Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chris Crutcher.

True story: this guy is awesome. I first heard of him awhile ago through Sam, my childrens-and-young-adult-book-reading hero, and I randomly chose Athletic Shorts and Chinese Handcuffs to read and immediately loved him. Recently for a school project I did on him I wanted to read as many more of his recent books as I could, but with other reading projects and schoolwork piling up on me, only had time to cram in The Sledding Hill and his autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier. He has written a crapload of other books for young people, though, and each of the books I have read have only made me more determined to read more. I knew I would particularly like his autobiography when in the first few pages it made me laugh with this, when discussing a mirror he broke as a child as a result of a terrific temper:

Subsequently, when [my father]'d see me heating up, he'd point to it and ask one of those questions to which adults never really want an answer: "Are you proud of that?"
"No," I lied, my bottom lip stuck out so far he could have pulled it over my forehead. Of course I was proud of it; I'd had to slam it three times to get it to break.

Crutcher writes about every awful and/or controversial thing that could possibly happen to teenagers you could think of. Death, sexual assault, physical and/or emotional abuse, homosexuality, depression, censorship, religion, etc., etc. These are topics which are covered in much of young adult literature, and although I love young adult literature, let me tell ya, the angst can be a bit much sometimes. But with Crutcher's books, not only does he include hints of a really nice wry sense of humor which help soften the blow, but he just writes with an honesty and a sensibility that seems natural, that seems real, that flows. Truth is, the way Crutcher writes is the way I would want to write if I ever write young adult lit. Every other paragraph or so my mind is thinking, "Yes! Totally! Yeah! Completely!" What he writes about pisses some people off, but what he writes also makes a whole bunch of sense to a bunch of other people. Like me.

Sports also play a big role in most of his books, and I love this for multiple reasons beyond my late-coming appreciation of sports in general. First of all they make his books good 'guy' books, and the teenage world is always always in need of good guy books. Seriously, always. Secondly, I know from my own experience that the empty-headed jock high school stereotype is a stereotype for good reason a lot of the time. But at the same time, that whole popular-dumb-jock versus the emotionally-and-intellectually-complex social outcast high school dichotomy has really gotta go. Crutcher paints pictures of characters who use sports as an escape and a release, who play sports while they're also dealing with horrible shit in their lives, who are jocks who are also as thoughtful, vulnerable, and confused as the rest of us. These characters are just as true to life, and as important to read about, as the football players who really are just jerk faces. And what really makes me like Crutcher is his background: not only does he have a background in education, but he has also spent years as a family and child therapist. In short, almost every character he writes about is a story he's actually witnessed. He writes because he really cares about kids. His stories and his characters are important, because they're real.

Accordingly, because they're real and parents and grown ups don't like reality sometimes, every single book he's written has been challenged and/or banned somewhere or other. He is a huge, huge advocate against censorship to a real badass degree. In addition to making a ton of speaking appearances in general each year, he often personally visits schools where his books have been banned. Badass. In his autobiography he touches on the bad-word issue when he discusses a toddler named Allie he met through his work once, whose first cheerful words she ever greeted him with were, "Fuckershit." He didn't know what to do except for laugh, and she laughed too; her caseworker later explained to him that she had heard those words so frequently from her mom and stepfather that they were her way to gauge her trust in people: if people laughed when she said it, they were in her comfort zone; if they got upset or mad, she closed them off. He explains:

If I took those words away from her, she would have no way to test the waters, and though it's a pretty astonishing thing to hear roll off the tongue of a four-year-old, it would be nothing short of disrespectful to take away the language she needed to express her world. If I am to make characters real, I have to treat them with that same respect, and I have to be willing to tell stories about the ruggedness of their lives. Anything less is far more disrespectful than the use of those really meaningless words in print; disrespectful to the character, to the reader, and to the author. So anytime I get a character just right, find that spot where language and circumstance and character merge to tell some rough truth, I thank Allie. And because of her, I never back off the truth as I see it, or the language required to tell it.

Right on, Chris. Right fucking on.

1 comment:

  1. awwww..thanks :)
    You should read Deadline, it's really good and one of the ones on the top of the banning list now.