Williams Syndrome Wednesday: To the best-selling author who robbed me of the ending

mommydo.comI used to be a big time reader, but these days, I’m often too busy to laze around devouring books like I used to.

I have work and family responsibilities including caring and advocating for my daughter who happens to have an intellectual disability. Getting to sit down and read an entire book is a luxury I can rarely afford.

Lucky for me, I was recently sent on a business trip. On a plane. Away from home. No inflight movie for me. I was thrilled to be able to dive into your the latest book (I’m a huge fan). I had no idea what it was about. I grabbed it and off I went.

It turns out I was hooked from page 1. The woman who had grown up with a heart condition? The parallel story of a mixed-race guy who growing up in the eighties? The emotional basketcase mom who carries the scars of raising a child with a medical condition that kept the mom on high alert from a touchy birth through numerous scares? So good. I really felt for her in particular. You captured what that feels like so honestly, and beautifully. I was moved to tears. Imagine my good fortune, I thought, in choosing a book that made me feel ‘seen’, understood and not alone. I was struck by the truth that was flowing off the page.

And then, not much further along, I was stuck again. And not in a good way.

In the midst of a conversation between the main female character and a friend in their teens, the one girl drops the R-word and the other girl responds with the same word. It was like a sneak attack in what felt like a ‘safe place’. Retarded. It pains me to type it out. Such an ugly word.

I was caught by surprise (just as I am when I hear the word in casual conversation). It came out of nowhere. It wasn’t like the book was full of language the pushes societal bounds. Twice you chose to write “the n-word” rather than spelling that one out. Why was the R-word so easy?

In a bizarre coincidence, as I closed the book, angry that you didn’t take the time to find another word, a beautiful little boy who happened to have down syndrome came bounding down the aisle past my seat.

That little guy deserved better, favourite writer lady. My daughter deserved better. I deserved better. There are more than a million words in the English language. Choosing to use the R-word is not just lazy on your part, it’s also irresponsible. Millions of people read your books. When you use the word, it tells all of them it’s ok to say it, read it, print it. It’s clear you don’t think “the n-word” is ok. How is this different? I know, it’s just a word, you have artistic license blah, blah, blah. But the thing is, it’s not just a word. Not to individuals with intellectual disabilities and parents and family members like me who advocate tirelessly for inclusion and acceptance. It represents prejudice, discrimination and its continued use makes an entire group of people seem “less than” in society.

I expected more than that from you – a writer. A mom. And now I don’t know what happens because I couldn’t bring myself to finish the book. If you happen to see this letter, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Oh, and I’d like my money back.

12 Comments

  1. providencefamily

    October 8, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Aeryn Lynne

    October 10, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Sorry to hear this author hurt you so. As a writer she should be the first to know that words have power and can hurt her readers if not respected properly.

    There are many words that are triggery for me. If the author has the presence of mind to write a preface stating that these are not words they would normally use themselves, but are crucial to the historical or cultural accuracies, I can prepare myself and read on if I choose to. If I can put myself in a frame of mind to do so (doesn’t always happen.)

    But to be so abrupt and loose with usage of the r-word is so very sad. I feel for you here. :/

    Found your post from #GoodFriendsFriday

    Reply
  3. Aeryn Lynne

    October 10, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Sorry to hear this author hurt you so. As a writer she should be the first to know that words have power and can hurt her readers if not respected properly.

    There are many words that are triggery for me. If the author has the presence of mind to write a preface stating that these are not words they would normally use themselves, but are crucial to the historical or cultural accuracies, I can prepare myself and read on if I choose to. If I can put myself in a frame of mind to do so, but doesn’t always happen.

    But to be so abrupt and loose with usage of the r-word is so very sad. I feel for you here. :/

    Found your post from #GoodFriendsFriday

    Reply
  4. jacandjuli

    October 10, 2015 at 1:32 am

    That is so weird (and unacceptable) that that word was used so casually. Good work calling the writer on it. I hope you sent her (or tweeted her, at least) the link to this post!

    Reply
  5. bluejuliej

    October 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

    The scene in that novel was set in 1993. The r-word strikes me as a valid choice for the character — a thoughtless, entitled teenage teenage girl.

    You’re absolutely entitled to protest the use of that word and to call Jennifer Weiner out for using it (and anything and everything else that you please)… but I must admit that I genuinely don’t get that you (and rather a lot of other parents of SN kids) have chosen this particular, proverbial hill* to die on. The hill being The use of the r-word by a CHARACTER in a word of FICTION.

    In real life, the r-word is absolutely a slur that ought not to be used… but a book isn’t IRL. And that makes a huge difference. I’d also hazard a guess that pre-having a kid with SN of your own, you wouldn’t have had in an issue with the r-word in fiction either.

    And, honestly, of all the issues (discrimination, access, discrimination in medical care, etc) that individuals with SN face in this country… of all the fights that desperately need fighting… this is the particular hill that you’ve chosen to die on?!?

    (FYI, I was raised by a single disabled parent and am married to a man with a bunch of SN. So I get where you’re coming from and that you mean well, but still don’t get it).

    Reply
    • Melanie

      October 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      While I agree the kid likely would have said it, my issue is that the author couldn’t take the time to find an alternate word(s) to get the readers there. This is 2015 – not 1993 – and I believe she could have chosen differently.

      As for your second point – part of the reason the discrimination persists is because people continue to see people with intellectual disabilities as being ‘less than’ other people. All the words that people use to ‘slur’ race, religion, sexual orientation etc are no longer ok to use. Neither is the R-word.

      Reply
      • bluejuliej

        October 11, 2015 at 2:41 pm

        Characters in novels set during the Holocost use slurs to refer to Jews, individuals with disabilities, individuals of Roma descent, etc. Fiction set during Aparthaid era and in the 1950s Alabama use slurs too.

        Jennifer Weiner could’ve chosen differently and will now choose differently going forwards. I still don’t get it.

        Discrimination persists because, well, changing attitudes and laws and people’s views takes time (it’s not so much that the “old guard” gets it and comes around, more like the old guard eventually dies off). Berating novelists for electing to use r-word to show a character to be selfish and thoughtless circa the early 90s hardly helps this along.

        But whatevs, be the word police. (And you absolutely wouldn’t even been offended by the word-in-fiction if it wasn’t for your kid. And you wouldn’t have been supporting discrimination against the intellectually disabled by failing to notice ONE word in a 300 page novel. Ugh. The bandwagons people jump on as a result of their offspring!).

        Reply
  6. Heidi

    October 12, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Mel you are doing an incredible job. I am 100% with you on this.
    For those who can’t see the issue on the use of this word, regardless of context- they are the reason we stand up and educate. The reason it’s so important to use our voice. If we don’t, the use of this word will continue.
    For the insensitive comment made above- I will do anything to help stand up and give my child a voice. As any parent should. In this case, educating others on the use of this word has helped open a dialogue on how there are hundreds of other words that can be used for description purposes. Hopefully, by doing this, by the time our children are old enough to have a conversation of their own, they will never have to hear this word. That is our hope. And you better bet your ass that I am going to stay on this ‘bandwagon’ until I feel my job here is done.

    Kudos, Mel. Have a wonderful thanksgiving with your littles.

    Reply
  7. Williams Syndrome Wednesday: 140 Characters CAN Change the World |

    October 21, 2015 at 11:28 am

    […] recently wrote about the NYT best-selling novel that I stopped reading because the author had used the r-word […]

    Reply
  8. #GoodFriendsFriday Linky Party #8 - Life, Love and the Pursuit of Play

    October 23, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    […] loved this post because I could really feel the heart and passion infused in every word. I felt like her cause […]

    Reply
  9. Heather van Mil

    October 23, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    I think what highlights this argument the most for me is that, as you pointed out, she chose to write “the n-word” but then not make the same concession for the other word in question here. It’s a stark contrast. It was a pleasure to get to know you a bit better at Blissdom, sitting at the same table for one of the sessions and hearing more about your story and your passion. Plus plaid and jeans dancing – ‘nuff said. the latest #GoodFriendsFriday linky post is love, I can’t wait to read what you share next!

    Reply
  10. The Hairy Housewife

    October 31, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    I found your blog via The Mighty, and I wanted to thank you. As an autistic, disabled woman with an autistic, barely-verbal son, this word rattles me *a lot*. I swear like a trooper sometimes, but that is one word you’ll never hear from my lips. Why? Because it’s an “ism” against certain communities throughout the world’s populace – and most words that end in “ism” are words that I’m generally not going to very much like (in this instance, disabalism. Perhaps the author didn’t *mean* to discriminate against people with disabilities, but it was discrimination all the same). We are people, and we are valid. Your daughter is valid.

    Please know that there is an insomniac writer in south-east England thinking of you tonight… and thinking you’re really quite awesome 🙂

    Reply

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