Let me start by saying that I am not making this up.
This week I was officially uninvited to speak on bullying at a middle school due to the title of my latest YA novel, YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.
The timing could not have been more ironic. September is the month when the American Library Association celebrates Banned Book Week, our annual reminder about the importance of intellectual freedom.
Sure, the title has raised eyebrows – as I knew it would. But the title of my book wasn’t an issue several months ago when I was contracted to be part of the school’s anti-bullying event. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of girl’s unraveling as she navigates being in the crosshairs of a physical and emotional abuser. I had planned to talk about my own experience at the hands of a bully long ago – and all that the experience robbed from me. Then, as now, there were no easy answers, no clear path out of the torment that I couldn’t trust the adults around me to stop. I had also planned to talk about how that ugly sliver of life became fiction and about how writing and books help us make sense of our life experiences, good and bad.
But last Friday, I received a painful email from the teacher who had reached out to me in the first place. She was apologetic as she explained that her principal needed reassurances. He needed to be sure that I would not state the name of my novel. Or show a slide of the cover. Or use “coarse language” during the presentation. These were fifth through eighth graders from a community that was described as “mixed” and who might not appreciate bad language.
I took a deep breath.
Here is part of my reply:
“…For me to come to your school and distance myself from my work feels disrespectful of me as an author, but worse, it feels dishonest in dealing with the students, most especially those who are on the receiving end of harassment that already makes them feel ashamed. If I refuse to even name my book or tell them that the title comes from hearing those awful words firsthand, I would only be adding to that shame.As you mention in your email, you see this firsthand every day. I believe that one way we adults can help is to acknowledge the reality of what our kids are experiencing…”
In an effort to be fair, I suggested sending home a note to let the Concerned Adults opt out for their students.
No dice. The ax fell yesterday when the principal emailed me to say that our visit was cancelled. He explained that although he’d once been an English teacher, he had “other considerations” as a school principal. Wow, I wanted to ask. What happened? And what could those considerations be, exactly, especially when the stakes are so high?
I’ll say only this: I make absolutely NO APOLOGIES for the title of my book. The title is bold and troubling, and it suggests exactly what’s inside. Besides, we can fret all we want about the word ass, but that word isn’t the real trouble, is it? What’s hurting our kids is the savagery on their phones, and Facebook pages and in their classrooms. That, and the reluctance of those around them to step up and do the tough work of pulling the issue out into the open and talking about what bullying really looks and sounds like and about its radioactive impact that lasts for years into the future.
That’s what YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is about. It’s not just a book with a coarse word in the title. The story tries to get at the truth of what our young people are dishing out or receiving. And most important to me, it’s a book that might have helped a kid like 12-year-old Gabrielle Molina before she decided to take her own life earlier this year.
Read her story and ask yourself this: Would Gabrielle’s parents and teachers have objected to her reading a book with the word ass in the title if they knew it might have helped her survive?