Should Lawn Boy have been in these public schools?


The Washington Post's vast concern: Should Lawn Boy, a novel by Jonathan Evison, have been available in the libraries of our public schools?

We have no idea. We aren't familiar with the book. Nor are we especially current on matters of this type.

At any rate, it's funny you should ask! Just today, the Washington Post has published a lengthy report about controversies surrounding Lawn Boy, some of which apparently involve a misreading of certain passages in the book.

Early on in the Post's report, education writer Hannah Natnson speaks with Lawn Boy's author. This is what he says:

NATANSON (12/22/22): [W]hat happened to “Lawn Boy” reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate. Evison, the author, never meant for his book to be placed in school libraries, he told The Post in an interview. He was surprised when the American Library Association gave “Lawn Boy” an award in 2019 for its appeal to teens. Evison believes some librarians who chose the novel did so because of the award—and he says that, if any recommended it to lower- or middle-schoolers, they probably confused it with the children’s book “Lawn Boy,” by Gary Paulsen. (The Post found no documented cases in which this confusion happened.)


Evison said his novel, an exploration of racial assumptions and the failures of late capitalism, is meant for adults. If schools want to offer the text, he said, they should restrict access to older students.

“Nobody below a teenager is ready for that book,” Evison said. “It’s got a lot of adult stuff.”

We're willing to guess that Evison, not unlike us, isn't an expert about what's considered suitable in These Schools Today. That said, he is the author of the book, and he seems to have told Natanson that, in his judgment, the book he wrote isn't suitable for middle school libraries.

Later, Evison is quoted saying this:

NATANSON: Evison is not sure he disagrees with all the criticisms of his book. “Too profane? I’ll own that, fine, who cares. My mother would heartily agree.”

But he defends the passages showing the sexual encounter between 10-year-olds. That account, he says, marks a pivotal step in the protagonist’s process of coming out to his best friend Nick, who is racist and homophobic. Muñoz is using coarse language to power himself through a moment of extreme vulnerability, Evison said.

“I don’t think the effect was to glorify the experience,” he said of the sex scene.

He also questions the motives of some parents...

We're sorry to see Evison imagining the possible motives of people he hasn't met. He says that, in his opinion, the sex scene between the ten-year-olds doesn't have the effect of glorifying the experience.

Our view? After reading Evison's comments, we aren't surprised to learn that some parents, and some school officials, may have bene concerned about the book's suitability for public school libraries.

We don't know how we would feel about this particular book. That said, we also know that many Others lack the perfect moral and intellectual judgment we would bring to questions of this type.

Concerning Natanson's report, we'd offer several comments:

First, the Post is devoting oodles of space to what may be a rather limited point of concern. Here is Natanson's account of the "tsunami of condemnation" which has afflicted Lawn Boy:

NATANSON: Burkman’s remarks set off a tsunami of condemnation that, a year later, would see the book “Lawn Boy” challenged in at least 35 school districts spanning 20 states and temporarily removed from shelves in almost half those places, according to a Washington Post analysis. Most of those districts—63 percent—later returned the text to shelves after a review, while at least four banned the book for good. The plethora of complaints, 87 percent of which were brought by parents, The Post found, rendered “Lawn Boy” the second-most challenged book of 2021, according to the American Library Association.

The book was challenged in 35 districts? According to Ballotpedia, "there are approximately 13,800 public school districts in the United States."

At least four of those 35 districts removed the book for good? Are people like Natanson willing to allow four school districts, out of nearly 14,000, to maintain cultural views which may disagree with their own?

We now offer a second comment:

At no point does Natanson say if any of the challenges she discusses occurred on the middle-school level. Evison himself has said that he thinks his book would be inappropriate for kids of that age. 

Did any of the challenges occur at that level? Nowhere in this lengthy report were Post readers told.

Our final point would be this:

It's darkly amusing to see the Post shocked by the fact that some parents and parent groups seem to have misunderstood at least one scene in the novel. 

We find that darkly amusing because the Washington Post has itself spread all kinds of misapprehensions over the years, dating back to the endless wars against Clinton, Clinton and Gore.

People are going to make mistakes when they engage in the public square. That will always be part of the business of democracy, and mistakes will come from a wide array of directions.

We wonder if Natanson and the Post have ever thought about healing themselves? Ceci Connolly broke the bank when it came to baldly false reports about a fellow named Candidate Gore. 

People are dead all over the world because of those twenty months of erroneous reporting. Maybe the Post could dismount from its current high horse and do some reporting on that!

Accord to the author of Lawn Boy, the passages showing the sexual encounter between the 10-year-olds don't have the effect of glorifying the experience.  

We haven't read the book in question, but we're willing to live in a world where some parents and school officials might imaginably react in a negative way to a novel with such passages. Four school districts might even end up taking action—out of 14,000 districts in all!

According to Natanson (see above), "[W]hat happened to 'Lawn Boy' reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate." To Natanson and the Washington Post, we might offer this: 

When it comes to forgiveness and nuance, we all might try to do a better job of improving or healing ourselves.

Our tribe can be extremely judgmental. So can some Others, of course!


  1. Thanks for documenting this negligibly tiny portion of the recent liberal atrocities, dear Bob.

    ...but certainly -- without a doubt -- the guy with a multi-billion Pentagon contract knows what should and shouldn't get published in his rag, far better than you and us...

  2. "Are people like Natanson willing to allow four school districts, out of nearly 14,000, to maintain cultural views which may disagree with their own?"

    If these school districts were selecting reading material for their own individual reading purposes, that would be one thing. Each person should read according to their own tastes. When they seek to impose their own tastes upon the children under their care, then it is a different matter. The books should be chosen for their value to the children, not according to adult tastes, whether the same as Somerby's or different. If someone on a school district board or library staff cannot perform this role of putting themselves into someone else's place, they should resign their jobs.

    That this has only happened in 35 districts out of so many suggests that Somerby is wrong about allowing deviant districts to impose their different tastes on the children there. If the books were actually harmful to children, you would expect that fact to be more widely appreciated. That makes this a matter of an adult imposing political or religious views on children beyond the requirements of their job, for personal reasons. And that is inappropriate.

  3. "It's darkly amusing to see the Post shocked by the fact that some parents and parent groups seem to have misunderstood at least one scene in the novel.

    We find that darkly amusing because the Washington Post has itself spread all kinds of misapprehensions over the years, dating back to the endless wars against Clinton, Clinton and Gore."

    Here Somerby reveals his own political motives. This point is totally irrelevant to the case at hand. That Somerby thinks it does shows that his reaction is not about the welfare of the kids who might read the book, but part of a culture war that he himself traces back to previous Washington Post reporting.

    When adults responsible for trouble start using education as a proxy for political battles, then the children will suffer. I doubt any child will be harmed by the inability to read this particular book, but why should adults be fighting over which books children should read at all? We have teachers and librarians who guide children's reading. Another layer of political screening is not needed and is harmful, given that children will come from families of a variety of political perspectives and should not have the political views of the school district imposed on their reading selections.

  4. Al Gore has nothing to do with Lawn Boy.

    1. How do you know?

    2. Al Gore is Lawn Boy. It was during that unglorified sexual encounter when he first got the idea of the Internet.

    3. Somerby thinks Al Gore lost the presidency because too many kids read Lawn Boy.

  5. Many 10 year olds can and do have sexual encounters with each other, in their 10 year old manner. It doesn't warp them for life because they interpret these encounters in their 10 year old perspectives, not from an adult viewpoint. Children are harmed when adults respond to child behavior with an adult's viewpoint. That is the whole plot of the film A Summer Place. An adult woman treats teen Sandra Dee as if she were an adult rival, calling her a slut for not wearing a girdle and interpreting her innocent sexual awakening as if it were sinful. Excess religiosity is one of the causes of child abuse, up to and including murder, and this book-banning situation reeks of that prudish motive.

  6. "According to Natanson (see above), "[W]hat happened to 'Lawn Boy' reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate."

    Oddly, Somerby is urging nuance and forgiveness toward those banning the book, not toward those who might want to read it. There is no law saying that anyone, adult or child, who doesn't want to read Lawn Boy must read it. Those who object to it are free to avoid it. Why then, must they impose their own idiosyncratic views on the reading habits or educational opportunities of other people?

    Why does Somerby think that is OK to do? He never explains that. He only says that their views differ. That seems obvious. He never tells us why their extreme minority views must restrict the majority?

  7. Mao Cheng Ji should read Lawn Boy.

  8. Vagabond Scholar once said:

    "The conservative base does not hate many of their fellow Americans because they believe false things. They believe false things because they hate many of their fellow Americans. This is one of many reasons conventional fact-checking does not work on them."

    Somerby pretends this issue is about different views of how to guide children's reading. That isn't what it is about at all. This is about the right-wing's hatred of gay people. Notice that Somerby never says that Lawn Boy is about a gay encounter between 10 year olds. This is how Somerby puts his thumbs on the scales in this argument. He says it is only about differences of opinion about the suitability of a book, suggesting (without evidence) that middle school may be involved.

    Hate is the problem here. Hatred of gay people. This has nothing to do with education. It is about frustrating and blocking anything that might benefit gay people, even gay children.

    And Somerby tries to distance himself from that core issue by saying he hasn't read the book and doesn't know anything about it. He is just accidentally supporting the right wing in their efforts to deny any existence of gay teens or children in 35 school libraries.

  9. OT: Speaking of the Clinton/ Gore years, an Left lawyer and
    MSNBC regular just made a rather clumsy flub on
    " Dateline White House."
    The topic was Trump witnesses being coached, or
    perhaps bribed, into claiming they couldn't recall things
    when it is very possible they could. There seems to be
    one very glaring example of this and we are likely to hear
    a lot more about this.
    Andrew Weissmann (without mentioning Bill Clinton's
    name) said the situation was something like that of
    Monica Lewinsky being offered a job "at Revlon I
    believe", obviously in exchange for remaining silent
    about her sexual relationship with the President.
    It's fairly obvious that Bill Clinton was attempting
    to buy her off in this fashion. If He should have stepped
    down, this is the best argument for insisting he do so.
    Trouble is, in a fact lost to history (and those who
    somehow believe Lewinsky was mistreated by anyone
    except Ken Starr), Monica Lewinsky was very open
    to the notion and indeed, may have brokered the whole
    deal. Much public sympathy was lost to her when the
    tapes emerged of her telling her friend Linda Tripp that
    the Salary offers were not coming up to her expectations.
    It was not, at the point this job shopping for Monica
    took place, a legal matter in any sense, and Lewinsky's
    testimony was not even yet an issue.
    The people Trump's lawyers were talking to were
    under a lot of pressure. They themselves had only the
    lawyers to rely on for the letter of the law, and they
    might not have been able to afford their own legal
    aid, as Cassidy Hutchinson apparently was.
    So Weissmann's misleading flub may badly
    serve a lot of people. It also seems a product of the
    general media rule of thumb "If it stings Bill Clinton,
    anything goes."
    Bob cannot be trusted anymore to hold ANY of
    the media to account, even MSNBC.

  10. The headline of the article is “A mom wrongly said the book showed pedophilia.” Natanson documents how this false claim originated and got publicized (Tucker Carlson repeated it on his show) and led to outcries around the country.

    Also, there is no mention that the book is being taught, only that it was in libraries.

  11. On Amazon:

    "From School Library Journal

    Eminently readable and deeply thought-provoking, Evison's deceptively simple novel takes on tough issues such as race, sexual identity, and the crushing weight of American capitalism. Mike Muñoz, the 22-year-old biracial (Mexican and white) narrator, has grown up dirt-poor with his hardworking waiter mother and his brother, who is developmentally disabled. The narrative follows Mike's attempts at several other jobs after he's fired from his lawn-mowing gig while he works on his love life and tries to help out his family. After Mike recounts a great disappointment involving his biological father in the first chapter, one of several themes emerges as Mike encounters several potential father figures (often bosses), each with his own deeply flawed philosophy of life. From the cutthroat capitalism of his first boss to the upper-class cronyism of an old high school pal, each man personifies aspects of Mike's life that he cannot stand, even while he learns valuable lessons from them. Meanwhile, other story lines fix on Mike's underdeveloped understanding of his sexuality, which is not helped by the rampant homophobia and sexism of his best friend, and his equally conflicted understanding of his ethnic identity. Unfortunately, Evison's often infective enthusiasm for his preponderance of ideas weighs down the demands of the plot. Nevertheless, the passion with which Mike and Evison share these ideas redeems the novel. VERDICT Give this flawed but exciting coming-of-age story to teens eager to engage with heavy and timely political issues.—Mark Flowers, Rio Vista Library, CA"

    1. Thanks. I’ll avoid this book.

    2. 6:25: That is your choice. Do you want others to be forbidden to read it?

    3. mh, have they taken it off the market? Have they lobbied the publishing company to separate from the author and demanded that the book not be sold?

    4. Who knows? They have wanted it banned from school libraries

    5. Mao Cheng Ji should read Lawn Boy.

  12. As usual, no one gives a flying fuck about what Somerby is babbling about.

  13. Replies
    1. I feel like bustin' loose, bustin' loose.

  14. I hate myself, especially when I’m fellating Trump while dreaming of Bob.

    1. So you can't spell Cecilia either.