What I think is interesting in this case of censoring school board mistaken identity is that at least this particular article seems to think it’s natural that, if the same Bill Martin who wrote BROWN BEAR… had also written a book for adults called ETHICAL MARXISM, then it would be just fine to keep his well-loved (I haven’t read it) kids’ book out of the curriculum.
Whereas historically, as we now know from Julia Mickenberg, during McCarthyism, children’s publishing (because it was so trivialized) was one of the few places that blacklisted authors could still find work. Which is one reason why it became a relatively progressive industry, with, for example, books about racism and slavery — albeit ones that might strike us as dated or inadequate now — in the early ’60s, while the Civil Rights Movement was still in a pretty early stage of its spread North.
When I say relatively progressive, of course, we know to take that with a grain of salt. (By the way, a post by Editorial Anonymous — which makes a great second point about how having ignorantly non-racist intentions does not constitute a Get Out of Accusations of Racism Free card — is sparking an interesting discussion about the obligations of authors, and when pragmatic professionalism becomes opportunist careerism.)
But back to that Dallas News article… the other thing I find hilarious about it is that the author mentions that one of the school board members orchestrating the censorship of BROWN BEAR… is just plain mad that there are so many books being approved for the curriculum. This is mentioned almost as though it partially excuses his idiocy — see, it wasn’t about this book; he doesn’t want teachers to be able to choose any book for their classrooms!
… at least, that’s what I felt when I finally read LOCK & KEY yesterday. I seriously wondered whether parts of the book were planned as replies to the criticisms (not made only here!) that everyone is white… in North Carolina or that mysteriously perfect boyfriends solve the girls’ problems while the girls often seem to have relatively little to offer.
Of course, if that is what Dessen’s doing, it was a funny strategy to reply to the criticism that not everyone in the world is a small business owner by having a central character this time around be a very large business owner.
(She also has a bazillion small cameos by her past characters, which I enjoyed until there were so many of them that I started to feel I was reading a fan-fiction.)
Seriously, I liked LOCK & KEY. It has many of the defining trademarks of the Dessen genre: metaphors without subtlety and chapter-ending platitudes, which I don’t mean in the insulting way it sounds, because I usually enjoy them very much; side characters who tend toward one-note demonstrations of a personality type we’re meant to learn from, and that one I do mean to be insulting because it annoys me; a girl whose sense of self is defined by her relationship with her mother and sister.
I liked that, once you could see by page 10 what the main character’s transformation was going to be, Dessen actually got the most obvious parts of it over early; she pulled off an ending that managed to complete the protagonist’s journey without every page in between feeling like we were treading water until a magical triumph — what The Intern calls a T-Bomb.
However. As we’ve discussed, while I can enjoy different aspects of a Dessen novel, there is one reason and one reason only that I continue to read them all, and reread several of them. Frequently.
That reason is really well-done scenes of high school romantic fantasy, and here? I wasn’t quite feeling it. It’s not that the male lead wasn’t a real catch, because in real life? Such a catch. It’s that there were maybe three scenes where the two’s relationship suddenly escalates and the excitement of reading is how strongly you can identify with the protagonist’s joy and hope and fear. Three such scenes in a book of over 400 pages.
This is why I read romance, people. It’s why I read Dessen. She is very talented in many, many ways, but great range is not among them. If I read something by Laurie Halse Anderson, it’s probably not going to be like anything else I’ve read by her; M.T. Anderson, even more so. Other writers, like Sarah Dessen and John Green, have defined a genre. They’re genres I enjoy, which is why I read everything they write. I think Dessen wrote a very good book in LOCK & KEY, but I don’t think she upheld her end of the genre bargain I’d thought we’d made. And that made me a little disappointed.
I find it fitting that Scalia would hate something so obviously right and just.