Q&A With Mindy McGinnis

Q: As an author, what is your perspective on the banning of certain books in school libraries? Is there a greater significance behind banning books at schools?
A: “First of all, I want to say that a parent knows their child best. If a parent says, “this book is not appropriate for my child,” they are right. Bottom line. When a parent says, “this book is not appropriate for any child,” we’re in censorship territory. Yes, there is greater significance in a book being banned in a school. It’s a black mark, a patina of shame. It tells kids who are dealing with these topics – whatever they are – in their daily lives, that they are wrong, shameful, and dirty. This does not encourage anyone to speak up, or seek help. It encourages them to keep their heads down, bury pain, and live in emotional isolation as they pretend to fit in, be normal, and abide by a social code that others have pushed upon them.”
Q: Are there any premises in which certain books should be banned from the school library?
A: “Again, parents always have final say. If they believe that a book is inappropriate for their child, then it is. Their ethical code within their own household is their decision. It doesn’t extend to the public.”
Q: Who do you think should be responsible for these decisions? Teachers, Admin, Parents, Librarians, Students, etc?
A: “I think most schools have a great process for dealing with challenged books. Of course, all voices should be heard. Parents have real concerns about what their children are exposed to, and raising their children is their most important job. Listening is also critical, and in a time when most public discourse has been demeaned to slugging matches where the winner has the best one-liner and everyone has a pie chart to refute someone else’s bar graph, actually being quiet and considering the other person’s point no longer seems essential to arriving at a decision. That’s what I would ask – that everyone let everyone speak, and then actually think about what they said, not just reload the next quip.”
Q: Parents in the district have challenged your book, Heroine, claiming that it is not appropriate for high schoolers. How would you address the concerns parents have raised about your writing?
A: “The specific stated claims read as such:
1) The content of the book is inappropriate for children of school age through 12th grade. Facts and data here are from the CDC, link below, graphics attached. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/index.html Heroin use has more than doubled among young adults ages 18–25 in the past decade. This means that real talk has to happen with teens about drug abuse, prescription drug misuse, and the very real dangers of casual drug use BEFORE they turn 18… exactly the period of time – and the window of opportunity – that the statement above would deny.
2) We should be trying to help the opioid crisis in our country, not contribute to it by putting books like this in our kids hands. Heroine is a cautionary tale about a gifted female athlete whose injury leads her to misuse prescription drugs in order to recover for her season, leading to reliance upon the drug, followed by a decision to turn to street drugs once she can no longer obtain them legally. This dead-ends her athletic career, ruins her personal relationships, and ultimately leaves her life in a wreck that she is unsure she can fully recover from. The statement above makes me question whether the entire book was actually read. 3) It tells students how to take oxycontin and heroin and it leads them to believe that these drugs can improve situations in their lives. The opening line of this book is, “When I wake up, all my friends are dead.” I don’t think this can be construed as a claim that drugs can improve their lives. Another example would be Chapter 51, when my main character literally poops her pants in public during a softball game, then vomits all over herself, and hides in a port-a-potty until the game is over. Everyone knows she is in there, covered in her own filth. Her team, the opposing team, her family, her friends, the entire crowd watches this happen to her in real time. Her utter humiliation and outing as an addict is very public, and again, I don’t think a word of it can be construed as leading a reader to believe that using drugs will improve situations in their lives. Once again, this statement makes me question whether the entire book was actually read. As far as Heroine being a “how to,” on taking drugs – much of the drug culture and language that I used in this book is pulled from the late 90s and early 2000s. Many of the methods used in Heroine would no longer be effective for a reader today — which was a conscious decision on my part. For example, in 2010, Purdue-Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, discontinued the original formula for the drug, releasing a new pill that could no longer be crushed and snorted, as it would not turn into a powder (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/upshot/opioids-oxycontin-purdue-pharma.html). This also meant that the method of sucking the time release layer off the pill (also used in the novel) was no longer effective, as the time release characteristics were now infused throughout the entire pill, not in a simple covering. So… long story short – no. Heroine does NOT tell students how to take oxycontin, unless they read it a full decade before it was published, when those methods would have actually worked. As for shooting up heroin: no, my novel most definitely doesn’t walk the reader through how to do that. I can say that with conviction because I’m the author and I don’t know how to do it.”
Q: What audiences do you think your book Heroin is “appropriate” for?
A: “Humans. Anyone looking for empathy and compassion in the world. Anyone hoping to be understood. Anyone wondering how easy it is to fall down a rabbit hole, and anyone who has ever considered the fact that it could be them one day.”
Q: Do you think censorship of the youth is an important and relevant issue? How does banning books like Heroine contribute to this?
A: “It’s absolutely relevant, given our climate of everyone screaming at everyone else, and each side absolutely believing they hold the highest moral ground. Banning books like Heroine, which is an empathetic look at the emotional and mental state of an addict, means that we continue to stand fast on our side of the line, and hold tight to the concept that we could never, ever end up on the other side of it.”
Q: What power should parents have in censoring the reading of high schoolers beyond their own child?
A: “My honest answer is that adults need to trust educators, librarians, and other institutions. Junior Library Guild, Kirkus, Horn Book, and other professional review sites assign age categories to young adult books. But more importantly – trust the readers themselves. I worked in a high school library for fourteen years. Teens and young readers DO self-censor. I’ve seen plenty of kids pick up a book, page through it, and be like, “Woah! Okay… not for me.” They put it down. They move on.”