When I got home from work on Friday, on my coffee table were two paperbacks. Like most orphaned books that end up thrown around the living room of our house, these (I figured) were from the kids. But their covers…surprised me. I opened them up, saw the middle school's name stamped in the back, and figured they were part of the "personal reading" or whatever the name of the program the school runs, where you are told to select a book, any book, from the book bins, and read it over the week, then bring it back and take the next one.
I mean, I let Diana read pretty much anything she wants (though not watch anything she wants; somehow movies feel more perilous than books). Sure, I hid America: the Book a few times when it was briefly her 9-year-old obsession, but I didn't ban it exactly. I just made it…harder to find. A writer friend of mine made a convincing case to me that having full, unchecked access to his parents' library had been the great joy, comfort, and inspiration of his childhood, so I let them have their pick (though there was a period of banning the Metro section of the New York Times early on, because that's going to scar anyone's psyche).
But these? It's not that I would ban these books, it's more that I felt weird about having her bringing it home from school. Of having her maybe think it's the same as, say, Animal Farm.
I'd heard about I Know What You Did Last Summer, but more about the movie than about the book (subsequent investigation, [ie: reading Wikipedia] reveals that they are very far apart, with the exception of the characters' names and a bit of death). It made me….uncomfortable to see my 11-year-old bringing it home from school. So what's a mother to do? Well, I read it.
It didn't take long. There were a few hairy scenes for me, "We were smoking a little grass, we were a little drunk, none of us was driving well…" sorts of things (did I mention how amazingly dated it was?). It was not gracefully written. The story was compelling and essentially moral at its core. It's like a tawdry girl-centric teen version of On My Honor really: a plea for taking responsibility in this topsy turvy world (more or less), even when you do something more terrible than you can live with.
So I am OK with her reading it, in general. But as a school book? I am conflicted. Here is what I tell myself: I like to read junk as much as the next person. And the more kids read, the more they read. It's not like they're going to tear it apart in English class, they're just trying to keep them involved in the life of the book. If they put Animal Farm in there, or The Mill on the Floss, or Jane Eyre, kids might not read them at all. This is the fun book assignment, the one where it's more like an enforced library selection rather than an assignment.
OK. There, I made myself feel better about it. I would have taken this out of my school library in a heartbeat. It's just we didn't have a formalized program for doing that. So this is good. Right? Maybe? I think so. I sure hope so.
Also? The daughter in question seems to have passed on it in favor of Cirque de Freak. Gee. Wholesomeness is getting farther and farther away. Will someone just tell me that wholesomeness is overrated? I'm going to crawl in a hole and read Caddie Woodlawn or something.