If things keep going the way they are going, LOL, the expression ‘Banned in Boston’ will be replaced by ‘Banned in the Bold New City of the South’, a/k/a Jacksonville, Florida.
While it’s debatable whether the picture books about Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron were disallowed in DCPS libraries or under review (GOT seems to remember that they were disallowed until they weren’t,) what isn’t debatable is that this book is definitely banned.
What’s a Grumpy Old Teacher to do? Why, buy the book and read it for himself.
First, understand that the objection was the positive portrayal of gay marriage. The person doing the review believed that other marriages were disparaged in the book. More than that, the reviewer concluded that the book portrays sexual excitement and thus would damage students. Oh, and by the way, the reviewer found that the book contained scenes of bullying and that the scenes were ignored by school administration.
Let’s dispense with that sexual excitement claim. If the reviewer is getting off by reading this book, um, that’s a private matter between her and her therapist. Nobody else finds anything titillating in the book or appealing to a ‘prurient interest’ as defined in the classic SCOTUS case, Miller vs. California.
It was Justice Potter Stewart who gave us the best (pun intended) take on pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
If you will allow GOT to apply that to the book in question: I know it when I don’t see it. This book ain’t it.
The book itself is book-ended by two weddings in each of which the protagonist participated. The book is written in first person and presents itself as a memoir from a boy recounting his years from kindergarten to early middle school.
The train wreck of the opening wedding does not disparage heterosexual marriage or as Christian Nationalists would sniff, “Between a man and a woman as defined by the body parts they were born with.” It was a brilliantly written episode in which a 5-year old resisted that which he was told he must do: be the ring bearer in a wedding that meant nothing to him and wear a too-tight outfit that brought on disaster.
This first chapter in the book brings together the protagonist and his best bud, who will accompany him along his journey through childhood and school. BTW, it’s really funny as well. If GOT as an adult can appreciate the humor, imagine how funny the book will be to children.
The text is brilliantly well-written. In the early chapters, the sentences are short and limited to basic vocabulary. As we move through the protagonist’s years, the sentences and words expand to match the growing development of the protagonist. While it is clear that the book’s major theme is the acceptance of gay men and gay marriage, it is slowly revealed through foreshadowing in the early chapters and the protagonist’s slower grasp of things everyone else already knows including his best bud.
The book contains scenes of everyday school life, the good and the bad. Some of that bad is bullying. In particular, there are two types. One is the ill-treatment of a student (5th grader) deemed gay. But the reaction of the adults is anything but negligent. In this, the reviewer errs, but perhaps because of her own prejudices, she skips over it.
The second is the middle school cafeteria, where the 7th graders do not allow the 6th graders to eat unless they pay protection money. The 6th graders are saved by a new student who comes with a bodyguard. It is a stretch to say that this plot twist makes the book unacceptable. It only means that the book falls within the prevailing ethos of this age literature in that the adults are incompetent but the kids save themselves.
Particularly hilarious are the off-hand comments about standardized testing when the kids use the ‘special pencils’ from the locked storeroom to bubble in the answer sheets. Bits like these make it clear that the author knew his subject and the kid-worldview of school well. One would almost be tempted to say the protagonist was the B.E.S.T. man, but that Florida joke would fall flat in the rest of the country.
This is a good book. Children will find it an enjoyable read. The only protest comes from those uncomfortable with a positive portrayal of two men in love who make a commitment of marriage and the matter-of-fact way others accept it. People like the protagonist’s parents, who think the matter of concern is that the gay uncle stop sabotaging relationships and have someone who will make him happy.
If you call that pornography, the rest of us can see why you would object to this book in school libraries. If you fight the culture wars, the rest of us can see why you would misinterpret this as propaganda in your self-declared war. But really, the book is nothing more than a fictional memoir of a boy growing up in today’s world who admires his uncle much as my nephew admired me when he grew up.
In closing, the book also depicts happy, loving marriages between cis-gendered, heterosexual couples, the protagonist’s grandparents and his parents. GOT can’t imagine how the reviewer overlooked that.