Books are the most controversial media in the history of our world. Wars have been fought in their name, deaths have occurred in support of their message, but most importantly they’ve always been a jumping off point to voice concerns happening in society. Even today in our modern day and age books are tirelessly challenged for content deemed too explicit or for having a theme that doesn’t mesh with the opposer’s viewpoint. Thankfully though the week of September 27- October 3 is dedicated to all these books whose stories often remain unheard. Here is a part of my Q and A with author Jennifer Holm on the frequently challenged middle grade book Drama by Raina Telgemeier.
Do you remember when you read this book for the first time? How old were you? Did you read it for school or for pleasure?
Megan B: Since first falling in love with SMILE way back in fifth grade, I have eagerly anticipated each of Raina Telgemeier’s new releases and have yet to be disappointed. My all-time favorite Telgemeier book is DRAMA, which I read when I was 11 — it’s one of the most engaging graphic novels I’ve ever read. I read it purely for enjoyment, but, with the way it tackles some hot button issues in the news today, I can easily see it generating some great teacher-student discussions in a read-along.
What do you like about this book, and how would you persuade somebody else to read it?
MB: The best part of Telgemeier’s books is how vividly she remembers the ups and downs of being a young teenager and incorporates those awkward experiences into her books. As a junior high student struggling to find where I fit into school, that really struck a chord for me and was part of the reason DRAMA resonated with me the way it did. Though DRAMA is not autobiographical, Telgemeier acknowledges many of her own middle school experiences as material for the book, proving it is possible to go through the crazy roller coaster of junior high and live to tell about it. There are so many reasons I would encourage every junior high student to read DRAMA (far too many to list here), but really it boils down to the positive, uplifting spin DRAMA brings to the sometimes dreary world of middle school. Really, I dare anyone to read the final page without a smile on their face.
DRAMA was banned in an elementary school in Mt. Pleasant, Texas for “sexual content.” If you had the chance to respond to that charge, what would you say?
MB: When I read the charges brought against Drama all I could think was “What?!?” and then rub my head in confusion. Call me desensitized, but I really could not recall a single instance of the “sexual content” the school that banned DRAMA was referencing. Sure, there was some kissing and hand holding, but just walk outside and you’ll see plenty of that. I even went to Common Sense Media to see what they had to say on the topic, but it still didn’t offer any new insight. After rereading the book though in preparation for Unban a Book Week here at Teenreads, I remembered that there are several characters in DRAMA who come out as gay and one instance of two boys kissing.
All of my opinions aside, I think that labeling DRAMA as sexually explicit because it doesn’t mesh with the school’s viewpoint is a weasely way of depriving elementary-aged kids of an amazing book. Our world is changing, as we’re slowly but surely becoming more accepting of people from all walks of life, and I think it’s great that we have authors willing to broach these topics with sensitivity and thoughtfulness so our next generation can have informed opinions on these matters. Just because a school bans a book does not mean that “sexual content” ceases to exist. All they’re doing is shielding and negatively shaping the youth of tomorrow. In fact, I think reading DRAMA as a class would be a great way to introduce elementary-aged kids to the concept that “Hey, some people like other people of the same gender.” Shocking!
You need to give the protagonist of this book a book recommendation. What would you recommend, and why?
MB: Yet another one of my favorite middle grade authors, Natasha Friend, wrote a book called BOUNCE that’s similar to DRAMA, and I think Callie would really connect to it. Both heroines are, in their own way, doing the best they can to fit into a world that is oftentimes extremely intimidating. With their sharp wit, spunky personalities and overall positive viewpoint on life, I believe Evyn and Callie would become fast friends who could also learn a lot from each other. Evyn is undergoing some major life changes but is learning to just “bounce” with what life throws her, something Type A Callie struggles to do through the course of DRAMA. Callie, on the other hand is 100% accepting of everyone no matter what and sees everyone as a potential best friend in the making. Evyn could stand to learn from this life skill as she navigates the rocky waters of inheriting eight step-siblings after her father remarries. Both Callie and Evyn recognize that diversity is what makes us unique, and I believe that by reading about each other (can Evyn read DRAMA, too?) they would not only benefit each other, but the world.
Interested in reading Jennifer Holm’s side of the Q and A? Follow this link to the Teenreads page where I post reviews and blog posts! Drama Q and A