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 https://twitter.com/kathleenpeacock.