Young adult author Lauren Myracle is known for her best-selling (and controversial) ‘Internet Girls’ series: ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r. Her most recent novel, Luv Ya Bunches, features four teen girls with real-life families and real-life problems. We talked to Myracle about her new tech-centric book, childrens’ reliance on the Web, and what it’s like to have your books banned. –Andrea Zimmerman
So, what was your inspiration to write your Luv Ya Bunches?
I had a couple of different motivating factors for this particular book. The first being that reading was my saving grace when I was a kid when my parents were going through their divorce. If I could see myself reflected in a book, or if I could see somebody being stronger, and braver, that was inspirational to me. That’s one of the things I always wanted to do for kids. Don’t pretty it up. Don’t be all “pat you on the head you cute little child,” but make it real so that you’ll let kids be good people. That’s my motivation.
My editor and I always have these awesome conversations. I told her I wanted to write a book about 5th grade girls and 5th grade in general. I think a lot of times when adults write about their own pasts, they forget that the present has moved on and changed so I wanted to reflect a classroom that was contemporary. I started naming my cast of characters—one girl is Muslim, one is half-Asian, one has two Moms and one has horrible problems with her Dad. My editor said, “Are there classrooms really like that?” And I said, “Heck, yeah.” So I didn’t want to be didactic. Or say, “Okay, let’s just be multicultural.” But rather, to say this is the way is it these days.
I’m very impressed that you really understand how integral the Internet is to communication between kids, and that your books showcase that; things like instant messaging, blogging, etc.
Well, it was learning curve for me. But, it was a learning curve that started years ago when I started instant messaging. Since then, I’ve just fallen into that world like a lot of adults have. It’s communication, relationship-building and community-building. Markets love the computer and most kids I know love the Internet as well. So I wanted to say, “Yeah, this is part of their reality.”
Obviously, your books are more targeted towards girls. But, do your sons have any thoughts on your books?
My little guy, Jamie is 8. He’s read them all. He now realizes that I steal from his life as all good authors do often from the people around them. He thinks it’s cute. Or if something unusual happens he’ll say, “Mom, my tooth just split in half. Did you ever think that a child of your own would split his tooth in half?” Then he’ll say, “I think you should write that down.” So you know, it’s a life of thinking his behavior is going to show up in the book. And then my older boy, Al, he’s our tech boy. He already knows more than I do about computer programming and things like that. So he’ll introduce me to things on the web that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Like right now what’s big for 6th graders, have you heard of Fred?
No, what is it?
Oh my god! It’s ridiculous. It’s so funny. It’s this YouTube series that this kid, probably about 16, makes. He talks in a really high-pitched voice, which I’m sure he’s computer-enhanced somehow and pretends to be a 6-year-old. Anyway, it’s utterly ridiculous and utterly wonderful and I’d never heard of it. And all of a sudden all 6th graders were talking about Fred. So it’s very helpful to have somebody who is in the thick of it. He’s my informer.
Kids are so in-tune with the Web these days; they’re raised on it. How do you think that’s going to affect them?
I think their brains are going to develop differently. My husband is an English specialist, and a lot of people think that the Internet and texting and blogging are destroying the English language, and they have these concerns about spreading bad grammar. Kids are using written language to express their thoughts and that’s what writing is all about. So I hear ya, I think [technology’s] a good thing, but I think there are dangers associated with it too.
How do you feel about your book being called “controversial”?
(Laughs). Like that. I laugh. But, I’m an advocate for an inclusive community, period. And I’m an advocate for kids making mistakes, because we all do, and learning from them and growing from them. Nonetheless, I’m always taken by surprise when my books are all said to be surrounded by controversy. They’ve called me a sex peddler. They’ve called me somebody who’s deliberately trying to undercut the world of young girls for profit. They think I’m anti-Christian because I put 2 moms in a book.
I laugh sometimes because it’s a coping mechanism, but I used to cry about it. And I know these people are parents, and they’re scared because the world is big and frightening, and their kids are going to go into it. They want the world to stay lovely and filled with unicorns forever, so when they see a book that’s filled with authentic middle school culture or authentic 5th grade culture, sometimes they freak out because they’d like a much more sanitized version.
I always e-mail them back, and say, “Books are actually a really safe place to process this stuff and it could help kids figure out how to handle it if they’re ever put in that situation.” Kids are so much smarter than grown-ups think. Reading about something isn’t going to make somebody go out and do that, you know?
I read that some of your books were actually banned.
Oh my god, yes! I’m one of the top 10 most frequently censored authors in the country. There’s this series of books called The Internet Girls, they were all New York Times bestsellers. They’re about high school girls and “finding your tribe”, “girl power”, and “being your own hero.” And that’s what this book is about too. But in the midst of all tha there are parties the girls go to, and they sometimes drink, and one girl tries pot—it’s a disaster but, she tries it. These things happen, that again, freak parents out.
Apart from that, the books are told through instant messaging, which to some people sounds a red alarm that goes, “Beep Beep Beep! She’s not really a writer. This is all crap!” And parents can’t always penetrate the instant messaging lingo. I think as they’re sitting down and reading the book from cover to cover, which is what you need to do before they censor a book, they open it up and can’t penetrate the language. So if they see a word like “shit” that’s enough to make them resistant towards that book. But you’ve got me on a topic that I’ve had to think a lot about. But the fact is, I hear a lot of stories about librarians and teachers of quietly pulling books out of their the shelves just to avoid the possibility of a controversy.
What do you say to that?
I say we have to evolve past that. For me, it all comes down to love and tolerance and having two moms is not something that’s dangerous, scary, or mature content. Of course, I wouldn’t say this to kids, but I’ll say it to you. It’s not like the two moms are humping in the kitchen. They’re moms. They’re just being parents. And so it’s not a sexuality thing. Just like heterosexual parents are not “content” with 2 quotes around it, two moms and two dads aren’t “content” either. I think it’s a real shame that kids who are in that situation don’t get to see themselves reflected very often. I think that it’s time for people of power to jump up and say, “You know what? The world has changed and we’re going to embrace it rather than be trying to shut it out.”