Hello, blog. It has been a minute, as the kids say. At least they used to say that. What do they say now?
Here is an interesting thing that happened while I was away. My daughter went from being a middle grade reader to a young adult reader.
We were in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island earlier this summer and did as we normally do, which is to frequent the local town bookstore. This one, Griffin Bay Bookstore, had a pretty significant Black Lives Matter / Black Voices display front and center. We walked by it and I pointed out to the kid The Hate U Give as something I hoped she would read some day.
Why not today, Mom?
I was unsure, but also was on vacation where more often than not my motto is anything goes. So we bought it and she started reading it as soon as we got into the car. We had probably a 20-minute drive ahead of us, on our way to the whale-watching park so she had a little bit of time to read. I’m driving, following directions, hoping my cell reception doesn’t crap out on me, when I hear from the back seat,
“What’s a condom?”
OMG so it’s going to be like this, is it. It is. It’s all good, though. I’ve done the work. I’ve given her the basic tool set about the birds and the bees. I mean, there is probably some refining that needs to happen over the next few years, but the hard part is over. I must have said something about how it’s something you use to protect yourself and she stayed quiet and kept reading.
“There’s a lot of bad words in this book.”
So there is. My bad for handing it to her. I read THUG when it came out, loved it, but seemingly I forgot about stuff like foul language and specific scenarios that involve condoms.
My daughter is 11-years-old. Is this too young to read young adult?
Probably. But I probably couldn’t have prevented it for much longer, either. First, she is an avid book reader. She had read The Hunger Games trilogy earlier in the year. Her favorite book series is Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson saga (all 3 series. That’s a lot of books, with a lot of battles and a lot of blood and even some death). I have taken her to all of the recent Star Wars films and we have watched most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as well. For a long time I have accepted that guns, violence however fantastical, was acceptable, but I have been squeamish about other stuff, like love and sex. Mainly the sex.
When Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” was released, I put it on her iPod, but left out the song “Dress” (“Only bought this dress so you could take it off. Take it Off”). When I downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack for her, I left in the song “Reynolds Pamphlet” but left off the song “Say No To This.” Like, I STILL get a little nervous hearing that song.
Later, when we went to the Reputation concert, she yelled in my ear I’VE NEVER HEARD THIS SONG BEFORE, MAMA”. Something similar happened to me when I took her to see Hamilton a year later. WHAT’S THIS SONG, MAMA?
Insert grimacing emoji
The Star Wars and Superhero violence I am some how able to justify. It’s fake, it’s pretend. I could explain this to her. This is acting, it’s fake, it’s pretend. These things didn’t actually happen, and here is a fake, plastic light saber to verify that this is all not real. Make it fantastical, and it seems to be acceptable.
Sex, for some reason, is different. Probably because it is real. It happens and it is not fake and I can’t fake-splain it away. For a while I was better suited just deleting it. (By the way, I eventually added those songs back in. I mean, if I could handle “Like A Virgin” when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I think she can handle this TS song). So there’s a little discomfort in having to explain what a condom is or does. But there is more realness in THUG that cannot be deleted nor erased.
If my 11-year-old’s brain can comprehend the action, guns, violence and storylines that occur in the MCU or Star Wars franchises, is it also mature enough to take in other storylines, like real-life violence that actually is not fake? Black kids being shot by police is real. Tamir Rice was a real boy, not much older than she is now when he was shot and killed by police. Very real
The timing of her desire to read THUG came at the right time. The very real protests, marches, uprisings that have blanketed the country in 2020, focused on racial injustice brought everything to this moment. Weeks earlier I took her to the Seattle CHOP Zone (before it got violent and chaotic). We had talked about the protests and the marches. I explained who George Floyd was to her. In school they watched videos about systemic racism. We discussed Black Lives Matter, and what it meant.
And nothing, nothing was as impactful to my little bookworm as the character of Starr, a young black girl, brought to life by Angie Thomas.
I knew I had some words that might help explain what is happening in the country. Her fifth grade teacher, a white woman, and her fellow fifth grade teachers, also white, could also try to explain and reason with their fifth graders. But they didn’t have the words and actions of Starr. They didn’t have the storytelling of Angie Thomas. Only Angie Thomas has those words, and this story.
The morning she finished the novel my kid put on her Black Lives Matter t-shirt, which she happened to pack with her on our trip. Yes, she has a BLM shirt. It was something the PTSA made a couple of years ago, and I bought for her, probably around the time Charleena Lyles, a black mother of students at a neighboring school, was killed by, yep you guessed it, Seattle police officers. She had never worn this shirt before. I am not even sure why she packed it. It could have been due to the influence of having visited CHOP a couple of weeks earlier. Perhaps because of the discussions she overheard at home, or of the signs she’s seen pop up around our Northeast Seattle neighborhood. All I know is, the day after reading THUG she put on the t-shirt and wore it as someone who understood a little bit more the context behind it. So, for that, Angie Thomas, thank you.
Well, this post turned a bit heavier than I expected it to. Next I’ll write about that time my kid read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.