ON A RARE RAINY NIGHT in Los Angeles, my husband lit a fire and our seven-year-old son sat on the couch to do his twenty minutes of requisite reading. On this night, he chose a Frog and Toad book, passing over more recent favorites like Mr. Gum and Captain Underpants, and turned to a story he seemed to know already called “Shivers.” In the story, Frog tells Toad a scary tale, with the explanation that we all like to get the shivers sometimes, when we know that we are safe at home, and when we know that the story is probably not true anyhow. My son read quickly, confidently, and before his reading time was up, he had finished the rest of the stories in the collection. “You’re getting to be quite the reader,” I told him as I tucked him into bed.
“I’m almost ready to read your books, right Mommy?” His reply gave me the shivers, and not in a good way.
I’ve been writing for teenagers for ten years now, and I knew the day would come when my son would be a strong enough reader to pick up one of my books. Most of them are harmless stories about girls who have crushes, or funny books about dates gone wrong, or slumber party planning. Nothing too scandalous or sexy. But two of my books will require some additional explanation before he’s allowed to read them, one a short story collection I edited, the other my memoir.
The short story collection is for young adults, and it’s about first kisses. There’s no sex in the book, just some general longing, crushing, and a few chaste smooches. What caused me to get scads of hate mail (along with some scathing notices on book review websites) was the inclusion of two short stories written by gay authors. In both of those stories, the narrators have that “ah-hah” moment where they realize they are attracted to, and would rather kiss, members of the same sex. As the editor of the collection, I felt the book was chaste and sweet and funny because there was no sex of any kind — straight, queer, or otherwise. It never crossed my mind that people would object to kissing. Almost all of the letters I received complaining about the “gay” stories were from readers who had bought the book to support a Mormon author who wrote a story for the collection. The letters said things like “I bought this book for so-and-so’s story, and not to read smut! How could you publish something like this for children? What’s wrong with you?” The way they phrased their accusations, I felt that I had done something wrong, like I had tricked a bunch of Mormons into reading gay porn. “Would you let your child read this? You should be ashamed of yourself!” one letter said. At the time, my son was only three years old, and had a best friend with gay dads. How would I feel about him reading it? I really wouldn’t mind. There wasn’t anything wrong with the stories in the book. The trickier part would be explaining why people hated his mother for publishing it, something he would certainly not understand at three, and probably won’t understand for a long time.
The book I’m more concerned about is my memoir, co-written with my dad, which tells the true crime events of my childhood, beginning when I was nine with the attempted murder of my police officer father and following our subsequent round-the-clock protection and eventual secret relocation. My son has no knowledge of these events. He knows that Grampie talks funny because he had...read more