Middle-grade author responds to queer-themed book controversy
One of Macmillan’s lead 2018 titles for young readers has encountered some unexpected resistance.
The book is P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy, a middle-grade novel which has drawn rave early reviews and tackles timely subjects. It centers on Evie, a young woman who grapples with her sexuality through letters she writes to her sister, who after becoming pregnant was sent away from their strict Catholic home. The book features sexual, racial, and religious diversity, and is without any notable profanity or sexual content — merely the message that you can love and believe what feels right to you.
Despite P.S. I Miss You‘s buzz and timeliness, educators around the country have been turning its author away. For high-profile titles, Macmillan typically sets children’s authors up on local on-campus tours through indie bookstores; and it’s standard practice for authors to present their books at multiple educational locations. Yet in areas both liberal and conservative, across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, schools and libraries have declined visits from Petro-Roy, citing the book’s “too heavy and mature” content to explain why. The move has emerged as controversial, to say the least.
Exclusive to EW, Petro-Roy has penned an essay in response to the controversy, and the many educators who have turned her queer-themed middle-grade book away. In the essay, she touches on why her book is for all children, and argues that it’s wrong for students to be shielded from its inclusive, age-appropriate content.
Read on below, and pre-order the book ahead of its March 6 release here.
On the Controversy of ‘P.S. I Miss You,’ by Jen Petro-Roy
I didn’t set out to write a controversial book.
I still don’t think I wrote a controversial book. P.S. I Miss You tells the story of 12-year-old Evie, whose older sister Cilla leaves home to stay with her great-aunt after getting pregnant in high school — and after months of fighting with her devoutly Catholic parents. After Cilla leaves, Evie copes by writing letters. She writes about how hard seventh grade is. She writes about drifting apart from her best friends. She writes about June, the new girl in school, the one who’s funny and silly and pretty. She writes, in letters, the thoughts she can’t say out loud — that Evie is developing a crush on June.
That Evie might be a lesbian.
That Evie might disappoint her religious parents, too.
Religion and sexuality: these, of course, are two of the most highly charged topics in today’s political climate. We live in a country that tries to dictate who we can marry and what bathrooms we can use. We live in a country that holds rallies denouncing certain religions and tries to bar other faith communities from entering our borders entirely.
We live in a country that has its priorities seriously skewed, and it is our children who are paying the price.
I am not anti-religion in the slightest. I was raised Catholic, and the majority of my family members are still part of that faith community. As for my own beliefs…I’m not so sure. There was no one moment when I started questioning my faith. There was no catastrophic tragedy that happened that made me think that God might not exist. I just started questioning. I started debating in my head, much like Evie does in P.S. I Miss You.
I question, like so many children do. That’s the thing about this generation — the kids who are growing up today are more likely to think critically than the generations that came before them. They are more likely to speak up against the bedrock “institutions” that have governed our society for decades.
My publisher, Macmillan Children’s, and my imprint, Feiwel & Friends, are amazing. They have championed P.S. I Miss You from the start. They told me that they would send me on a national book tour, where I would visit middle school students and talk to them about my book.
They tried to send me on that book tour. Macmillan contacted independent booksellers and asked them to reach out to local public schools. Macmillan pitched my book and the booksellers loved it.
Yet the schools that they contacted — all except one — refused the school visit. The educators said that P.S. I Miss You had content that was too heavy or mature for their students. That they were uncomfortable with the themes that I addressed in my book.
Was it the teen pregnancy? Was it Evie’s questioning of her faith or her crush on another girl? Was it the flawed ways that her parents behave? Or was it a combination of all of that?
I don’t know.
All I know is that to me, these issues are not “mature content.” There is no sex in my book, which is aimed for children ages 9 to 13. There is no making out. There are no Satanic rituals or polemics against religion.
There is simply the message that you can believe what you want to believe.
You can love (or crush on) whomever you want.
You can decide for yourself when authority figures are wrong.
Children need to hear these messages. They need to know that they can find support somewhere, regardless of their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs. They need to know that sometimes older sisters do get pregnant and that you will be there to talk to if they get scared. And they need to know that they aren’t alone.
Everything gets a lot easier if you know someone is on your side, though. And if your family isn’t, then maybe it might help to see someone like you in the pages of a book. To know that your teachers and your school and your community approve of that message.
The world is a difficult place, but it’s also a hopeful place. We — children and adults alike — need stories that show us that we aren’t alone, even if we feel like we’re the only one.
There’s nothing controversial about that at all.