Stop Using the Word Retarded. Just Stop - Why I'm Angry at John Green's Paper Towns
Now that it's officially summer I am doing one of the things that I love to do most, read. A lot. I read all hours of the day, finish books in one sitting, stay up way too late reading...you get the idea.
I build my pile of books all winter long and can't wait to make my way through them. I read a variety of books: novels, professional development books and young adult choices along with my kids.
Near the top of my list was Paper Towns by John Green. This is the same author who wrote The Fault in Our Stars, which I loved. So it moved to the top of my list. And I want to say that I liked it, but I can't. Because I just can't get past the fact that Green used the word retarded. Four times.
The first time I read it I flinched, but kept going. I thought about how it really isn't "ok", but didn't put the book down. I should have.
The second time it appeared I felt frustrated, and by the third time, angry. I began to wonder if I just notice this the way pregnant woman notice other pregnant women; you know, that phenomenon where you are highly in tune to something so you tend to notice it more. But that shouldn't matter. That's not a justification.
So there it was the fourth time. And I felt so very disappointed. Now I am left with a bad taste in my mouth and the clear knowledge that I will read nothing else by John Green. Ever. Because it wasn't necessary to use the word retarded. Each time there were most certainly other words he could have used. And the book would have been just as good. Maybe even excellent.
He could have used any number of words to replace retarded in the context of the story: foolish, dumb, ridiculous, useless... And there in lies the problem. Retarded should not be used as a way to describe something negative. Disability should never be derogatory.
Four times. Shame on you, John Green. You have teens reading your work. And four times they read the word retarded and think that it's ok because you wrote it. I mean, it must be ok if this author who is recommended to them by their friends and English teachers uses it, right? Well, it's not ok. Shame on you.
There are a lot more books on my summer pile. And I will read them, voraciously. But I will not recommend Paper Towns to anyone else. And I will loudly explain why.
Stop using the word retarded. Just stop.
***It should be noted that Green has apologized for his use of the word retarded in this book and has stated that he will never use it again in another novel. Good. My concern is still that thousands of teens are reading this book without knowing this piece of the story. And the book is being assigned by high school English teachers across the country, many of whom are not highlighting this issue and are therefore, in my opinion, guilty of perpetuating society's continued use of such slurs.
Posted by Lisa Friedman