ALAN v28n1 - The Library Connection: Our Ultimate Competition, a speech by John Neufeld, and Readers' Responses to Neufeld's Boys Lie

Volume 28, Number 1
Fall 2000


John Noell Moore, Editor

"Our Ultimate Competition," a speech by John Neufeld,
and Readers' Responses to Neufeld's Boys Lie
by Matthew Ellis, Jaime Miller and Liz Ackert

Editor's Note: 1 recently had the opportunity to talk with author John Neufeld about his newest book, Boys Lie. While his books, including the ever-popular Lisa, Bright and Dark , Edgar Allan, the historical novel Gaps in Stone Walls , and A Small Civil War , which deals with censorship have been well-received, the new book, according to Neufeld, has gotten mixed reviews. Some adults didn't want their children near it, he told me, but young adults seemed to want to buy it. The author sent me a copy of the speech that he had prepared for the Denver NCTE conference and ALAN Workshop, a speech in which he used the 1999 Convention's theme, "Re-imagining the Possibilities," as a frame of reference from which he addressed a number of issues about Boys Lie and young adult literature in general that are concern all of us who are committed to this field. The speech appears below, in its entirety. Following the speech, various adult readers' reactions to Boys Lie are presented.


Our Ultimate Competition

John Neufeld

Good children's and young adults books seem to me to be rather like Broadway. Every year we hear that the "theatre" is dying; there are no good playwrights, and people with tal-ent are fleeing New York for the sunnier, richer climes of California. The production expenses on Broadway continue to climb. Plays and musicals live and die on one review. The product is too expensive, and there is too much competition for people's attention and money.

Of course, this was also said about the movies when tele-vision entered our lives. Why would people pay to go out to a movie when they could be entertained for nothing at home?

Now we have the computer ever with us; we watch our screens and who knows whether the screens feed our images back to some unknown Hogwarts U. to be culled, selected, marketed to or sold?

I think we have all experienced a year of reassurance. If one is to judge by the catalogs of new books for Spring of 2000, we are about to be inundated with fantasy and adven-ture, a la Ms. Rowling. But putting aside a publisher's band-wagon jump, which surely will help to tarnish the golden goose, what we have learned, and I think positively, is that imaginative fiction has a long life ahead of it.

This is not exactly news to some of us. Still it's very com-forting. But the key word in the sentence at the end of the last paragraph is "imaginative."

Of course, all fiction, in theory, is "imaginative." Whether a story is based on one's own experiences, or on a clipping one has saved for years waiting to be energized by a mid-night Ah-hah!, fiction is make-believe. Although as some of us know, persuading parents to believe that is often impossible.

O.K. The title of this speech is "our ultimate competition." What or who stands between us who do write in this cat-egory and our readers?

It's more fun to think about what doesn't hurt us.

Good books from other writers don't hurt us. In prepara-tion for coming to Denver, I've been doing a lot of reading. And I have to admit that where once I considered my own books on the cutting edge, they certainly aren't any longer. The caveats I imposed upon myself while writing Lisa, Bright and Dark or Boys Lie are not those of Chris Crutcher or Tim Wynne-Jones. The language, the situations, the frankness of treatment and depth of character far outstrip most of my work, and I admire them, among so many others, for their determination and bravery.

Bad editors don't hurt us, although most editors "ain't what they used to be" for two very good and simple reasons: the first has to do with their own backgrounds and reading experiences and knowledge, which are not always as deep and as comprehensive as one might like; the second has to do with watching, always, the bottom line. To be fair, often the second reason keeps an editor from developing the antidote to the first.

Overworked teachers and librarians aren't all that harm-ful, either. Most books sail to success on their own winds, the enthusiasm and word-of-mouth of readers wanting to share their experiences.

A brief aside here: I have taught English, reading and so-cial studies to fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. I never worked so hard in my life. I was up at five and home again at seven, beat, spent, exhausted. And on fire to start again the next day. While prior to that experience, I was of the opinion that today's teachers weren't as good as the ones I had as a youth, during my teaching I found that regardless of what faults any of my colleagues might have had academi-cally, they cared about their kids in ways that I found posi-tively amazing-twenty-four hours a day. At break-time, when one might have thought teachers would fall into easy chairs and light up, thrilled and relieved to be away from their charges for only ten minutes, what I found was this: a teacher might come into the lounge and approach another teacher, saying something like, "You had Charlie in fourth grade, didn't you. He's fighting me for some reason. I don't know why. Tell me about him." And at school social functions, my fellow teachers talked not about movies, or homes, or trips they'd taken, but about how best to present a new section on American history, or how to get the best discount on materi-als they needed, or how best to handle a family situation in which one of their students found himself. It was thrilling and fascinating and frustrating, but never futile-simply be-cause teaching is much like a good contemporary novel for children: no matter how dire and dark the story, at the end of that experience one is offered comfort and hope.

Computers can't defeat the good book..

Parents can't defeat the good book, although for their own sets of reasons they often try.

Administrations can't defeat the good book, no matter how slight their support of a teacher using one.

Television doesn't hurt us as writers.

Music doesn't.

Even drugs don't.

Big Pause, for here it comes:

What is hurting the writer of contemporary fiction for kids?


If one believes as I do that the mission of any writer for children and young adults is to introduce his or her readers to worlds they are eventually going to inhabit, those worlds are getting stranger and stranger.

And also inexplicable.

There are things taking place in America today that-and we know children will meet them face to face-we can't ex-plain. We can't soften blows, or instill courage, or reassure as we used to.

The bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City a few years ago brought this tale from an editor I know who has twin sons who at that time were under five. As his family watched the evening news and saw reports of carnage and, at first, suspected terrorism, the editor's sons were puzzled, then alarmed, then out-right frightened. As a father, his job was to reassure. But this event was the first of its kind, singu-lar, and its impact was enormous. I asked what he had been able to tell them that could calm them or give them the com-fort and reassurance a parent tries always to offer.

"The best I could do," he told me, "sounded, even to me, terribly weak. All I could honestly say to them was, `There are people who are angry who do terrible things. You can't always know in advance what's going to happen. You can't protect yourself. I can't protect you, either. All I, and your mother, can do is try to keep you safe and help you both to grow into young men of whom we can be proud."'

Today we all carry catalogs of horror with us, and so do our students. We all have digitally imprinted pictures of chil-dren in terror, or wounded or dead, brought to us daily, hourly, by network news, CNN, newspapers and magazines.

How can any parent, or teacher, or writer of contempo-rary fiction, for that matter, help our children to understand these astonishingly violent, unforeseen events with which, it is clear now, we must live?

At first, one is tempted to shake one's head and say, I don't know.

But since we are today, in Denver, in the business of reimagining possibilities, let me ride one of Mr. Sterne's hobby horses.

The buffer between our children and today's sorrowful list of disasters is three-sided. Imagine if you will a long ce-ment barrier, like those that now stand in front of the White House, triangular in form and heft.

The bottom plane, on which the triangle rests, in my mind is made of parents. Another is reinforced by teachers and peers, by church or belief system. The third plane is, or must be, tough and impermeable: it's us, writers and illustrators who do believe that somehow we can make a difference in a child's life, even go so far as to arm and forewarn them.

But writing about disaster is not to explain it meaning-fully to children. In the past few years I have read, as you have, books about guns, books about anarchy-by design or implication-books about benevolent and also violent dicta-torships (remember Animal Farm ?). We now have stories about gangs, about drugs, about delinquent parents. We have stories about brave children who say No; we have stories that deal in the real, everyday life of the streets without ex-plaining the mindlessness of so much of its activity.

Am I wrong to want a deep, fulfilling, understanding of someone who is dangerous to me, in any way? I don't think so.

What I am eagerly waiting to read is a book that explains a child's wayward and destructive mind to another child.

We know that society plays a large role in helping to un-hinge people of all ages. Some of us even imagine that we understand the forces that contribute to events like Colum-bine and Oklahoma City.

But I for one am not persuaded that we, as writers, are really addressing this issue and solving problems, offering hope and solutions to our readers.

Part of the problem is ourselves, of course. We're nervous people, writers. We depend on reviews of our work written by other adults who have their own sets of behavioral prefer-ences. We have to persuade an editor, and even more impor-tantly today, his sales and marketing honchos and honchas, that a story we want to tell can be told and still make money. We have to hope and pray that a few magazines, teachers and librarians of renown will champion our cause. And we wait breathlessly for the first peep out of a religious or parental group objecting to a story, or elements within a story, without which the story would be neither real nor effective.

Those of us working in this particular field for many years understand that between us and our readers are what are called "adults." Editors, publishers, agents, parents, teach-ers, churches, reviewers.

Just as the editor of whom I spoke earlier realized what was facing his kids, and how ineffective his reassures could be in the face of reality, we-who after all are in the commu-nications business-have to realize we need to change some very important adult minds in order to do what I hope some of us can do and do well.

It's a natural instinct to imagine that your children will have a better and happier life than you had. But parenting today is more difficult than it ever was, just as being a child today is more difficult.

Parents try to protect their children from what they see as harmful.

But what parents have to struggle with is the unacknowledged reality of how smart their own kids are, and how deep their knowledge of living in America today really is.

There are other people, too, who have to adjust to the amount of knowledge young people have. Teachers, the clergy, social agencies of all kinds.

This year Boys Lie was published. I was on tour for the book, visiting bookstores and schools and bookfairs. At my very first two school visits, I was greeted warmly and hap-pily, and then asked not to talk about the book I had come to promote. I could talk about my other books; that would be fine. But really, the teacher or administrator said, we're just not certain sexual harassment is a topic our kids know about. And we're not at all certain that they need to know about it at this age.

Well, they hadn't talked to their students. Because their students did know about it and wanted to read about it and discuss it.

As I traveled, I was amazed at the ages of kids who came up and auditioned the book, leafed through it, and then pre-sented it to a parent as a desperately desired purchase. They were nine and ten, and, of course, a little older.

It was fascinating to watch the interplay between parent and child. Some parents, one could tell, were used to talking frankly with their children, and were supportive of their cu-riosity, if nothing else. Others put the book back on the pile and reached for a happier theme.

Incidentally, at the Los Angeles Book Fair, I was standing before a stack of books in a booth when I saw a woman about thirty stop dead in her tracks, lean down to tell her three children to stay right where they were, that she had to talk to this man. The kids were rooted to the pathway as she approached. She lifted a copy of Boys Lie and gestured at me with it. "I'm a divorced mother of three kids under eight," she said. "If you had a book called Men Lie , I'd buy it in a flash!"

Since we are reimagining possibilities here, for behavior and for our own work, let me suggest one way we might be able to beat back the wretchedness of daily life that we haven't so far explained to our readers.

I haven't solved every problem here, but it seems to me our most important job, before we write the books I want our kids to read, is to convince teacher and parents, espe-cially parents, that fiction is make-believe, first, and secondly, and far more importantly, that their children know a great deal more about life than they, adults, want them to.

If we write a book dealing with drugs, parents must be convinced first that their kids bring something to the table, that they do have basic understanding of what drugs are, how they work, and whether or not drugs are anything ger-mane to their daily lives. The same is true of violence of any kind. Or sex..

We must be able to look a parent in the eye, whether via the web or face-to-face, and persuade them that the choice of subject matter is not a matter of our, writers, trying to per-suade kids to go and do likewise.

I have always thought that writers of books for children and young adults take their responsibilities seriously. We don't open Pandora's box and invite our readers into a world of stress and evil because it's fun. We do it so that should a box like that be opened for them in their lifetimes, they will have guidelines and information with which to deal with the temp-tations therein.

And we do write fiction.

But we are fighting battles now against parents who no longer have time to read fiction themselves, and rarely read what their children do. There is, and has always been, some-thing about words on a page that frightens the insecure, the protective, the unaware. If an adult's world is crumbling, the last thing in the world he or she wants is to see the same thing happening to his children. And in a stressful mind, un-used to reading, the difference between fiction and nonfic-tion is very, very slight.

We know kids are resilient. We know that a book contain-ing scenes from real life, rendered faithfully, either take root in a child's imagination or are passed over as being unimpor-tant, too far from their own experiences to alter or change their behavior in any way.

My mother was an English teacher. In our home were books and magazines of all kinds. None of us was ever cautioned against reading a particular book or article. What was there was for reading, and we were allowed to read anything we imagined might interest us, whether it was Gone with the Wind or Popular Mechanics . Our parents trusted us and our judgments.

I realize that trust between parent and child must be earned, but it seems to me children still trust their parents, at least for a very long while. If only we could get parents to remember the good old days when they were kids, when they trusted, perhaps they themselves could be persuaded to trust not only the appetites and attitudes of their kids, but also our own -writers, for I believe there is no group of people who have demonstrated more often and historically that they are wor-thy of a parent's trust.

If through our own writing and speaking, our school vis-its and bookfair appearances, our library story-hours, on-line and on our web-sites, we can reinforce this message to adults, then ideally someday someone in this room will write the book I so badly want to read - a believable, frightening story about what goes wrong in the mind of a troubled youth. We will have a story about the two kids who went wild at Columbine. We will have a believable and yet sympathetic story of two teenagers who leave their child for dead along-side a road and return to their usual, unsupervised lives.

We will be able to understand these mysteries of today's life in ways we haven't been able to so far.

In my world of reimagining possibilities, the one I want most to find is a mindset that says books are good, books are helpful, books make us better parents and teachers and of-ten, just every once in a while, actually help make our tasks easier. I would love to hear a parent say, "I want my kid to read that book because it will help me later to talk with him about whatever its topic is, and that tropic is something we really do need to talk about."

Real life today has become stranger than most fiction ad-epts can imagine. Often the best we will be able to do is take what is bizarre and unfathomable, and try to present it imagi-natively in a form that helps children to understand the perils of living today. But there is one thing more.

GROWN UPS every day continue living with dreams of their own regardless of the mindless acts of violence that sur-round them.

As writers for children, shouldn't we present young read-ers with that same hardscrabble message - that life does go on, that people learn even as they suffer real or imagined agonies. That "coming out the other end" is what all successful adults do.

Mustn't children be allowed that knowledge and privilege?

Responding to the Speech

The ultimate competition referred to in Neufeld's title is, be says, "LIFE!" As life and the worlds we inhabit "are be- coming stranger and stranger," we are confronted with a di-lemma: Adults are getting in the way of Neufeld's and other writers' freedom to write the book Neufeld wants to read: "a book that explains a child's wayward and destructive mind to another child. " My first response to the possibility of this book is that only a child with a wayward and destructive mind could write it. Remember the power of The Outsiders, the classic young adult novel with the archetypal young adult theme? That novel was written by a sixteen-year old girl.

Thinking beyond that initial reaction, though, 1 wonder about Neufeld's assertion that writers can't write this book because adults are in the way, the "editors, publishers, agents, parents, teachers, churches, reviewers" he names. These adults stand between the young adult writer and the young adult reader, according to Neufeld.

What is to be done? Neufeld suggests that writers' most important job "before we write the books 1 want our kids to read, is to convince teachers, and parents, especially parents, that fiction is make-believe. " He continues: "Their children know a great deal more about life than they, adults, want them to." I'm not sure that this second statement will come as a revelation to parents and teachers. I think we are all aware of how much knowledge young students are exposed to, and I think we who teach are also aware that young read-ers know a great deal about the uglier sides of human life. Neufeld raises the question: Should young readers have con-stant and ready access to whatever knowledge is out there? To all the knowledge they want?

We don't live in a vacuum, and we don't live in the "best of all possible worlds" envisioned at the end of Candide, that paradisiacal world where happiness comes as we "cultivate our own garden" (Voltaire 120). In the world we inhabit, teachers, librarians, and administrators, all adults, are ac-countable to the adults in the communities where we teach. Exactly because of the Columbine and Oklahoma City hor-rors that Neufeld invokes, parents and other adults have grown more protective than ever of the welfare, physical and psychological, of their children. Censorship policies guide the selection of reading materials in the schools as adults ask questions such as those listed in Bushman and Haas' Teach-ing Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom. For example: Is this book appropriate for these readers? Can they handle its subject matter? Its language? What objectives does the book meet-literary, psychological, pedagogical? Does its theme, or tone, or style open it up to censorship issues? How will a teacher handle those issues should they arise? What have reputable sources (reviewers, critics) said about the book? (Shugert quoted in Bushman and Haas, 252).

The freedom to read that responsible adults grant in the privacy of the home (such as that afforded Neufeld by his mother) does not translate into the public school classroom and library. Because of that simple fact, Neufeld may never read the book he envisions. Given the violence of contempo-rary culture and the institutions determined to protect the young from that violence, Neufeld's imagined book about what goes on in the wayward and destructive mind of a young person capable of Columbine may never be a possibility.

Reader Responses to Boys Lie

Fascinated by Neufeld's speech, the reactions he'd gotten to Boys Lie , and the possible worlds he imagines, l wondered how per-service teachers and others would respond to the novel. Those who volunteered to read the novel, after 1 gave a book talk about it, had no access to Neufeld's speech prior to their reading. Their perspectives differed widely, but what was amazing, as you will see, was how they directly addressed concerns Neufeld raises in the speech. Here I'll share two of the students' responses, and a librarian's.


Boys Lie : A Response by Matt Ellis, teacher of high school English, Charlotte, North Carolina, and graduate student at William & Mary

"In the years since Roland Barthes' arrival on the scene, many-if not most-of us involved in literary studies have come to understand myth as the process by which deep-rooted messages about a society-what it is or, more often, ought to be-are communicated to and through that society. While I am not interested in performing a Barthian semiological read-ing of Boys Lie , I am interested in briefly discussing the novel in its relationship to a culturally dominant myth in contem-porary America-that which might be called the rape myth.

To be sure, there is no rape in Boys Lie - save Eva's brief, plot-driving appearance. Rape is, however, an imminently half-visible specter throughout the novel. It is the messages that Boys Lie communicates about rape which most disturb me. There is, of course, Eddie, Felix and Ben's plan to have sex with Gina. The boys-particularly Eddie- demonstrate that understanding of rape which is a function of the rape myth: rape is about sex, not violence or control. Eddie's ar-gument that Gina will agree to sleep with the three of them based on his assumption that she was raped in New York is part and parcel with the common, anti-feminist view that rape and consensual sex are simply two forms of the same act. Eddie and the boys' discussion of their conquest of Gina is, admittedly, loaded with violent overtones. Neufield, how-ever, puts their conversations exclusively in the context of sex. None of them-even the basically good-hearted Ben- think of the gang rape they are planning as anything but a first sexual experience. Not even Felix's sister, Raquel-who could easily have been written in as the demythologizer -brings the planned rape into the context of violence; she's concerned only with reputation.

There's a second, essentializing aspect of discussions of issues around rape enmeshed in Boys Lie . Most obviously, there are the frequent assumptions on the part of almost all the characters in the novel -Gina included-that her assault in the swimming pool and the boys' plan to rape her are re-lated to the fact that she has large, mature breasts. More disturbing, however, is Neufield's naming of this girl. I can-not escape the closeness of "Gina" to "vagina."

The final observation about Boys Lie which I wish to ex-plore in terms of the novel's functioning as a propagator of rape mythology is the silence surrounding Gina's earlier at-tack and her body. The silence begins when Gina orders her friend Jennie literally not to speak when Jennie first notices Gina's breasts and continues throughout the novel. Gina can only point to her breasts in conversation with her mother; her mother can only speak of "those operations" (Neufeld 57). Gina is only able to verbalize about her body or her sexuality when she denies that she had sex with Eddie.

It is largely because of the many grave concerns I have about Boys Lie's treatment of rape and adolescent female sexuality that I could not recommend this novel to a young adult reader, much less teach it. It is well-worth noting that young readers, no less than any adult, have the right and the need to read about real life. I am not arguing that young adult literature ought not deal with issues as serious as rape or boys' predatory thoughts of their female cohorts. What I am suggesting, however, is that Boys Lie works with rape and sexual initiation irresponsibly.

My objections to the novel in terms of what I see as Neufield's mishandling of his subject matter are only exacer-bated by my low opinion of Boys Lie as a novel. I find Neufeld's language usage to be confusing-at times I imag-ine a young reader would feel condescended toward, at other textual moments, I had difficulty wading through some of his more complex sentence structures. There is also the issue of characterization. Ben Derby may well be the best devel-oped character in the novel-certainly we learn more about his life and emotions than anyone else, Gina included. (Gina's life is basically defined by her breasts and her attacks.) Yet, Ben plays a relatively minor role in the novel; his actions never have significant plot effect.

All of this, taken together, raises a question I am simply unable to answer, and I am not sure I truly want to: for whom was Boys Lie written?" (Ellis 2000).

Boys Lie : A Response by Jaime Miller, teacher of secondary English in York County, Virginia, and a student at William & Mary

Jaime Miller offered her perspective in the context of her future as an English teacher. She is concerned about the legal implications of recommending or selecting Boys Lie .

"It seems that each generation says of subsequent genera-tions, "It ain't what it used to be." While this adage has ele-ments of truth, in many ways we have failed to progress significantly. The three-letter "s" word, sex, pervades our culture, yet in many ways it remains a taboo topic. Although the media suffuse society with sexual imagery, both blatant and subtle, broaching the subject with young adults poses problems for teachers. We live in a litigious society. As edu-cators, we are responsible in ever-increasing ways. Not only must we teach our disciplines, we are expected to be counse-lors, role models, and social workers. Sexual harassment law-suits have set the precedent: teachers are responsible for detecting and reporting any incidents.

Boys Lie addresses many pertinent themes for young adults: premarital sex, divorce, the consumption of alcohol, suicide, and peer pressure. The novel could be taught in a unit on human nature or on the definition of heroism and the anti-hero. However, given the squeamishness of our society, I would never teach or recommend this novel to my students. In fear of a lawsuit over the language and content of the book, I would not even contemplate using the novel. While we would like to think that we have progressed from the nation's Puritanical roots, in truth, that is a lie. We still battle with the same issues of repression and censorship. We can pretend to be open minded only if we choose to utterly ig-nore the obvious restraints that bind us. Society exposes young adults to critical pressures routinely but prevents the open discussion of "inappropriate" subjects. Despite the novel's relevance and disturbing illustration of the teenage conscious-ness, the attitudes of wary parents and traditional adminis-trators would take precedence over my personal inclinations" (Miller 2000).

Boy's Lie: A Response by Liz Ackert, Librarian at Jamestown High School

"Reviews can make or break a book. Media Specialists must justify purchases based in part on the judgments of re-viewers. With limited financial resources, even a lukewarm review can be the kiss of death. Therefore, the review of John Neufeld's Boys Lie in The Horn Book would probably lead to a no-purchase decision, given the following: "The teens' unconvincing dialogue is laden with adult expressions, but even more disappointing is how their assumptions that rape irreparably ruins a girls' reputation seems to go unchallenged by the author."

Having actually read Boys Lie , my own impression is that the story is full of implausibilities. How did the friends, life-guard, and other swimmers in the pool not see what was happening to Gina? Would a mother really move across coun-try after such an incident? And if the mother were indeed so attuned to her daughter's distress, how could she be so clueless about the difficulties posed by her daughter's physical ap-pearance? How many eighth grade boys actually steal and drive off in the family car? Attempt rape? Get beat up in the parking lot with a parent present?

This `fast read' simply raises more questions that it an-swers. While the vacillation of the protagonist may be `real-istic,' the assertiveness that finally makes its appearance at the end of the book comes out of nowhere and far too late to make up for the mixed messages that precede it" (Ackert 2000).

Other Responses to Boys Lie

After reading Liz Ackert's response, I decided to check out some other reviews of Neufeld's novel. I found an interesting mix that also expressed the quandary librarians and teachers might face when considering purchasing the book or recom-mending it to young readers. In her Booklist review of books for older readers, Shelle Rosenfeld takes an even-handed ap-proach. Neufeld's decision to tell the story from alternating viewpoints, she suggests, shows "how information gets mis-interpreted and gossip spreads." She acknowledges complaints similar to my readers: stilted dialogue, one-dimensional char-acters, overly permissive families. She affirms, however, the book's presentation of "important, thought-provoking issues: teen mixed emotions about sex, the definition of `rape,' and personal responsibility and ethical behavior versus peer pres-sure" and its "cautionary statement about the implications of mistaking rumors for reality." She sees value in the novel: its presentation of provocative issues "may be useful to edu-cators as a stepping-stone to discuss the dangers and implica-tions of stereotyping in fiction and in life" (1060).

A reviewer for The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books also acknowledges disappointment with some elements of the novel, but, as does Rosenfeld, acknowledges some quali-ties in the text that may appeal to the young. Despite its problematic logic and the "unrealistic and unsatisfyingly quick" ending, the reviewer notes, the book "deals seriously with an issue that often is not associated with junior high despite its relevance, however, and its portrait of the boys who collec-tively evade ethics that they individually do possess … has an authentic ring to it." The reviewer concludes that the novel's "exploration of an issue many teens grapple with gives it a relevance some young readers may appreciate" (251).

Imagining Possibilities

Neufeld invites us to imagine the possibility of a world without censors. This world seems unlikely, given contempo-rary culture. But Neufeld does something else that all good writers do: He invites us to consider the possibility of other worlds of fiction, and we are not resistant to that. Some re-viewers of Boys Lie see possibilities in the world Neufeld creates in his controversial novel; they acknowledge its value for young readers as a provocative glimpse into a moral di-lemma, as a stepping stone to discussions of important ethi-cal matters.

We face a quandary as we consider what to do with books like Boys Lie . I cannot speak for librarians, for others teach-ers, for the young adults who enjoy the fiction of Neufeld and other young adult authors. So, I will attempt no closure here. I am content to have opened up a space for conversa-tion. I will let Neufeld's speech, the responses of pre-service teachers at William & Mary, the media specialist, and the reviewers speak to you.

I also invite you to make the library connection by re-sponding to this column, by letting me know about the issues and concerns you'd like to see addressed here. I invite you to send me something you've written that you'd like to see ap-pear in this space. I invite you to help me make this space in The ALAN Review a place where the voices of librarians/ media specialists, teachers, students, administrators, editors, and young adult authors can connect and talk about young adult literature. You can write to me at The School of Educa-tion, The College of William and Mary, P.O. Box 8795,

Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795. You can e-mail me at or telephone me at 757-221-2333. Let's continue the conversation. Let's strike up new ones. The important thing is that we make the connection and talk about the ever-changing world of young adult literature.

Works Cited

Ackert , Elizabeth. Unpublished manuscript. " A Reader Re-sponse to John Neufeld's Boys Lie ." March 2000. Used by permission.

Rev. of Boys Lie by John Neufeld. Publisher's Weekly 246. 7. March 1999: 108-09.

Rev. of Boys Lie by John Neufeld. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 52.7. 250-51.

Ellis , Matthew. Unpublished manuscript. "A Reader Response to Boys Lie ." The College of William and Mary. February 2000. Used by permission.

Hinton , S.E. The Outsiders . New York: Dell. 1967/1996.

Miller , Jaime. Unpublished manuscript. "A Reader Response to Boys Lie . The College of William and Mary." February 2000. Used by permission.

Moore , John Noell. Interview with John Neufeld . National Council of Teachers of English. Denver, CO. November 27, 1999.

Neufeld . A Small Civil War . New York: Ballantine. 1982.

-. Boys Lie . New York, NY: DK Publishing. 1999.

-. Edgar Allan . New York: Signet. 1969.

-. Gaps in Stone Walls . New York: Atheneum. 1996.

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Reference Citation: Moore, John Noell, editor. (2000) "'Our Ultimate Competition,' a speech by John Neufeld, and Readers' Responses to Newfeld's Boys Lie by Matthew Ellis, Jaime Miller and Liz Ackert." The ALAN Review , Volume 28, Number 1, p. 58-63.