My son discovered James Dashner’s series, The Maze Runner, a year or two ago. He’s been reading the books — interspersed with his other favorites, like anything by Rick Riordan and a few manga series — ever since. And I supported this, as I’ve supported his other literary interests since he was old enough to express such things.
Last week I had to tell him why we won’t be buying anymore Dashner books.
Dashner’s publisher, Penguin Random House, has ended their relationship with him. His agent, Michael W. Bourret of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC, also broke ties with him. Allegations of sexual misconduct have arisen against the bestselling author, and Dashner has joined the ranks of Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein — men who have been accused of using their positions of power and privilege to take advantage of others, mostly women.
As a mother, and particularly a mother to a young son and daughter, this is pretty black and white. Taking advantage of people is wrong. Harassment is wrong. Using power and privilege to influence people to do things sexually is wrong. And, ultimately, the allegations are believable because I know what every other woman out there knows: this happens all the time in every industry.
When the allegations against several authors in the children’s literature sector received much notice recently, I couldn’t help but scoff at the shock I saw some expressing, as if kidslit is immune from the epidemic of sexual misconduct.
It’s not. No industry is. And if you still believe yours is, you haven’t been paying attention.
But, I wondered, what do I tell my kids?
As a parent, this leaves me in a difficult position. I want to support my children’s literary loves. For me, that’s meant letting them read pretty much whatever they really want to read. We have a home with bookcases that overflow with literature. And yet, now I wonder if how we approach literature has to change. I wonder if perhaps it’s time to consider more than just the book description and my kids’ interest levels.
The bottomline, you see, is that I won’t support sexual misconduct, and that means that we won’t be buying any more books by Dashner, who has apologized for his actions. And my kids won’t either.
Now begins a new conversation with my children. We’ve already spoken about the allegations, in broad age-appropriate detail, and what it all means. We’ve also talked about why the behavior is wrong, and how — while I appreciate the apology — change is needed now. Fundamental, complete change where men recognize that they cannot proposition women in professional settings. But this is just the beginning of these discussions.
We’re in a tough and challenging time right now, as people empowered by the #MeToo movement feel heard — some for the first time. So many are speaking up and sharing the harrowing stories of sexual misconduct. They’ve shared how this has shaped their careers, and hampered them too.
But we’ll also talk about my own “grain of salt” philosophy. Right now, I cannot support these authors and we collectively as a family won’t. But should something change, should new information that sheds a different light on things arise, we’ll look at it open-mindedly.
Still as a newspaper editor who believes in the power of fact and proof, I wonder how judicious we’re being as an industry printing allegations. Is there sufficient fact checking happening? Are we approaching this snowballing story of sexual allegations against men in power without enough skepticism? At what point do we go too far in relaying allegations from anonymous accusers as we would facts?
I don’t know. I really don’t.
Maybe my son has it right. When I told him what happened between Dashner and both his publisher and agent and why, his immediate response was simple: “Then I’m not reading his books anymore either.”