Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Belated Banned Books Week: Book Review #2

I blogged recently about the first book I read from the list of most frequently challenged books of 2022, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  I also recently finished Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison.

This was a dramatically different book than Dying Girl.  Rather than the quirky, irreverent sense of humor and awkwardness that characterized Dying Girl, Lawn Boy was often seriously and painfully so.  As the author says in the afterword, at its heart it's a novel about the vast class differences the poor experience, and man oh man was it accurate in that regard.  I recognized from my younger years the feeling of barely ever being able to get ahead before something else would set you back again.  It was painful and far too real.

The book was ostensibly challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content and claims of sexually explicit content.  There is NOTHING sexually explicit in this book.  You know the main character and the love interest have sex, but the only thing the book actually describes is them kissing and then waking up in bed together.  It is painfully clear that this is just too sexually explicit for opponents of LGBTQIA+ content.  It's the old problem of "I don't mind if you do it, but why do you have to kiss in public," while straight kissing in public is permitted.

Now the LGBTQIA+ content is definitely there, but it's subtle (a discovery that the main character realizes about himself late in the book, although I could see it coming and I'm sure others would be able to as well).  But of course, if you're homophobic, even subtle is too much, and heaven forbid teens read about it!

But I actually suspect the class inequalities addressed in the book also have a great deal to do with why the book has been challenged.  It's not a flattering look at how our society treats lower income and minority populations.  But while homophobia is still fairly acceptable in our culture, and gay and trans rights are still being routinely fought over, overt classism and racism is more frowned upon.  So opponents of this book latched onto the easiest and most acceptable reason to challenge this book, the LGBTQIA+ aspect of the story.

The book ends with a great message of being true to yourself, and more importantly, standing up for yourself, in all areas of life: sexual preference, work, even with friends and family.  I suspect that those closet classist and racist opponents (as well as the homophobic ones) probably object to that as much as they object to the bleak picture of a sympathetic character living poor.

It's a tough read if you're familiar with how much of a struggle can be at a lower income, but I highly recommend it.

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