When a good book ruins your day

It was a wonderful weekend. My nephew was on leave from the Navy. Abby’s cousins took her out trick or treating. The entire clan came to our home for an early Thanksgiving. The cousins left around mid-day. I settled down with a good book and the football game. What could go wrong?

It started innocently enough. I downloaded the book, If I Stay, from the public library and was hooked immediately. It was well written and the story was moving…until page 103.

Page one hundred and freaking three where one of the main characters says, “retarded.”

I immediately put the book down. Gobsmacked that a book published just 5 years ago would contain that word.  In the author’s defense the character was not calling another ‘retarded’ just commenting on their ‘retarded plan’. But it amazed me that an author who is brilliant and could have used one thousand other adjectives decided that one word was the best to use. That word that is so objective to me.

One reader out of how many? I am probably insignificant. Yet this proves that the word retard, retarded and ‘tards is still a part of our every day vernacular.

I was at a PTA meeting the other night when a mother, one whom I like, admire and I know is the best warrior mom out there used the expression ‘tards during a meeting directed towards a group of salesmen (who were not present).  Not one meeting and not one time. When asked by other parents in the meeting to ‘find another word’ she was offended. She honestly didn’t see the big deal.

I get that. After all, it took Bridget for me to understand.

Yet I will not deny that the word makes my stomach clench. I spoke with my friend Michelle from Big Blueberry Eyes about my reaction. How amazed I was by the author’s choice of words. Michelle had a very great point. It wasn’t just the author who approved the word.

This book was sent to a proof reader, an editor, a publishing group and a marketing department. MANY people read this book before it was even published. After publishing the book was reviewed by newspapers, magazines and children’s literary organizations. Then it went on to a screen writer, film company and so on.

This book is one of the top young adult novels sold. Since it was published there have been over 33,000 copies sold. The author was a keynote speaker for the School Library Journal event. In fact the School Library Journal reviewed the book and felt it was appropriate for grades 9 and up.

There was not one mention I could find that the word retarded was used. Not one person (that I could find) since 2009 mentions that this word is used as part of a discussion. It’s a throw-away comment is my guess.

Yet it is not.

Why is this so important? During the 2014 Spread the Word to End the Word a reader commented that she didn’t really think that word was a part of the teenage vocabulary anymore. It was just some old hang over from the 1980-90’s.

Yet here it is being used in a young adult novel from 2009.

When I shared this article from the Huffington Post I got many hurtful comments on Facebook (love that you can just delete those!).


I’m a writer, not a great one and not a novelist. I know from writing this blog that the words flow from my brain to my finger tips without filter. I then go back and reread, edit and finesse what I am trying to express.

Did the author use that process  and this word just transmit from her brain to the keyboard? I don’t know.

I wondered at the moment I read the phrase and put the book down, was I willing to overlook it and continue reading or stop in moral outrage? Then I realized: I couldn’t read the book because I no longer liked the character. For 102 pages I was invested in the author’s imagery and words. It took one word for me to dislike the story and her characters. I returned the book thankful it was a library book.

For the record I am not saying ban a book because a word was offensive to me. There are a lot of books I choose not to read for a variety of reasons. What I am saying is this: just as she had the choice to use that word I have the choice not to purchase her book, the sequels or a movie ticket.

One reader out of 33,000 plus means nothing, I am sure. Except to this one reader.





22 thoughts on “When a good book ruins your day

  1. Janine Huldie

    Wow, Kerri I never would have imagined that one word could indeed turn someone off to reading a book, but you definitely make your case here and then some. So, yes I do get it and just sorry that this happened to you, but still it does make perfect sense to me.


    1. firebailey Post author

      It’s never happened before, that is for sure. Usually I can not like a heroine or a piece of the story and still get through it. I hate putting down a book without finishing it. When I was younger my mom instilled that into me. Except in this case!


  2. thelatchkeymom

    I have such mixed feeling about this. First off – I totally respect your opinion. For me, reading, especially a novel, is a personal experience. Just this week, I read a book by one of my all-time favorite authors, and it was a NYT bestseller – and I hated the book. I hated the heroine. I became so irate at page 356 (out of 413), that I through the book and decided I was done. I don’t’ even care how it ends.

    So I understand your reaction. As for the word, and remember – I have my very special child. It’s doesn’t upset me the way it should, and I don’t know why. I think that people don’t realize how much it hurts, and I usually give them the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s coming, and I know the younger generation doesn’t use it like ours did, so I have hope!

    Personally, I would contact the author – and nicely explain your feeling. Obviously, she needs to be educated. I clicked on the link and the publisher is Viking, so it is shocking that it made it through all channels). It’s worth an email – especially if it’s going to be made into a movie.


    1. firebailey Post author

      Don’t you hate that? I despise not finishing a book, I rarely do as I can find something that keeps me hooked. That is why my reaction to this book surprised me. That it just took that one word and that it wasn’t used for effect or for purpose. Just because it was there. If the word had purpose in the story it would have been okay.

      I thought about contacting the author/publisher but I don’t believe in censorship or being “too PC”. The author had every right to use whatever word she wanted to, in all honesty. That is where I struggle, really. Because I don’t want to censor yet I want people aware that words hurt. As far as the word not hurting your heart, that is okay. It really is. For me it is because Bridget’s intellectual disability is so severe that I don’t want her called that word as she ages. Kind of a preemptive strike.

      I do wonder if that line made it into the movie!


  3. Kerith Stull

    As the mother of an 18yo special needs child, I totally get your reaction. I feel “gobsmacked” every time I see or hear that word. Sometimes, in literature, offensive words have their place because of the time they were written of the time the story takes place or what happens/is said around the word. But, books like that one only perpetuate the use of the word, seemingly putting their rubber stamp on their use. It takes SO many voices like your to “undo” what one insensitive voice creates. Keep on advocating!


    1. firebailey Post author

      I think that is exactly why it bothered me! If, let’s say, it was from a novel in the 1980’s it wouldn’t bother me b/c hey that is what we said back then. Yet now when people tell me that word is of our generation but not our children’s and it is in a current novel it affects me differently.


  4. Katie

    Kerri – You are certainly entitled to proclaim that one word in a long novel wrecked the whole book for you. To contact the author and implore him/her to refrain from using that word because it is so very horrible to you. To implore others to do the same. Start a petition. Urge others not to buy the book or boycott the author. Whatevs.

    I appreciate your honest in admitting you never gave the r-word a second though until you’d had your second child. It implies that, had Bridget been neurotypical, you’d likely have carried on not giving much thought to the word… or even continuing to use it yourself. You’d used the word, never EVER intending it as the vile slur you now consider it to be.

    The proof reader, editor, publisher, marketing department, screenwriter, movie director, etc. read the book containing the r-word and presumably decided that it was: 1) appropriate for the character, 2) not offensive and/or 3) mildly offensive, so okay to leave in the book. That is how the Hypothetical, Bridget-less You would (probably) have regarded it.

    I freely admit that I do not get why that word is (1) so awful in a work of fiction* and (2) what parents of kids with SN get so very worked up over. Of all the injustices and unfair barriers individuals with disabilities face in this country, the r-word is the proverbial hill you (and rather a lot of parents of kids with SN) have decided to die on.

    * using it real life is a totally different story. I’m pretty zen about the r-word because, well, my 11 yo (neurotypical) daughter has gotten called it (“fatty fat fat r-word, [my kid’s name]!”, to be precise) by a classmate with autism & Tourette’s something like 40x per day (whose para thoughtfully keeps track of his verbal tics) since kindy. Two other kids in the class are called equally horrid things all day, every day. Teeny-tiny town with exactly one school & one fifth grade class. It’s involuntary and thus not officially considered bullying.


    1. firebailey Post author

      Hi Katie, first thank you for your candor,respectful response and understanding. To address your last question I think I fight up this proverbial hill because with Bridget it is one fight I can win. If you get my meaning. There is so much in her life that I have to battle and know we will lose. That this one thing seems to be easy to win. If it is just a word and no one gets it don’t use it. (Not that this was your meaning). I hoped I had made it clear that I do not want to censor an author. I can question the use and wonder at the whys of it. Maybe on the off chance an author reads this they will understand that some words hurt and this is one of them (which they know cause lets think of all the other words they don’t use because the blow back would be enormous).

      To me having the word used in fiction is wrong because art imitates life. Twerking wouldn’t even be in the dictionary without the MTV awards (for example). Thank you very much for letting me know your thoughts on this post!


  5. Amber

    I am not a fan of the word either. So I understand. My son has autism and if someone used the word to describe him, I’d be livid.

    As for the book If I Stay, I have not read it yet. I keep hearing about it.


  6. Sylvia

    It’s not enough just to boycott or not purchase something with the r word in it. We must make a fuss as, you are here, and let the author, manufacturer, etc. know exactly why it offends us. I have also been hearing the word epileptic being used in a derogatory manner in many movies and TV shows lately. People just don’t think about all the implications before they speak or write. We need to make them stop and think twice. Thanks for sharing your opinion on the subject!


  7. Mardra

    I had a very similar experience in reading David Sedaris. At I totally agree with that internal conversation, but the fact is, you’re right. Each author is a wordsmith, the word was not a throw-away, it was chosen and kept. SIgh. So it goes.


  8. Kristi Campbell - findingninee

    I’m actually really surprised that it even made it in there with so much more awareness and campaigns against it these days. With that said, I have a post coming maybe soon if I’m brave enough… about this very thing. I love you and love this post and I’d have not finished the book either. Recently, I was trying to explain to a neighbor about another neighbor (did I tell you this?) and how she’s paranoid and OCD but harmless… and when she said Oh yeah I know her, I was like OH! Great! So you know why she’s throwing people’s recying bins in your yard and she was like “OH! She’s retarded???” I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t react. I was shocked and stunned and just so so so freaking sad. Because really????


  9. Pingback: Thank you to 2014 | Undiagnosed but okay

  10. Pingback: Words hurt | Diagnosed and still okay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s