An Anonymous Letter to those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Last week, I Tweeted about an incident that happened surrounding the book Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Rainbow Rowell had been disinvited to a school after parents complained about the content in her book, Eleanor and Park. I compiled those tweets into a post which you can read here. In response to the situation, a reader reached out to me and asked that I please share the following anonymously. Here it is in its entirity. Warning, there are triggers as it discusses abuse.
By the time I was in the 8th grade, my parents were divorced. One year I lived with my mom and the next I lived with my dad. My mom had moved out of state and there I was, a young barely teenage girl living with my dad. It began slowly, so slowly I almost didn’t know anything was happening.
First, the shower curtain was replaced with a clear shower curtain. My dad always seemed to need to brush his teeth while I was showering. So I began locking the door. Soon, the bathroom door lock was broken. So I began pulling out the drawers in the bathroom sink so he couldn’t open the door. He would stand outside the door banging and yelling, “You open this fucking door right now.” Soon I stopped showering.
Swimming had always been one of my favorite things to do. But he took that too. Often, when we would go swimming, he would grab the front of my bathing suit and pull it down. It didn’t matter who was around. I would pretend I had homework. I would pretend I was sick. I would do anything to get out of going swimming. That too was often a fight.
The next year it was time once again to live with my mother. That year was a breath of fresh air. No one watched me shower. No one watched me dress. But as Christmas slowly approached, so did the fear of what would happen when I had to go visit my dad. So one day, I went and talked to the school counselor. You see, I wasn’t sure if what I thought was happening that year really was happening. It felt wrong, it terrified me, but nobody talks about those types of things. I knew it wasn’t rape, but what was it? So I went to the school counselor thinking she would tell me that everything that had happened was misconstrued and I would know that I was wrong.
After I told her my story, she sat back in her chair and said, “I’m sorry. I am legally required to call the police now. I promise you, this is going to be okay. You don’t have to go back there.” And I didn’t, I never went back. And I was so glad because someone had told me what I needed to know and helped me. They had finally helped me give voice to the fear inside me and affirmed that I was right to think what was happening was abuse.
I couldn’t help but think of my own story when I read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. There is no bathroom door at Eleanor’s house, and like me, she is forced to find ways to take showers – or not to take them as the case may be – when her stepdad is not around. As I read her story I knew exactly what she was feeling, and I wished this story had been there for me when I was a teen. I wished that someone had told me that abuse can be many things. But I was glad to hear that someone was giving my story a voice and telling teens today – you shouldn’t have to live like this, it is not okay.
When I read Eleanor and Park, I cried. I cried because no one should have to go through the things that Eleanor goes through. I cried because I knew every moment of fear and despair and doubt that she felt. I cried because someone was finally telling my story. If we say that teens can’t or shouldn’t be reading Eleanor and Park, we are saying that they shouldn’t be reading my story – that I should keep quiet and be ashamed, even though I did nothing wrong. Even though that very quiet and shame is what allowed this to happen to me, because I wasn’t quite sure if it was abuse or not. Imagine what a difference this book would have made.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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