Cheryl Rainfield knows young readers have stolen her books from libraries—and she understands why

Cheryl Rainfield knows young readers have stolen her books from libraries—and she understands why

July 24, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

MH: When did you first hear about Scars being banned? Who told you and what was your initial reaction?

CR: I found out Scars was banned in some Texas schools on Feb. 19 when another YA author, Carrie Jones, mentioned that her book was on the list because it had the word “gay” in the title, and she shared the link to the document.

Scars was also one of the 850 books that Texas Republican Matt Kruse tried to get banned in 2021.   

It makes me so angry and sad that they’ve banned Scars. It means that some teens who need the book won’t be able to find or read it. Being able to buy books is a privilege that not everyone has, and for some kids and teens the only way they find books they need is through their school (or public) library.

Scars was also challenged in 2011 in a public library—Boone County Library—by a patron who was afraid it would make readers self-harm. But people don’t just self-harm because they read or hear about it or even see it. When I was self-harming I saw wounds on some of my friends who also self-harmed and it never made me want to cut. What made me want to cut was the abuse I was living through; the abuse memories that flooded me; the overwhelming pain and emotion and not being able to regulate my emotions; my wanting to die (I used to sometimes cut to stay alive); my trying to silence myself about the abuse; sometimes to punish myself, and occasionally to hope for help even though I hid my self-harm. And so many readers over the years have told me that Scars helped them.

I ended up getting a lot of community support about that challenge, with people calling and writing the library, and thankfully Boone County Library ended up keeping Scars on the shelves.

But I’ve also heard from some librarians over the years that Scars was quietly pulled from the shelves, which is worse because then readers just don’t find the book and no one talks about it.

MH: What was the response from readers before the book ban came to be? 

CR: Even though Scars has been out of print for years, I’ve continued to receive letters, comments, and private messages about Scars from readers every few weeks telling me how it felt like I was writing about them and their story, and how Scars helped them stop self-harming; talk to someone for the first time about being queer, sexually abused, or their self-harm; get into therapy; or even keep from killing themselves. Some also told me that Scars (and my book Stained) helped them realize that if those characters could survive the trauma they were facing and get through, then they could too.

A few told me that they stole a copy of Scars from their library because they needed it. Other readers have told me that Scars helped them understand for the first time why someone might hurt themselves.

I’ve also had readers send me snail mail, art inspired by Scars (or photos of that art), and sometimes little gifts, all of which feel lovely.

I’ve also had teachers and librarians write to tell me about students of theirs who needed Scars, and how it brought them out of their shells. I’ve repeatedly heard librarians tell me that Scars is one of their most checked-out books, and repeatedly heard librarians and teachers tell me that their copy of Scars was stolen, likely by a student who needed it. Those reader letters and comments mean so much to me. They feed my soul and are exactly what I wanted to have to happen with Scars.

There is so much societal blame and misinformation about self-harm, even in many medical settings; I wanted readers to come away with greater compassion and understanding of why someone might self-harm and understand the trauma behind it. It was also so important to me to show healing, show Kendra learning to love herself more and stop self-harming, and also to show a healthy lesbian relationship with a happy ending since we live in a homophobic world.

MH: Has this book ban experience impacted anything you’re working on currently or planning for future books?

After I first published Scars, a trusted publishing professional told me that I wouldn’t get any more books published if I didn’t write heterosexual characters. Writing is my voice, my way of reaching people, and I need to write, so my next two traditionally published books had heterosexual main characters. I still wrote queer characters as side characters in those books, and also wrote from my trauma and healing experience, and mental health issues, but I wish I’d been able to continue writing queer characters as the main character. There aren’t enough queer books even now.

So that experience, plus the homophobia I’ve faced, and now this recent ban, has made me even more determined to write queer characters, and characters with trauma and mental health issues. Teens need these books (adults do, too). We all need to know that we’re not alone, that things can get better, and that we can survive and even thrive.

MH: How many libraries (or school districts, etc.) has Scars been pulled from as of now?

CR: Scars has been removed from Northeast ISD Texas and may have been from McKinney ISD Texas. And since it’s on that list I’m guessing more schools will remove Scars.

MH: What advice would you give young readers who feel scared or worried about books like these being taken away from them?

CR: Please hang in there. If your parents, schools, or libraries have banned a book or books that you need, I hope you can find the book in a public library in print, ebook, or audiobook form. I hope you find others around you who are supportive of who you are and what you’re going through. And I hope you have a supportive teacher or librarian; you may be able to go to them to organize against the book banning.

You’re not alone.

MH: What can adults who don’t have children (or young readers in their lives) do to help oppose book bans and help keep books like yours accessible?

CR: Thank you for asking! There are lots of things you can do to help. You can sign the petition on about all the books being banned in Texas. You can share and comment on authors’ social media posts about their books, especially the ones that have been banned or challenged. It helps get the word out, which is important.

You can borrow our books from the library—it helps keep a book in circulation—and buy our books, which helps a lot. You can talk about our books to others, online and in person, especially if you enjoyed them, and let people know that the book is being banned or challenged.

You can report that it’s been challenged or banned to ALA, NCAC, NCTE (if you have an English teacher who will help), FIRE (if it’s at a college), and Freedom To Read Week in Canada. And if you really care about a book that’s being banned, you can write to the editor of a newspaper and/or public radio station, your local library director, and your school principal about it, or talk about it on social media and help raise awareness. You can even encourage your book club to read the book.

MH: What would you tell folks in charge who are making the call to pull Scars from shelves?

CR: Scars has helped so many teens (and adults) stop self-harming; get into therapy; talk to someone for the first time about their self-harm, sexual abuse, or being queer; and keep from killing themselves. Banning Scars hurts vulnerable teens who need it, especially teens who are queer, survivors of sexual abuse, and who are self-harming, or teens who have friends who have those experiences. Please fight to keep Scars on your shelves. Books are a safe way to learn about painful issues and to encourage healing. Books not only give hope, but they also help save lives.

MH: What inspired you to write Scars and what has your overall journey, from writing to publication, been like as the creator of the work?

CR: I’m an incest and cult torture survivor with mental health issues as a direct result including depression, anxiety, C-PTSD, dissociation, etc., someone who self-harmed to cope with it all, and a nonbinary lesbian who’s experienced a lot of homophobia. I wanted others to know that they weren’t alone, that they could survive, get safe, and even thrive, and that they could stop self-harming and learn to love themselves. When we’re alone in our pain the pain is so much worse, but when we know there are others who’ve experienced some of the same things we’ve been through, it helps.

I also wanted folks to understand self-harm more, and increase their compassion and empathy for those who self-harm—both those who self-harm and those who know someone who does. There is so much stigma, blame, anger, and misinformation about self-harm.

It was also so important to me to show a lesbian relationship with a happy ending. There aren’t enough queer books, and there aren’t enough books with lesbian characters, especially with happy endings.

MH: What was your publishing journey like with Scars?

CR: It took me more than 10 years and hundreds of rejections to get Scars published. I almost gave up in those last few years, but I’m glad I didn’t. Once I got published, my books became my voice, my way of saying important things, and my biggest way to help other survivors of abuse and trauma, other queer kids, other folks struggling with self-harm or mental health issues. It felt so good. But the best feeling has come from the reader comments, DMs, and emails I regularly receive telling me how my books have helped them. Those letters and comments mean so much to me.

MH: Why do you think conservatives are going after books right now? 

CR: Books are powerful and can create positive change. Books can help marginalized groups know that they’re not alone, that they are okay as they are, and that the oppression they’re facing is wrong. They can encourage folks to be their truest selves even in the face of oppression (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism, ableism, etc.), and to find others and work together to gain more rights. They can shine a light on horrible wrongs that have happened and continue to happen in our society.

Books can also help increase empathy and compassion in people who don’t experience those corners of marginalization, and if they gain greater compassion they may help fight for us and for equality. And that scares those who want to keep hold of their power and oppress others, especially white men.

I think there’s an organized movement against book banning happening in the U.S. right now, in conjunction with an organized movement of racist, transphobic, homophobic, and misogynist bills and laws. These things work together to oppress marginalized groups. It is intentional and focused, and an attempt to silence, suppress, and oppress us. If books weren’t powerful, there wouldn’t be so many book banning and book challenges.

You can order a copy of Scars on Amazon, Bookshop, or from your local library. 

If you or someone you love is in need of mental health support, you can now call or text 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to connect with a trained mental health professional. You can also still dial The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.