Being uncomfortable with ideas (and condoms)

Freedom to Read Week: February 22-28, 2015.

Entry #6: fantasy author Kathleen Peacock on being uncomfortable with the ideas of others. And condoms!

Neat, pre-packaged lies.

We’re sitting around the table—my friend Jayden, her husband John, and me. It’s late. I’m tired. I’m feeling confessional. “I’m worried my book will get banned,” I say. Never mind that my books have never attained—will likely never attain—the level of popularity required to draw the ire of the thought police.

(An unpopular book, it must be noted, is never considered much of a threat.)

Jayden quirks an eyebrow. “Why would your book get banned?”

I shrug. “My main character buys condoms. Just, y’know, in case.”

She stares at me, a little bit horrified. Jayden is a devout Catholic. The idea of premarital sex has always bothered her—even when she was the one having it. “Seriously? Condoms? In a book for teens?”

John stares at her, his face a perfect mask of impossible to read. He waits for her to finish speaking and then, in a sublimely deadpan voice, says, “If someone had given you that book, maybe we wouldn’t have had our first kid when we were still in high school.”

Game. Set. Match.

Jayden and I stare at him, stunned, and then burst out laughing. We all know they wouldn’t change things. They have five smart, beautiful kids and the kind of marriage people go to couples therapy to attain. They are both educated, successful, and sought after in their respective fields. They have smashed every stereotype and every odd to smithereens.

But what if it hadn’t turned out that way?

What about the girls who are better off buying condoms? The ones who won’t stand back up after they get knocked down? The one’s whose boyfriends won’t stay or whose parents won’t insist they finish school and then do everything possible to make sure that happens? What if reading a book like mine helps just one of them make an awkward, slightly embarrassing purchase a little easier?

No matter how much she might object to a book’s content, Jayden would never try to get it banned. She might dictate what her own kids read, but she would never enforce her tastes or beliefs on anyone else. She’s smart enough to know that even if she objects to something, there might be other people who need it. Other people who need to see themselves and their experiences on the page.

Sadly, not everyone is that insightful.

When you take away a book like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or Eleanor & Park, you’re invalidating someone else’s experiences. You’re robbing someone else of the chance to see themselves on the page because you are uncomfortable with the fact that reality isn’t always neat or clean or rated G. Life isn’t a fairy tale—if never was—and books should reflect that.  Otherwise, we’re all just living neat, pre-packaged lies.

Kathleen Peacock was allowed to read almost anything she wanted and thinks she turned out okay. She is the author of the Hemlock Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books). Her latest novel, Willowgrove: A Hemlock Novel, is available wherever books are sold. Follow her on Twitter at