Is some of what they read perhaps a little... spicy... for their age? Sure. But I can also recall sneaking books when I was in middle school, and I think I turned out okay. I remember vividly the feeling of reading a book my mother hadn't read, right under her nose, and feeling like I'd get whooped if her eyes caught the page at the wrong moment. I snuck books under my covers with a flashlight like they were contraband. Salacious reading, the kind that feels like trouble, is sometimes the only kind of reading with the power to turn an "I hate books" teenager into the kind of teenager who passes book recommendations among their group of friends with the same stealth as other potentially more harmful secrets and objects.
This morning, we got on the topic of book boyfriends. "Peter Kavinsky is EVERYTHING." One girl swooned.
"Nope. Noah from The Kissing Booth. He's... UGH!" Another exclaimed.
"But have. you. read. Odd One Out? Coop! COOP!"
They squealed. Even the students who aren't fans of romance started to get intrigued.
Pretty soon, the conversation evolved into book-to-movie adaptations. They started pulling up movie trailers for Five Feet Apart and After**. I ordered Five Feet Apart (2 day shipping) for the classroom library after much begging, and they made a plan of who would get to read it first, second, and third. Their reading plan is on a post-it stuck to my wall. It's serious.
Before class ended, the students were asking me what other romantic books I've read and enjoyed. I pulled out a stack for them to look at, and they kept asking me why I liked reading romance.
"Well, it's not realistic, but it's entertaining, fun to read, and it puts me in a good mood!" I said. "Probably the same reasons you all like it!"
One student looked me straight in the eye and said, "Your husband needs to know that you don't think romance is realistic. He better step it up." She flipped her hair, "I'm not settling for less than Peter Kavinsky."
I laughed. I told them that real life relationships aren't exactly like romance novels, but that it's okay. The books wouldn't be so good if they were too real!
This morning's class wasn't teaching a standard. It wasn't preparing students for a test, or even able to be assessed in any real way. Probably if an administrator had walked into the room, I would have been in for a poor write-up. Teaching reading strategies is sometimes a struggle- should I be focusing on the skills, or really trying to motivate and engage students in reading? These girls see themselves as readers. I'm proud of them for that, and if I was worried about policing what was on the pages in front of them... well, maybe I would never get to see their voracious, excited reader selves.
**Side note: I googled After later, and if you have never heard of it (I hadn't) you should look it up- it's fascinating how WattPad fanfiction is now being turned into a feature film. Like Twilight but even more directly internet-to-big screen.**