said Cathy Macdonald, director of Success Beyond the Classroom, sponsor of the event, which has been held for the past 11 years at Bethel and attracts thousands of people.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Lady S said...

So, are they saying that children of gay couples are too young to know about homosexuality, until they are 11? Or if a teenager comes out and wants to bring home their boyfriend/girlfriend of the same gender, they shouldn't until their sibling is over 11? How is that different from them bringing home a date of the other gender?

When will these extreme "protectors" realize that the people they are trying to protect are the most open-minded understand people in the world?

6:26 AM  
Anonymous David LaRochelle said...

Brent summed up what bothered me most about my experience at this conference: while there were other (more explicit) books geared for the older kids on display, mine was the only book that was pulled. The same rules were not applied to all books.

Perhaps the most rewarding response I've received in the aftermath came in an email from a middle school student. She had read the book previously, enjoyed it a lot, then saw the newspaper article about the ban. She thought it was "ridiculous," and is now planning to buy a copy at the upcoming young authors conference where I'll be presenting next week.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous David LaRochelle said...

I guess there is one more thing I want to add. The more I think about what happened at this event, the more I realize that I am not angry at the people made the decision to pull my book.

I strongly believe that in this case, the people who were involved were good people, trying to do what they thought was right. Clearly the woman I had contact with is kind-hearted, thoughtful, and cares about kids. I don't agree with the decision that was made, and in the end I think it was unfair to the students, and to me, but I don't think it was a decision made out of hatred.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Kelly said...

I heart John Coy, too. And I feel sad for the students who didn't have that book available to them. There are boys who are openly gay as early as 7th grade in my school district, and a book like David Larochelle's could only be a blessing to questioners in the age group attending the conference.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Lisa Yee said...

David, you are one classy guy!

12:37 AM  
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8:24 PM  

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