May. 18th, 2009

deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I have 60 words in which to review a lengthy YA book which includes, in passing, hateful language which is totally in character for the protagonist (e.g. "fags," "spazzes in helmets"). The language is condemned neither by the text nor by any of the other characters; in fact, no attention is called to it at all within the text.

What I'm finding most problematic about this is not how to write the review. That's easy: I have 60 words, which means I tack on "bigoted" to one of my mentions of "the protagonist", which is about all I can do. No, what I'm finding most problematic is that this wouldn't have been an issue for me if the protagonist had been equally briefly and casually fatphobic, because I so take that for granted that I would have cringed and moved on. What's surprising in this book is that I don't actually expect over language of this sort to make it to the editing process without some kind of textual self-awareness being added. (I certainly am not surprised to find homophobia or ableism in contemporary YA, but more of the systemic kind, and not this sort.)

I know some people could make the same post and turn it into a judgment on the publishing industry for self-censorship, but I'm not one of them. I do think that language helps shape thought, and I think a raised eyebrow from another character or from the narrative voice could have clued in even the less aware reader that yes, the protagonist said "fags," and maybe that language is worth a second thought. I find it much more problematic that fatphobia is much more often treated with the same casual disregard this text gave to homophobia and ableism.

(Yes, I acknowledge that children's and young adult literature comprise a corpus created by adults for a group of readers who don't have control over their own literature and that we use their literature as a teaching tool. Like Nodelman, I find this both problematic and necessary.)
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