Friday, January 21, 2011


After reading Sexy (Joyce Carol Oates) for the second time, I was reminded of how much I love Joyce Carol Oates.  Her writing, I would call raw.  Her style is abrupt, sometimes disjointed and abstracts, but that's what makes it so intriguing and real.  She does not shy away from using terminology and words that teens use.  She doesn't try to "censor" or candy-coat things.  This is exactly the type of writing style that seems to fascinate critics and academics and infuriate parents.  Parents see it as a threat to their authority and their ideas of childhood and youth as needing to remain innocent.  Academics and critics find stories like Sexy fascinating because they are incredible portals into the minds of young people in difficult and horrific situations.

Teens are complex.  They are difficult to understand.  And they do discriminate against what they do not understand (not unlike adults!)  The protagonist, Darren, in this story has difficulty in life because of his looks and an uncomfortable encounter with his English teacher, Mr. Tracy.  Darren is a diver, swimmer, and heartbreaker.  He gets okay grades, except in English where he managed to get a B, though he believes that is only because of the guilt of his teacher, who gave him a ride home one day, causing a string of events to get out of control and lead to the destruction of Mr. Tracy as a teacher and a human being.

Of course this is the exact type of writing and content that has parents and censors in a fluster, claiming explicit sexual content and inappropriate language.  What else is new?  Teens are discerning in different ways than parents, and they don't respond to things that they do not believe are sincere.  A book with "bleeped" language is not sincere, and neither is a book that says "oh, poo!"

This isn't a book for elementary students.  And perhaps it's not even that great for middle school kids.  But to attempt a ban in a High School?  Booklist magazine rates it as appropriate for grades 9-12.  Sexy was challenged at Jefferson High School in Boulder, Montana in 2007.  It was retained after review, but was challenged for the reasons stated above.  Of course, the book does start to cover slightly more than it seems to be able to handle, but that's not an issue related to the content under fire.

I think this is just bizarre, especially because it is just in the library and not even being taught in a classroom or being recommended by a teacher.  This is available to those who are interested and who want to read the book.  And honestly, should we really have to be hiding books like this from High School students?  Maybe some think so, but I don't.

Thanks for listening!  And feel free to let me know if you've read the book or what you think about the issues covered.

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