I love Tap Out and I believe that it is relevant to today’s teenage boys while also being one that they will read. Because of the language, violent sport that is MMA and the dark situation that is Tony’s life, your book will probably never find its way to a school’s library. It wouldn’t surprise me if it found it’s way to becoming a banned book. Does that bother you?
The above question is one I am answering for a blog interview that will appear early next month, but I had to post it here, because it focuses on the exact issue I’ve been turning over since Tap Out was released.
It’s all about audience. And mine is teens. So how are they ever going to get their hands on a book that adults are afraid of?
I have no idea.
That fact frightens me, because of the missed opportunity. Tap Out is not a suitable fit for every teen. No book is. But to shoot it down because of the language, violence and darkness is a disservice to teens for whom the novel is a reflection of their lives, as well as for teens who would benefit from a bit of perspective broadening.
I have a friend who is a high school principal in a district wrought with poverty and at-risk youth. He purchased multiple copies of Tap Out, not just because he’s a friend, but because after reading the novel knew it would service his students. And it has. His in-school suspension room–ironically monitored by an MMA fighter–has copies on hand for students who come with no work, a common occurrence. They sit and they read Tap Out and they are glued to the pages. Others come to my friend’s office and he puts copies in their hands. One boy in particular sat in the middle of lunch, not eating, ignoring his friends, who usually help him get in trouble, and he read. He LOVES Tap Out.
Without the audacity to believe that his students can handle a piece of fiction, these students would most likely never have read Tap Out. They would never have had the opportunity to learn about how Tony fights through the language and violence and darkness of his world toward something better. He is the embodiment of the maxim: Never give up. What student couldn’t benefit from that message, especially one that emerges from such dire circumstances?
I am certain my novel will be banned, and that makes me angry, but more, it frustrates me. I have trouble grasping how other YA stories that are rife with all the unsavory qualities of contemporary teens are deemed appropriate and Tap Out is not. I think it’s the honesty of the portrayal. Tony and Rob and Charlene and Amy exist. They are not too-quirky characters that you want to date. They are hardcore, rough and tumble and genuine. Their stories have value, even if they’re disturbing. If we as readers, librarians, teachers and writers dismiss a story because it is filled with an unsanitized portrayal of the cast-offs in our society, what are we saying? What are we teaching?
You can’t handle this.
They don’t matter.
I couldn’t disagree more. I know my audience. I wrote this novel for them, because these characters, they do matter. Without certain luxuries of life, we could all be one of them. Or as the saying goes, “There but for the grace…”
So now, everyone who is in my readers’ way, please, step aside.