An article by author Barbara Dee about her latest book, Star Crossed, an adorable middle grade romance about two girls performing a Shakespeare play at school, came across my dash this morning. I’ve seen this book talked about before. It’s thought of as the first ever middle grade book to have a stated bisexual main character. Dee started writing Star Crossed after her daughter came out to her in high school. From all the earlier reviews and discussion I’ve seen about the book, it’s an adorable little story filled with cute romance, Shakespeare, pre-teen drama, goofy humour and more.
That’s sadly not what this post is about though. While doing an author presentation at a middle school, Dee was asked not to speak about Star Cross because of ‘potential content issues’ and backlash from parents in the community.
Not completely sure I understood what I was hearing, I asked Teacher X if she meant that only the next kids were “too young”–even though, like the classes earlier, they were sixth graders. I showed her the publisher’s age recommendation: 9-13. I also pointed out the endorsements from Gail Carson Levine, et al. That was when she admitted the real reason she wanted me to stop talking about the book: “a fear of parental backlash.”
“This is a politically polarized community,” she explained. Teachers have been advised to be “careful,” so that they don’t inflame tensions which may have been exacerbated by the recent election.
Then Teacher Y joined us. “We thought it was great when you spoke about inclusion and tolerance and the need for diversity in kidlit,” she told me. “We just want you to keep it general.”
“You mean not talk about my book?” I asked.
Teacher Y looked away uncomfortably. “Right. You can talk about the book. Just not–”
“About the book?”
“We think STAR-CROSSED sounds great,” Teacher X insisted. “We support everything it’s about, and we plan to read it ourselves.”
Even so, I shouldn’t talk about it.
I don’t normally swear on this blog (real life is another story). But this fucking breaks me. I wonder what it would have meant to me to have read a book like this in middle school. A lot. A fucking lot. And it would have meant a lot for my straight classmates to read a book about two young queer girls in an adorable relationship.
After a moment of rage I made myself some tea and immediately called up my mother who’s a middle school teacher who teaches grade 8. I’m from a large town/small city in Canada. There’s a large sign listing all the churches in town when you drive in. We get the pro-lifers protesting on the sidewalks every year. It’s a very, very white place that is populated by 2/3 conservative christians and 1/3 hippies.
And there are so many queer and trans kids there who go through public school hiding. So many of my friends came out the moment we graduated high school. And I’m hoping things are changing. My mom has had kids come out in class, in middle school, at an age where I barely had those words and couldn’t even think about applying them to myself! But I’m not holding my breath. There’s a new generation of kids who need these books and need them now damn it. Books with queer and trans characters are not ‘adult content’. They’re a part of everyday life and are just as deserving of being in schools as other books with straight characters.
So from a kid in small town Canada who needed a book like this and didn’t get it, to a kid in middle school now, hopefully Star Crossed will be appearing at your middle school library in my hometown soon. My mom is going to pass information about Star Crossed to the people in charge of buying books for the school. And if it doesn’t get bought, I’ll buy three copies myself and donate them. I’ll also be requesting that my city’s public library buy a copy.
For anyone else interested, go pick this book up. Read it. Review it. Gift it to your little siblings/cousins/best friend’s siblings/other young people in your life. Request that your library buy it. Buy copies and donate it. Lend it out to others to read once you’re done with it. Give a middle schooler a chance to read a book about a girl who has a crush on another girl and actually uses the word bisexual for once.