This summer I went with a friend to Omaha for OSFest, a small science fiction and fantasy convention. The reason we originally decided to go was that Gail Carriger was scheduled to be the guest of honor, and since she did not seem to be coming to the Twin Cities on any of her tours, this was our chance to see her. Omaha is a day’s drive from the Twin Cities, so it wasn’t really *that* far away, and besides, it would be a fun adventure–Mary had never been to a con before! It was a fun adventure, and we did meet Gail Carriger, and Mary likes cons and wants to attend more. But the other guest at this con that ended up being important was Rainbow Rowell.
I had heard pre-publication rumblings about the amazingness of Eleanor & Park and I knew Rainbow had another YA book in the works (galleys were being given away at ALA, but I did not try and get one, mostly because I wanted to keep all of my limbs), and I also knew that she had previously published an adult novel. So before we went to Omaha on our grand adventure, Mary and I both read Eleanor & Park (I love this book SO SO SO MUCH) and Attachments (I also like this book a lot). And oh my goodness, we became fans. FANS. Possibly even FANGIRLS. There may have been some squealing and jumping and “Ohmygoodness! I can’t belive we’re going to meet Gail Carriger AND Rainbow Rowell! OMAHA IS A MAGICAL PLACE FULL OF MAGIC!”-ing.
And we did get to meet both Gail Carriger and Rainbow Rowell; OSFest was a teeny weeny con, a perfect first con for Mary to attend. At the end of a session with Gail, we got the galley of Curtsies & Conspiracies because she was amused that we had driven all the way from Minneapolis to see her. And she signed it too! And we got to sit all together at a table with Rainbow during a session, because she said it was cozier that way, and I might have blurted out “OMG THAT’S A FLUEVOG BOX!” when she pulled out her box of books to show us all the different editions.
And then she told us about an event she was going to be doing later this summer in the Twin Cities that she was really excited about, and we should come and see her! It was an event with Anoka-Hennepin, one that everyone knows about now because it was abruptly cancelled under rather murky circumstances. “Oh,” I said, because that was all I could really say. My friend Caoilfhionn, formerly of the Twin Cities and now residing in Omaha, also said “Oh.” We both knew enough about the notoriety of that particular district to be surprised (pleasantly! maybe something had changed!) that they had chosen Eleanor & Park as their non-required summer reading title. Maybe? Maybe not. But we didn’t want to be downers, so “Oh…” was all we said.
And then, of course, everything went to heck in the proverbial handbasket.
What impressed me, really truly impressed me, is that when Rainbow did eventually speak out about the incident, she was mostly sad that the kids in the school weren’t going to have the chance to read her book and she was upset that the librarians who had chosen the book were facing possible disciplinary action; she wasn’t mad that she herself was disinvited. And when she did address the topic, she did so in an incredibly respectful way. It’s clear that she doesn’t agree with what the Parents’ Action League wants to do, but she never ever says anything directly negative about them. It’s incredibly classy–not every author, when in a situation like this, manages to exhibit such grace.
When this all happened last month, I was really upset by it. (I still cry when I talk or type about it.)
Pause as Mallory hands Rainbow a tissue through the monitor.
Because the characters are so close to my heart, and everything about this campaign deliberately misses the point of Eleanor and Park’s story.
When I told my sister that some people (Ed. note: or, you know, “one guy”) were outraged by the language in my book, she said, “They should try living through it.”
And that’s just it. Eleanor & Park isn’t some dystopian fantasy about a world where teenagers swear and are cruel to each other, and some kids have terrible parents.
Teenagers swear and are cruel to each other. Some kids have terrible parents.
Some girls have terrible stepdads who shout profanity at them and call them sluts – and some of those girls still manage to rise above it.
When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible.
That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.
So when Rainbow did finally get to come to the Twin Cities at the end of October, there was much rejoicing! Mary and I attended the event on the Wednesday, and it was wonderful to see so many teens in the audience. I don’t know if any of them were from Anoka-Hennapin, but regardless, the teens who were there were excited about the books, and were excited to talk to the author, and were excited to be at that event. So that was truly wonderful. Rainbow did remember me and Mary, and she was gracious enough to not say “WHY DIDN’T YOU *WARN* ME?!” But I still hope that maybe the whole thing with Anoka-Hennepin can be patched up somehow.
If you want to lose all faith in humanity, this is the Rolling Stone article about Anoka-Henepin referred to. It is incredibly difficult to read.
Challenged book to stay on Anoka High library shelves