When my teen pregnancy novel, Detour for Emmy, turned up on the Top Ten Banned Books List for 2005, I whooped for joy. There it was, sandwiched between Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk, and Sonya Sones’ What My Mother Doesn’t Know, on a list that also included books by J. D. Salinger, Judy Blume and Robert Cormier. What great company
I keep!I rushed upstairs to share the news with my husband, Mike, then sent the equivalent of a cackling email to friends and family. Mike opened a better bottle of wine than our usual Two Buck Chuck, and we toasted my newfound fame.
I envisioned my book featured prominently in displays in libraries and bookstores across the nation during “Banned Books Week” in September. If every bookstore in all fifty states buys one copy for display, will I finally be able to upgrade my aged Volvo?
Visiting the American Library Association’s Banned Books website, I saw that the 2004 banned books bracelet featured the covers of the top six books for that year. Cool! If ALA keeps the bracelet idea, I can walk around with Emmy on my wrist and show off to cashiers at the supermarket, and to
manicurists at the mall.
In spite of my advanced years, wisdom is not always the controlling factor
in my first response to whatever comes along, so it was not until I awakened
with my customary three A.M. ruminations that my better self pushed to the
surface, dog paddling frantically through waves of pride, and greed, straining for
a glimpse of the broader picture.
In the early morning darkness, curled close against Mike, lulled by the
soft, steady snore of the Schnauzer on the chaise, I think about the total list.
What’s the deal with the morality police, anyway? At a time when we’re
bombarded daily with reports of violence in the schools and on the streets,
they’ve only attacked one book for violence, and that book is Captain
Underpants?? The other nine books, Emmy included, made the list because of
sexual content and/or offensive language. American children are sixteen times
more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a
gun, and the book banners’ greatest fears are for sex and bad words?
And back to Captain Underpants, which, in addition to violence, made the
list for anti-family content and being unsuited to the age group. Excuse me?
Bathroom humor not appropriate for five to twelve-year olds? All I need say to
get my five-year old granddaughter laughing uncontrollably is “poopie.” For the
eleven year old, “flatulence” works wonderfully.
Then there’s Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk, which, besides being dinged for
offensive language, was cited for racism. Really, although Whale Talk does
confront issues of racism, the book itself is about as racist as the writings of
The more I think about it, the angrier I get. Where do these limited, small minded,
ignorant, people get off, trying to keep books out of the hands of
Afraid that the intensity of my anger might somehow be transmitted,
body to body, I move away from my peacefully sleeping husband. Then my
ruminations take a turn. Why am I the one awakened every morning around
three by the spirit of the Grand Goddess of the Harmonic Universe always
demanding that I consider carefully all disharmony in my life and in the world?
Why can’t I be like Mike, or the dog, and sleep soundly through the whole night?
A glance at the clock tells me it’s 3:43. In the past twelve hours or so I’ve
committed four of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, anger and envy. I wonder
if I can get to the remaining three before daylight?
With a bit more prodding from my better self, I realize that I’ve fallen into
the same trap as the would-be censors. In questioning how they can ban so
much sex and so little violence, I’m putting my values above theirs. I could write
a lengthy treatise on why my values are better for the world and everyone in it,
but that’s not the point. Noam Chomsky said it best when he said, “If we don’t
believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at
all.” It turns out, I do believe in freedom of expression, and that includes the
expression of those who would ban books in general, and mine in particular.
Sin or not, I am proud of Detour for Emmy. I think about the letters I
receive from readers, letters indicating that Emmy’s story offers insight and
perspective on their own lives.
“ . . . I just wanted to let you know that your books have led me into the world
of reading. I started with Detour for Emmy, and now I’ve read all of your
books . . . “
“ . . . This book encourages me to not get pregnant at a young age because
when I pretend I’m Emmy I realize . . .she had to change her plan and goals of
life. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me . . .”
“ . . . your book has inspired me to keep my legs closed.”
“ . . . I’m a sixteen-year old mother and Emmy’s story helped me realize I can
make a good life for me and my baby. Thank you.”
My heartfelt wish is that every censorship attempt would backfire in the
same way a Texas grandmother’s push to ban Detour for Emmy from her local
schools did. Several months after that unsuccessful book challenge, the librarian
“You would not believe how many of my girls at school have requested the
opportunity to read your book. I have several paperback copies from the
challenge, and I just hand them to the girls and ask them to return them as
soon as they are finished. They always bring them back and tell me how much
they enjoyed the book and how much they learned. That challenge may be one
of the best things that happened to the girls at my school!"
Now, as the first rays of light sneak in through cracks in the blinds, I
contemplate a day of lust, and gluttony, and sloth. My daytime hope, before the
three A.M. Grand Goddess can get to me, is that the morality cops will launch a
nationwide campaign to ban Love Rules. It’s a wonderful story, with sex
between two girls and a smattering of offensive language, and deserves