Monday, February 21, 2011

Pushed out of the comfort zone by a book

This post feels a bit redundant because I've talked about this recent thought so often in the past few weeks.

I've mentioned earlier in this blog (note to self - hyperlink the exact post) about reading Sharon Jennings' book "Home Free" and being a bit uncomfortable with some of the scenes. I wrote to Sharon to talk with her about it, get my head around it, and she was very nice in her response (I think she might have been getting tired of me after the second email exchange, but maybe that was me being paranoid). After some kurfuffle in the past years over certain titles on nomination lists ("The Shepherd's Granddaughter" and "Three Wishes" being two examples), my school board has said that all titles from award lists must be read in advanced by an adult and that any book can be excluded from the options at that school by the teacher-librarian. I decided, despite having some misgivings, to keep the book as a reading option at my school.

When I first introduced the titles to the grade 5-6s, I mentioned that if any of the books made them feel excessively uncomfortable, that they could 'abandon' the book, just like any other book. "Can you tell us which books are the bad ones?" asked a student. I declined, because I told them I didn't want to influence their opinions like that and, plus, what exactly constitutes a bad book? We had already done a series of lessons on developing your "inner thermometer" when it comes to choosing books to read from the school library, so I told them that they were the ones to decide, based on different strategies, whether a book was just right for them at this time.

I dreaded my first chat on "Home Free". (Background info: at my school, students receive a Silver Birch "passport" and after they finish a book, they chat with a teacher that has also read the book. If it is clear that the student has indeed read the book, they get a signature on their passport. You need to read a minimum of five signatures to be able to vote.) However, what I noticed was that my "Home Free" chats were longer, and more animated, than some of the other books. All of the readers for "Home Free" were girls (something the author herself predicted) and all of them had something to say about the "icky" parts. Some kids just skipped reading them altogether. When it came to some of the other, sensitive parts, some kids were completely oblivious to what was going on, some kids knew something was up but wasn't sure what ("Mz Molly, why did Lee's friend Kathy move away?"), and some knew a bit of what was going on but were embarassed to mention it (one spelled it: s-e-x). The book opened up discussion channels for certain things we'd like to avoid talking about but really shouldn't shy away from: sexual abuse, pornography, shame, pedophilia. I was talking with one small group when another girl, who had already chatted with me on "Home Free", ran up and said "Oh you guys, you have to hear Mz Molly's inference about the variety story owner". Sometimes I felt bad about mentioning certain things (I felt I was eroding their innocence), and based on the kids I was talking to, I didn't go into a lot of detail or share a lot of theories. However, it's been a very popular book among the girls; they like the story of how the friendship develops between the two main female characters and although some of the "sex-stuff" is part of the main plot (I can't tell you how in case I spoil it for you), the girls could compartmentalize it.

I'm glad that I didn't let my own personal reaction to the book stop me from allowing it in the library. It pushed me out of my comfort zone but reaped benefits. That's not saying I should abdicate responsibility for the type of books I carry in the library; I am stilll responsible for maintaining an age-appropriate collection. However, I feel that the positives outweighed the negatives in this case. Thanks Sharon, for the book.

I only realize now, as I type up this reflection, that I had done something similar with an adult book I had read a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed the Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon but reading her giant book Acheron nearly wrecked me. The description of the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse the main character endures horrified me; I had "day-mares", for lack of a better word. I felt bad about not reading the book, because I had invested so much time into the series. In the end, I had to skip 300 pages of the book and a kind friend was able to summarize the main plot points covered in those pages. Afterwards, I couldn't read another fiction book for over two months - I was slightly traumatized.

I also realized "the tint of my glasses", to quote a Tribes TLC (c) activity where you examine your own biases. I have a strong aversion to pornography - I've supported the White Ribbon Against Pornography campaign, and to see a source of porn (which I consider degrading to women) used by under-age characters bothered me. That magazine in the book, though, could just has well have been the equivalent of some of the steamy romance books I read for fun. I don't consider those soft porn - erotic, maybe. But then, what's the difference between porn and erotica? That's a post for a different writer, but let me just leave it with a paraphrase of the author's words: most of the things that happened in the book (including the "magazine under the cottage bed" scene that upset me so much) happened to the author or people she knew - it's a reflection of real life, whether we are pleased by it or not.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, yes, sex. It's impossible to truly separate sex, love, romance, and porn perfectly because of cultural differences, not just between different ethnic groups, but between us and our children. Some of the things I read would have horrified my mother. Some of the things she read horrified me (she was heavily into Harlequin Romances - tried one once, and well, ugh.)

    Because in human relations, as well as physics, a lot of things are relative.

    Thanks for writing this.