Is there any such thing as Bad Publicity?

In the past week I’ve been watching the controversy  revolving around Cheryl Rainfield’s award winning YA novel, SCARS (WestSide books) , and it’s made me wonder about the adage that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’. And I’ve decided that in the book world, indeed that adage is true.

Let me bring you up to speed. Cheryl’s amazing novel is somewhat autobiographical, in fact the confronting cover image is actually a photograph of Cheryl’s own arms. As a child who suffered untold abuse, Cheryl felt she had no voice – no one to hear her cries, Cheryl’s release was to cut herself… Just like Kendra, the protagonist of her book …

I admit up front that I haven’t read this US release, but when she announced on US loop that a local library had banned the book, I along with literally hundreds – if not thousands –  of authors jumped to her defence.  It brought out the latent protester in me, and yet also made me question myself. Should books be banned? Does someone other than a legitimate publisher have the right to say your books aren’t suitable?  (I must add here that the recent horrid instances of books that condone child abuse and any other such social atrocities are a totally different issue).

Yes, it’s true – the content of this book SCARS won’t be pretty; it won’t be a nice cosy read – without even reading it, I know it will make me squirm. But is that a reason to ban it?

If I needed further convincing that I had to take a stand and support Ms Rainfield, it took only this emotive blog from a teacher Paul Hankins, who used SCARS to reach a troubled student. And I was glad I’d made my stand. The way I see it, for every squirmer there will be someone who will be touched deeply, perhaps gain an understanding into the behaviour of someone close to them, perhaps helped – perhaps given the strength to find their own voice. For those reasons, this book is important enough to fight for.

As is the person in my own life, who for a short period, also thought she had no voice.

However, as it turned out the book wasn’t banned, as the librarian of the supposedly banning library explained on Rainfield’s blog, it was simply challenged by a patron and the staff were simply following protocol by removing the book for review. And in fact the book has now been reinstated.

But it seemed for a week, everywhere I turned, I saw Cheryl’s book being promoted, which brings me right back to where I began: is there any such thing as bad publicity?

And really, in this case, that’s a good thing …  We write books to reach people, don’t we? I’d love to hear your own comments.


12 Responses

  1. Hi Kaz,

    I have also followed this issue with interest and I agree that it has generated amazing and well justified publicity. As a YA author who writes about truth, I believe it’s crucial for teens to have access to books like this. I had feedback from teens who said that my book Letters to Leonardo could have been written about their own life and that it has helped them deal with their own situations..

    Cheryl is definitely a strong campaigner against child abuse and I guess the offshoot of that is she and her book have become known.

    On another occasion, she brought to our attention the fact that Amazon was selling a book (now banned, thankfully) on How to become a child abuser and not get caught.

    Unfortunately, some appalling things happen to children and their stories need to be told.

    It was inspiring to see the support behind Cheryl for her book and it’s wonderful that someone who must have suffered in silence for so long has clearly found her voice.

    In this case, I agree there is no such thing as bad publicity. And I guess the more people who know about Cheryl’s story and are helped by it, the better.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.


    • Thanks Dee. I admit this issue stayed with me, it always seemed to be there in the back of my mind which is why I ultimately knew I had to blog about it and help her spread the word.

      And yes, her heads up warnings about those horrid child abuse books were what prompted my bracketed disclaimer. Sadly there really are books that need banning, but on the other hand we must remain diligent about those fringe books that could be suppressed by the fanatical minority.
      Oh heck – now I’m sounding all political! LOL!

      I think my own bottom line is that there are many damaged or hurting people and children in the world and a book like your own LETTERS TO LEONARDO and Cheryl’s SCARS , can reach out and touch them; help them, empower them. And that’s a great thing. Thank YOU for your contribution to those who need that support.

  2. I hadn’t heard about this book, but YA is not usually my area. Books like this are needed to help young people. There are a lot of youg people out there with issues just like this. They need to find a way to deal with the issue.I know someone very involved with young people going through this. If a book can help them or the young people it needs to be out there where it might do some good..

    • I couldn’t agree more,Dale, and while this book wasn’t actually banned, it did raise awareness both of the book and the potential for suppression.

      I have my own issues that maybe made this book resonate more strongly with me, but I hope that my overwhelming response was prompted simply by compassion and the need to reach out and help – which this book can do. I hope she does well with it – it’s a brave book. Thanks so much Dale!

  3. I have a friend who for thirty years cut her arms until they were scarred like a cross-hatched quilt. Now, in her late 60s she has turned the corner.
    Although not out of the depression woods, she has had plastic surgery on her arms and works in her garden every day. Maybe it was the garden that helped her the most.

    • Oh Sheryl – I’m so glad your friend is finding some peace. I have someone in my own family who has suffered and now – seems to be more settled. But it’s a tragic demon to deal with. So unpredictable and from what I’ve heard, that need to cut can be very seductive; hard to resist..

      Gardening is brilliant and I can understand your friend responding to that past time. My own vegie garden is my solace at times. I love it . Sadly once school terms begin though, it has to take a back seat – waaaay back to tutoring and writing and all the extra work that goes with that… Thanks Sheryl, I always enjoy talking with you.

  4. As soon as i saw this cover i knew – this is not a book for me. But still, i don’t like censorship. Say what you thing and in to an author, saying is typing. Being published, without even reading this book, tells me its good or at least they publishers thought so. It may not appeal to me, but I’m sure there are people out there that it will appeal too….

  5. You’ve nailed it Tegan. A publisher obviously thought this was suitable for a specific audience. Not that publishers always make the right decisions.. .

    However, it’s actually won awards, so to some extent that speaks for itself. One was an American Library Association award which makes it weird that this was a library issue. I agree completely, though, that it’s not a book for everyone.

    I’m not even sure I could read it myself, but especially after reading Peter Hankins validation of the book and how it helped a troubled student, I saw again, that this is a book that deserves to be available. Thanks for coming on for a peek, honey, and thank you even more for leaving a comment!

  6. I applaud you for tackling such a topic in your post, Kaz, and like Dee, I wholeheartedly agree that stories like these should be accessible to teens. I have no idea of the amount of kids who cut themselves, but my daughter is a child psychologist and shocked me when she told me that she tells the kids to keep cutting themselves. I was horrified! But she explained that for so many of these kids, if they don’t have the outlet of cutting, they could do something much worse. I’ll ask her if she’s heard of this book and author tomorrow and get back to you!

    • Sorry to take so long to get back to you CC. I’d love to know what your daughter thinks about this. And yeah, as I was saying to Sheryl, I believe that need to cut is almost seductive, the call is so strong and the relief that comes with the release is very heady.

      It terrifies me and I pray for all those poor babies whose lives are so scrambled that they need to do this. There’s such a lot we need to be paying more attention to.

      Thanks for coming by! I really appreciate it.

  7. What a fascinating post. I applaud you for posting this, Kerri. Personally I’ve never thought any book should be banned. What offends some enlightens others. There are certainly books out there that’d I’d choose not to read, but that’s my decision. Taking away the right to read it, is heading down a whole other path.

    I’d read this book. It looks confronting and is part of our society. Maybe if we understood why kids did it, we would have more of any understanding to help them.

    Best wishes

    • Thanks Sandii. I agree wholeheartedly about the choice to read. Because of my own family experiences I feel I should read this book, but I admit I’m a little apprehensive. I know it will be confronting – but then again, I guess that’s one of the things a good story has to do – make us feel a bit uncomfortable at some point.

      And yay to us understanding our society a little better. I’m speaking for myself here, but I as well-intentioned as I am, I think I get selfish at times.

      Take care and thank you again. I really appreciate you coming by for a read.

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