It's been four years since my first novel was published.
You'd think I'd be used to the criticism by now.
I simply stopped reading reviews.
Writing YA fiction is a privilege. I'm honored when teen readers tell me how much they connected to a character, or how deeply my words and stories touched them.
This is why I write.
But I also hear from parents and educators. And every once in a while, they're none too pleased with me.
There was one from a school librarian in the mid-west who told me SEND was exactly the sort of book she'd like her students to read but because it contains F-bombs, she could not, in good faith, stock it on her shelves. She apologized and then, in the next paragraph, wrote, "What were you thinking, filling a book meant for children with such profanity? And the sex! I would never get approval to stock this book on my shelves so I won't even bother submitting the request. Please consider writing cleaner books. "
I have this image of a woman clutching her pearls with one hand and churning the butter with the other.
I never wrote her back -- what would be the point?
So here's the reply to her and all others who seek to sensor what young adults read:
No. No, I will not write 'clean' books to satisfy some puritanical notions one small group thinks is right.
I write the stories I write because I want readers to close my books and feel like someone understands them and the issues they're facing. When I was that age, I had one author I could count on -- Judy Blume. When I faced a devastating diagnosis at the age of twelve that almost sentenced me to live the next two years in a back brace, it was a Judy Blume novel that showed me this wasn't the life-ending ordeal I thought it would be. When I fell for a high school senior when I was in ninth grade, it was a Judy Blume book that convinced me I was NOT ready for sex yet...and lost the boy. (Thank goodness! for I ended up marrying his friend.)
I write because I have children. My children have friends. Through my children and their friends, I know what issues challenge teens -- suicide. Drug use. Sex. Abuse. Bullying. Divorce. Daredevil behavior. Drinking. Sports.
As a parent, I want nothing more than to imagine my sons will forever remain the perfect newborns I brought into this world. But they can't. Living a satisfying life means they have to face and deal with all those challenges I just mentioned. I don't want them to hide from those things, pretending they don't exist, pretending that by turning away, they are somehow protected from them. No. No, I want them prepared. I want them armed and ready to not just face these issues, but to confront them head on and win.
Have you ever said or done something wrong and said, "I didn't know! If I'd known, I never would have said (or done) that!" I have -- too many times to even count. If only I knew, I might have changed my behavior -- or not done something at all.
I don't want my children faced with an unchangeable reality because they didn't know something I could have -- and should have -- explained to them.
Like it or not, our children are facing some serious matters. Hiding them, shielding them does more harm than good. I won't be a part of that.
You don't have to read my work. But please don't tell me how I should write it.
I am proud of the work I've written so far and not because of the awards they've earned.... but because of the messages I get from readers. One told me she plans to be a crisis counselor after reading Some Boys. Another told me he stopped making fun of a classmate after reading Send.
That's the impact I care about.
So... to all the parents and teachers and adults who think books should be sanitized before they let a child read them, please consider reading my books WITH your children. This is the best way to share your wisdom, your beliefs, your morals with teens reading subject matter with which you have issues. I've done this with my sons when they were afraid about certain things.
Because the best way to stop being afraid of something, in my opinion, is to read about that scary thing in a book that shows characters fighting the same fight...and winning.