I received a really interesting email from a reader. The reader, a sophomore in high school, was “deeply, deeply disappointed” with one of my books (she had read two). It wasn’t the characters or the relationships that disappointed her, she pointed out, but rather something that happened in the story – a character has an abortion. She said she felt that I was “condoning teen sex.” She pointed out that “lots of girls read your books, and look to them for guidance with boys and teenage life in general.”
I thought the email was very well written and the reader obviously had strong anti-abortion opinions. I actually thought it was wonderful that she had such a formed opinion on the matter and articulated her thoughts so clearly.
I immediately emailed her back thanking her for her email and saying that every reader is entitled to her opinion. However, I don’t feel it’s my job as a writer to teach morals (that’s a parent’s job). And while I respect her right to her opinion on the story line and a person’s right to choose, I’d ask that she also respect my right as a writer to tell the stories I want to tell. I didn’t start writing books to be someone’s moral compass.
I don’t write instruction manuals, they’re stories. They have characters. Those characters do things I would never do and they’ve done things I’ve never done. Who am I to preach anything as right or wrong? I’m not an authority on rightous behavior. We all have our own barometers for what’s acceptable and what isn’t. I see parents letting kids get away with things I’d never let my kids get away with, and I’m sure there are parents who say the same things about some things I let my kids do.
I’ve read a few comments about the abortion in this book and they’re all tinged with some degree of moral outrage. Other comments about the story don’t even mention the abortion but talk about the relationships instead. I guess the degree to which that event impacts the reader’s opinion of the book has to do with how they feel about the issue.
While I don’t see myself as preaching the pros/cons of abortion in this book or putting forth any opinion what so ever, I guess the fact that it takes place and the character isn’t mentally anguished afterward or punished might be perceived as saying, “Hey, it’s fine, no big deal.” I can’t believe that any reader would take that away, as the character was deeply impacted by her decisions even if she doesn’t persecute herself afterwards.
Still, I’m glad that the reader wrote to me. I like hearing reactions to different characters’ experiences. I really hope, though, that I’m not expected to write books like lesson plans. Growing up I read books about drug addicts, runaways, lesbians, girls who had abortions, absentee parents, abusive boyfriends and characters who made very poor choices. I managed to grow into adulthood unchanged by any of those stories other than appreciating each character’s unqiue story and experience. I’d hope most readers of my books can do the same.
What do you think? Are writer’s expected to provide a moral compass and teach “acceptable” lessons to readers?