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.