Novelist Garret Freymann-Weyr is the author of many books for young readers. Garnering piles of praise from the likes of Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly (not to mention the blogosphere) among other acclaimed book review fora, Ms. Freymann-Weyr seems to have a golden touch. Her latest, After the Moment, is yet another triumph – a heartfelt love story with family at the core. However, all this fanfare sadly does not make her books immune to the oft-feared book challenge and even the ban. Here’s what Garret has to say about it all:
BookPeople: What book(s) of yours have been banned or challenged and what were the reasons given?
Garret Freymann-Weyr: I wrote a novel titled My Heartbeat, and it is why I am on a variety of banned and challenged lists. The book is about a girl who falls in love with a boy who may or may not have been her brother’s boyfriend. Given the terrified and absurd reaction some people in this country have to any hint of “The Gay,” I can only surmise that the novel is/was/will be banned or challenged because one of the characters is bisexual and another worries he is in love with a boy.
BP: What was your reaction when you first heard your book(s) were being challenged?
GFW: I laughed because I didn’t know people still did this. And the laugh was on me because I had not thought I was writing a book in which sexual identity was an issue. I thought I was writing about loyalty, betrayal and how little we know those we love. By the time My Heartbeat was banned, the book had already gotten reviews talking about its thoughtful exploration of sexuality. And I would think, really? And then, to be targeted by homophobes made me think, really? all over again.
BP: How do you feel knowing there are people out there who don’t want young readers to have access to your books?
GFW: Somewhere between baffled and bored. This sounds a little odd, so let me try and explain. I was brought up by two people who believed in reading’s power to educate, thrill, transform and delight. I got yelled at all the time for not reading more (or better) books. My mother threatened to take Harriet The Spy away from me because I was reading it over and over. When I studied in the kitchen, I would hide Harriet in the flower pot so that she could never tell that I was reading it yet again. [NB: Harriet the Spy is a banned book!]
Therefore, the whole idea of using books to either “help” kids (via bibliotherapy) or to protect then (via censorship) simply has no place in the world in which I live. And I’m very uncomfortable being part of a world that treats books as things that offer either lessons or what some perceive as threats.
BP: Has having your work banned or challenged changed the way you write?
BP: Sexuality, magic, expletives, race, and LGBT themes (among other topics) are often the reasons people challenge books. Why do you write about these topics, and why do you think it’s important that they are included in young people’s literature?
GFW: I write about what interests me. I always tell my writing students, “If you don’t want to read it, don’t write it.” I think that the only important thing to include in young people’s literature (in any literature) is good writing.
BP: Has your status as the author of banned books affected your career as a writer?
GFW: I don’t think so.
BP: What do the terms “censorship” and “intellectual freedom” mean to you?
GFW: I think of them in very political terms and not at all as having anything to do with YA novels. After all, getting banned in a county like the United States is not that big of a deal. It could, I realize, become a big deal, if the people who ban books in their communities could do it everywhere. But for me, censorship is what happened in Iran this past summer after the fraudulent election. I felt the sting of censorship in the media during the lead up to the Iraq invasion far more than I do when I find out people want to keep My Heartbeat out of the library.
BP: What are your favorite banned books, and why?
GFW: I used to say that the only banned book I ever read was Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and that it bored me to tears. But this time I went and looked up the books that were banned & challenged in 2008 and I started laughing at some of the books on the list. I was laughing because the books on the list contain nothing that could possibly offend a reasonable person.
Black Boy by Richard Wright?!? That’s a book that lets you walk around in the shoes of a hungry, young boy who is black when being a black man in this country was a scary thing. Running With Scissors!?! That’s a book you read when you’re stuck in the airport, you don’t ban that book! Of Mice and Men? Really? Most people have to read Of Mice and Men in high school. Banning it just means your child is denied a great reading experience.
I’m going to go with Of Mice and Men being my favorite, and it’s probably because the writing is clean, simple, and yet full of haunting images.
BP: If you could say anything to Judy Blume, a literary legend and other of many banned books, what would you say? And what one question would you ask?
GFW: Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you, would you like to go get a cup of tea?
BP: What advice would you give a student (or parent, or concerned citizen) whose school or library is facing a book challenge?
GFW: What I always point out to librarians who are facing this problem in their school systems, is that people who ban books don’t understand what they are afraid of. They think they are banning books because of profanity or sex or witchcraft. But what they are really afraid of is The Other. We all fear the unknown. If you can reassure the irate parents or clergy or whomever that the book in question is the SAFEST way possible to learn about what you most despise, then I think you can have a decent conversation.
BP: Since burning books is tragic, but bonfires can be fun, what should we burn instead?
Thanks so much to Garret Freymann-Weyr for returning to the BookKids blog! In case you missed her last post, it’s here: Fab YA Authors on their Favorite Queer-Themed Books: Part 3