Lawn Boy author Jonathan Evison talks about banned books
“The whole thing is a disinformation study.”
Jonathan Evison is a Seattle-based novelist who has had some success. He has written seven novels, one of which has been adapted for the cinema, The basics of supportwith Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez – and received a handful of literary awards.
However, for now, Evison is perhaps best known as the author of a banned book. His novel lawn boy was released in 2018 to favorable reviews. (One in the Washington Post rented the writer for taking a “ram against race and class stereotypes” while creating a work “full of humor and hope”.) The book also won a Alex Pricea distinction given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association to novels that have particular appeal to young adults.
But otherwise, the book didn’t really get much publicity. That was until last September, when at a school board meeting in Leander, Texas a furious mother has lashed out at the “pedophilia” and profanity she claims the novel contains and how inappropriate it was for students in the district. His rant went viral and before long schools across the country were moving to delete lawn boy of their libraries.
As book bans increased in the United States, reaching the highest level in at least 20 years, according to the American Library Association, lawn boy quickly became one of the most targeted titles in the country. The majority of the works criticized concern black and LGBTQ people, the association told the New York Timesand the movement to have these books taken off the shelves has been embraced by some conservative politicians.
Evison tells KCM that he received death threats, was the target of a cyberattack and was doxxed.
“I’ve had messages from people who just make my hair stand on end, targeting my 9 and 4 year olds. It’s all very strange,” he says.
The experience was shocking, he says. But at the same time, Evison, who describes himself as an “old punk rocker” (he fronted his own band in Seattle that included members who would later join Soundgarden and Pearl Jam), “embraces” the controversy.
“There’s a certain credibility on the street that comes with being a banned book,” he tells us. “If you look at the list, it includes some of my favorite books.”
We spoke to Evison about his experience at the center of this phenomenon, his book’s newfound popularity, the effect this move could have on the future of YA publishing, and more.
Katie Couric Media: What was your first reaction when your novel was first criticized at that school board meeting in Texas?
Surprise. As a novelist, I kind of always considered it part of my job description to shake the cages up a bit. And I really intended to shake a lot of cages with this novel. I wanted to carefully examine the state of America, wealth and equity and the perils of late capitalism, racial assumptions and the moribund American Dream. But the topic of porn wasn’t one of those cages I was looking to shake. at all.
People upset with your book claim that it includes depictions of pedophilia and sexual content. What’s your answer to that?
The statement is categorically false. The scene in question involves the adult narrator reflecting on a sexual encounter from his youth involving another youth, do not an adult. The scene is not graphic in its depiction, although the language is somewhat coarse, and for reasons that are clear from the context of the narrative. It’s pretty clear that a woman at a school board meeting in Leander, Texas misinterpreted or willfully misrepresented the passage as a sexual encounter between an adult and a child, a screed posted. on TikTok which went viral, and from there, a group of people who had never even read the book started piling up and calling the book pedophilia. The whole thing is a study in disinformation, a microcosm of our time. I say, read the book or sit down.
What would you say to parents worried about their children having access to this book?
I’m sorry, this might be a jagged pill to swallow, but chances are your kids have gay friends and they have black friends and they have Latino friends. I don’t know exactly what you think you’re protecting them from.
I feel like these people have already lost the culture war. Even though they try to keep these books off the shelves, the culture is accelerating. This is where we are. When I look at it through a broader cultural lens, I just think they’re fighting a hopeless battle here.
What was it like for you to be at the center of this phenomenon?
The first few weeks, I had to close my social networks. I was doxxed. I was even the target of a cyberattack and I received death threats. I’ve had messages from people who only do hair straightening, targeting my 9 and 4 year old daughters. It’s very strange.
But after that, it was mostly an outpouring of support from students, educators, librarians, school librarians and some school board members. I have personally met many of these people, whom I consider to be fighting the good fight.
People, and teenagers in particular, love forbidden fruits. What did this do for the popularity of the book?
The more backlash, the more the book sells. People buy my book in bulk and give it away. Students go online and order it, they go to independent bookstores, they go to libraries that haven’t pulled it off the shelves.
All these people are doing is shooting themselves in the foot if they really try not to expose their children to this literature. In reality, they only push them towards it. I don’t know how a parent can’t see that.
Do you think this antagonism is changing the way YA writers approach their work?
It varies from artist to artist. For me, I will write what I will write. And if you’re trying to challenge me, it’s just to challenge me to go further. I think it would be a mistake for people to get away with it. Writing a novel is like running a chainsaw, you don’t have to be shy. You really have to be confident when you walk in or you’ll cut off a limb. A lot of writers already have so many self-doubts that I don’t think it’s a good idea to allow these outside forces to try to limit the scope of what they’re writing about.
How do you think the publishing industry reacts to this? Do you feel publishers are moving away from more provocative content?
Most likely. I saw this whole situation as an opportunity immediately. But I think the publishers were a bit scared of it. Didn’t get a ton of publicity support, everyone seemed to walk away from it. So yeah, that’s a good point, it can have an effect on corporate publishers’ willingness or enthusiasm to post things they consider edgy or problematic. I hope not. It would be awful.
Lawmakers seize on this fervor and rush to pass legislation that targets fiction. What do you think of the politicization of this?
I think it’s atrocious, and an insult to the First Amendment, that a group of conservatives who have the audacity to call themselves patriots would want to wage a massive censorship campaign directly targeting that audience that most needs the defense of adults. It is crystal clear that the Tories are using the book ban issue as a political straw man to gain desperately needed support from their misinformed constituency by casting the argument as a threat to freedom. parenting – i.e. “These woke educators are trying to keep your voice out of the classroom!” It’s pathetic, really. The thing is, they’re losing the culture war and they know it, they’re like cornered animals. They are terrified of being “replaced,” terrified of ceding the precious benefits they have enjoyed all their lives to those marginalized groups and individuals who have never been fairly shaken up in America. Shame on them.