Author Jason Reynolds on book bans, racism and Spiderman
Award-winning author Jason Reynolds returns with a sequel to his young adult novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man. This one is called Miles Morales Suspended, and it continues the adventures of an "unassuming, everyday kid who just so happens to be Spider-Man."
In the sequel, Miles Morales — the half-Black, half-Puerto Rican teenage Spiderman — finds himself in school suspension for disagreeing with his history teacher. Morales goes to a fancy private school in Brooklyn, New York, where he doesn't always feel acknowledged. But with his superhero powers, he's invincible.
Reynolds' book is directed toward a wide audience — part poetry, part prose, with illustrations throughout. It grapples with huge themes though: censorship in schools, racism and fear.
He spoke with Morning Edition's A Martinez about Morales' other teenage superpowers and obsessions: writing poetry, and exploring his feelings about family, teachers, and a girl he likes.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
On the reality of racism
Just because it doesn't touch your doorstep doesn't mean it doesn't touch anybody's doorstep. And it's not until it lands on your doorstep, right? When it lands on your doorstep, that would be the equivalent of that spider's web ... suddenly we're forced to acknowledge a thing that seems to be lurking in the shadows for some, and crawling up the wall for others. This whole book is sort of full of these entendres and sort of parallels with what's happening in Miles's world and what's happening in the world at large.
On the book as a response to censorship
I don't want to shy away from the fact that it is a response, but I wish it weren't. But when it came time to write this book, the only thing that I could think about was what's happening when it comes to censorship and banning and challenging of the books that so many of us write for young people. Specifically, for a lot of us, it doesn't always feel like you're banning the book itself. Sometimes it feels like you're banning the people that those books are about, that you're saying that those lives are lives that should only exist in the shadows.
On young people and discovery
This idea of discovery, I think, has the highest sort of boiling point of potential for young people and is also the apex of fear for another set of people. For the folks, they who shall not be named ... some of these politicians, some of the terrified parents. I do think there is something to be questioned about: What's the fear of discovery? Why is everyone so afraid that a young person might discover something that feels true to them, that feels right to them, and that in making that discovery right, once they get even close to making that discovery, there is punishment enacted.
This isn't a new thing, right? Once there is a new thing that is discovered, what comes your way is backlash, especially if at the end of that new thing is more freedom, more equity, more peace, more intellectual capacity, more emotional maturity, more openness, more scrutiny when it comes to the things that we're supposed to see as real and honest and true.
On the real villain: fear and blockades
I will say that for me — there are very few actual villainous people. There are people who make decisions that feel villainous, who do terrible things to people. But I don't know if there's a person who's all the way bad. Like, we can name a few offhand, but I think most of us are somewhere in the gray. And so I like that the binary is always complicated for me when it comes to writing the hero in the villain story.
This idea that there is darkness, right? That fear is a villain. That if we can't get power, get out of our own way or get past our own stuff, then we'll create stuff that our young people can't get past. We'll put blockades there because the blockade makes it safer for me, who's also dealing with the same blockade. And I think all of those things are what creates that darkness in this story, but also in our society.
Reena Advani and Miranda Kennedy contributed editing. contributed to this story
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