If a writer's potential to incite controversy could be gauged by her Web site, Lauren Myracle would not register as a candidate. Her home page is sky blue and vivid green, decorated with flowers, and animated by a playful chipmunk. For details about her bestselling novels, one clicks on the tab labeled "yummy books."
But Myracle's work for tween and teen girls has kicked up a hornet's nest of angry protest. Complaints about the Internet Girls series—three books written entirely in the truncated chat-speak of the online world—earned her a place on the American Library Association's Top 10 Banned Books list for the last three years. A subsequent series aimed at a younger audience, Luv Ya Bunches, was temporarily banned from Scholastic Book Fairs because a main character's parents were lesbians.
"I get probably 10 e-mails a week that say things like, ‘Are you a pedophile? Shame on you trying to make money by corrupting children,'" Myracle tells PW, speaking on the phone from Fort Collins, Colo., where she lives with her husband and three children. "My very favorite was from a Web site called Virtue Alert, which sent out an e-mail blast saying, ‘SATAN IS ON THE RAMPAGE, AND HIS NAME IS LAUREN MYRACLE!'"
Given the persistent vitriol, Myracle might be forgiven if she decided to pull her punches. But her next book, Shine (Amulet), is her darkest yet, a novel about a horrific hate crime, set in North Carolina's Blue Ridge mountains. Amulet Books plans a 100,000-copy first printing.
According to Susan Van Metre, Myracle's editor at Abrams, the idea for a book about hate crime was perhaps a natural outgrowth of the three years Myracle's work has been under siege. "She has been on the front lines in the fight for freedom of expression," Van Metre says. "It is just shocking because if you met her, she personifies wholesomeness. She sings in her church choir!"
Shine is set in Brevard County, N.C., a place Myracle knows well. Although she moved to Atlanta with her mother at age four after her parents divorced, Myracle's father remained in the mountains southwest of Asheville, where she was born. Myracle split her time between two worlds that felt a lot farther apart than 150 miles.
The Internet Girls books—ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r—are set in Atlanta, among "privileged girls who have cars and opportunities," says Myracle. "Where my dad lived was provincial and conservative. The experience made me aware of class differences in a very visceral way at a young age."
Shine is also a mystery. The main character, Cat, takes it upon herself to figure out who has left her friend, Patrick, to die at the gas station where he works, a gas nozzle stuffed down his throat and the word "faggot" scrawled in blood on his stomach. Van Metre says charting new territory is what she's come to expect from Myracle, whom she met after acquiring her first novel, Kissing Kate (Dutton, 2003), and who followed her to Amulet with an idea for a novel told in a format no one had attempted before. "She wanted to write a book entirely in instant messages and I was willing. It was an adventure we took together." The ensuing controversy, Van Metre believes, has more to do with the packaging than the content.
"The bright colors, the smiley-face emoticons... while the covers are true to who the characters are and to IM culture, to the uninitiated they look cute, and they look as if they will appeal to a younger reader," Van Metre says. "There's a disconnect between what the packaging conveys and what the content is, which is just honest teen talk. But I also wonder if the real problem isn't that it's girls talking about female sexuality, because certainly there are books that are more frank than these that haven't gotten the negative attention Lauren's have."
Myracle agrees. "In my heart I have always thought what I was writing were authentic stories primarily for girls that deal with things girls are already thinking about," she says, recalling that one of her instructors at Vermont College's M.F.A. program, Brock Cole, insisted writers "not feed candy to children."
What bolsters her spirits are the other e-mails she gets, in far greater numbers than the complaints, sometimes as many as 1,000 e-mails a day. "My favorite comments come from girls who say, ‘I feel like you've given me a self-help book because my parents won't talk about this,'" Myracle says. "When I was a kid, I read Judy Blume to figure out what a hard-on was and what to do when you got your period, so when people say to me, ‘You're this generation's Judy Blume,' I am wildly honored by that."