Friday, May 18, 2007

From Sonya Sones

Sonya Sones has sent in a very thoughtful and interesting response to the events in Wisconsin:


Maybe some of you have heard that my novel in verse for teens, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, has been successfully challenged in the community of Wisconsin Dells. “The action,” an article in American Libraries Online stated, “was taken after Sherry Volkey, the mother of an 11-year-old student, appealed a reconsideration committee decision declining her request to remove the book entirely from the school media center as well as the school’s accelerated reading program. Characterizing as “soft porn’” the book of poems describing the coming-of-age experiences of a fictional 14-year-old girl, Volkey told the school board, “I was deeply appalled when she brought this book to my attention and read to me a poem in here about getting undressed and taking your bare chest and sticking it up against a winter window.”

It crossed my mind that those of you who haven’t read the book, upon reading Volkey’s complaint about it, might be curious as to why I would include such a scene in my book. I felt is was the right choice to include this realistic, albeit painfully honest poem because the main character, Sophie, is at an age when her body is going through enormous changes. In reflecting on how quickly her breasts have developed she says, “It is pretty astonishing / how my molehills / have turned into mountains / overnight.” Sophie is fascinated by, and hyper-aware of, all the changes puberty is causing in her body. I hope that girls who stumble across this moment in my book might feel less alone, less embarrassed by the curious and confused feelings they’re having about the sudden transformations of their own bodies. Besides, when Sophie experiments with pressing her breasts against the glass in order to observe the effect the cold has on them, it is nighttime and no one else is watching. The scene is no more pornographic than was the scene in The Higher Power of Lucky, when the snake bites the dog on his you-know-what.

Without fail, the people who want to rip my book from the hands of young readers have not even read it. They have only read small sections of it. If Sherry Volkey, the woman who lodged the complaint in Wisconsin, had read the whole book she would have seen that there is no possible way its contents could be categorized as what she calls “soft porn.”

This is just plain dumb. Because, as far as sexuality goes, nothing happens in What My Mother Doesn’t Know except for kissing. I guess it seems too sexual to Ms. Volkey because of Sophie's passionate nature and the way she describes these kisses. But Sophie says she "just doesn't feel ready" to go beyond kissing, and certainly the book doesn't support the idea of teens having sex. In fact, Sophie steadfastly refuses to let her boyfriend Dylan push her to go further than she wants. I included this in my book to suggest to girls that they don’t have to allow boys to pressure them into doing anything that they don’t want to do. Dylan's sexually aggressive behavior is one of the main reasons that Sophie stops dating him.

Since so many books make it seem like it’s the norm for teens to be having sex (not to mention scarfing down drugs and alcohol) and mine does just the opposite, I find it ironic that Ms. Volkey wants my book removed from the school libraries.

There is one instance in the book where Sophie’s breast is touched by a boy. But this happens when an older boy on a street corner, who doesn’t even know Sophie, grabs her breast. Sophie has not invited his advances in any way, and her response to his molestation is to chase him down and kick and hit him. I included this poem to show girls that they don’t need to sit silently by if, God forbid, they are ever attacked themselves. (Which, unfortunately, is what I did when the same thing happened to me at her age.)

I’m happy to report that the emails I receive from my fans make it clear that the other themes in my book – don't judge a person by the way they look, be true to your heart, don't care so much about what your peers think – are getting through to my readers as well. I got one just today from a girl who said, “It taught me that maybe the hottest guy isn't the best guy for me. So now I will definitely look at and notice the not so hot and popular guys.” It delights me to think that my book might have helped the homely guys of the world to get a date.

Don't get me wrong—I don't write to teach kids how they should be living their lives. But if some of that happens to come through while I'm telling the stories I want to tell, then... well…hooray!

If Ms. Volkey doesn’t think her own daughter is ready to read books which deal realistically with teenage life, that is certainly her choice to make. But what right has she to try to impose her short-sighted beliefs on an entire community?

I hope that the students and parents of Wisconsin Dells will fight back. No one should allow ignorant people to rob them of their rights.

Sonya Sones


Blogger MadMaggieMae said...

Just finished Sones' book and absolutely loved it. As an eighth grade English teacher, I would recommend this to my students as a great read. We do a unit on banned/challenged books, so the kids can understand the motivations and manipulations behind these movements. Everything I read in this book was normal and natural for a teenage girl and should be embraced instead of brushed under a rug.

BTW, also just read Drums, Girl, and Dangerous Pie - wonderful! I have a student with ALL who is in remission and doing well. I even read it aloud to a class who begged me every day not to stop reading.

Thank you both for giving today's kids such wonderfully thoughtful material to encourage independent reading.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just did a report of all the banning and censoring on "What My Mother Doesn't Know," and it seems to me that parents have too much free time. Parents probably ask, "Hmm... what can I ban next, hey heres a book that isn't sooooo bad, I mean its not like the horrible porn that my little Jimmy saw last night on TV... but lets ban it anyway..." I recomended the book to my whole class and what do you know I got a fabulous grade, but thats only because I was interested and there only great books like this one get me interested... Sonya Sones website is so awesome and I would totally like to me meet John Trovolta and if you want to know what I mean by that you have to see it...

4:39 PM  
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8:44 PM  

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