A Personal Story about a “Controversial” Book

The following was originally posted on the MELIBS listserv by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on Fri, 5 Dec 2008 21:49:51 under the subject: A personal story about a “controversial” book.

I wanted to share a personal story about how I handled a situation involving a student and a “controversial” YA novel …

I work in an urban middle school library. Last month, before I went to the YA Literature Symposium in Nashville, I was approached by a student–a young man I’ll call Jay.

Jay held up the book Tyrell by Coe Booth and said, “I just read this book for the second or third time. This is my favorite book. Do you have anything else like it?”

I said that the author had a new book out, but that I knew nothing about it. I also said that I was going to a conference later in the week where the author, Coe Booth, would be speaking and that I would try to get an autographed book for him.

“Get the new one,” he said.

I was able to get a galley of “the new book”. I told the author about my student and asked her to sign it to Jay, which she did.

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The following day, I attended a panel discussion about “controversial” new YA titles and, of course, Kendra (Coe Booth’s new book) was featured.

I thought about what I was going to say to Jay when I gave him the book.

I saw Jay a few days after I returned. I asked him to come into my office and I held up the Kendra galley. “I told Coe Booth about you. I told her how much you loved Tyrell and look what she wrote … ‘Jay, I hope you like Kendra as much as you liked Tyrell.’” His eyes were huge. “I want to talk to you about the book a little first though.” I explained. “You know how there’s a lot of profanity—swearing–in Tyrell?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t bother me.”

“I figured. Well, you know how there’s also some sexual language, the way Tyrell talks about Novisha and Jasmine. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the sexuality in Kendra is more graphic and explicit than in Tyrell. Kendra is pressured to have sex by her boyfriend and I want to make sure that you have an adult that you can talk to if you have questions or if something bothers you. You are always welcome to come in and talk to me; you can ask me anything. But, I’d like you to think of an adult, a relative or family friend, that you would feel comfortable talking to. Can you think of someone?”

Jay paused and considered, “My sister-in-law,” he announced, “I can talk to her about anything.”

“Great. Your sister-in-law can also help you understand the female point-of-view. Pressuring someone to do something that they don’t want to do is very serious. It’s an important thing to think and talk about. And remember that if you read something that doesn’t make sense to you or that bothers you or makes you uncomfortable, you can always put the book down, skip that part, or talk with your sister-in-law about it, okay?”

“Right.”

“When you’re done the book, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Oh, and one more thing …”

“What?”

“Tyrell has a cameo in Kendra, but I’m not gonna tell you where.”

Jay read the book over the past month, and every few days, he came by and told me where he was in the story.

He finished the book this week and when I saw him this afternoon he said he liked that Kendra ended happier than Tyrell. I asked him if he thought that the happier ending was less realistic; he shook his head, “No, I like happy endings. Everyone deserves a happy ending, not sadness.  You know, I wanna be a DJ like Tyrell.”

“I’m sure you will. Hey, next week, come by and see me and we can write an e-mail to Coe Booth so you can tell her what you thought of Kendra.”

“Really? Do you think she’ll write back?”

“Maybe. I’m sure she’d love to hear from you, one of her hard core fans …”

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