A few years after Edgar Allan‘s debut, Walter Retan, then editor-in-chief of Random House Children’s books, came to me to ask what I would really like to write. My response was instantaneous: a sex book. Not a book about people “doing it,” but a book in which a boy learns about sex and has a myriad of theories about it quashed. I envisioned this as needed, and I think it was. Judy Blume had already done her bit for girls, but who was doing it for boys? I remembered my own misapprehensions about how sex worked. Why should kids have to suffer the same set of confusions?
The book was a joy to write. I determined early on that the “f” word would have to be used unless I were to be accused to being coy, which I wasn’t. At one point, I decided that the book should be about two things, sex and violence. Walter talked me out of this. He was right. Sex was certainly enough.
Publishing the book was a different experience. My reviews to that date had been largely very, very positive. This was going to upset adult readers, those people who select which books are suitable for children to read. Ideally, FREDDY’S BOOK would be read by a father or a mother to a son. That might never happen if librarians and school-teachers raised a hue and cry. They did.
But strangely, we got wonderful notices from the sources that mattered most – in this case, not PW or Kirkus or Library Journal. But instead from Psychology Today and other academic journals dealing with children and sexuality.
What FREDDY’S BOOK was, was fun. For adults who could remember their own consternations; for youngsters who did have the right information, finally, but who had suffered as Freddy does. And for younger children, seriously curious about the topic, the real story. It is still in print, and a book I’m proud to have written. It may still shock some older readers but it never has and still doesn’t shock younger ones. And it finally got off the “reserved” shelves in public libraries.
Freddy wasn’t stupid. His mother reminded him often, and strongly, that he wasn’t. From time to time his father, too, admitted that Freddy had a “good head.”
But standing where he stood and seeing what he saw, Freddy Alexander definitely felt that way. Dumb, silly, stupid. Curious.
And a little angry at himself, too.
The word stared back down at Freddy from the whitewashed wall. It wasn’t a new word. Freddy remembered seeing it scrawled on a brick wall and once soaped on the window of a subway car in Toronto. He had even heard boys in his own class use it, laughingly. He had ignored it. If anyone had asked him if he knew what the word meant, he would have said “Sure” and hoped that he wasn’t blushing.
And today, here it was again, scraped into the paint in his new school.
Freddy zipped up his trousers and pushed the lever down hard. Then he went to a sink.
There he decided. Clearly, the only thing for it was to understand what the word meant. Once. For all. If it were going to appear in strange places, if it were going to be heard from boys his own age, he would simply have to know exactly what it meant.
He decided that whatever its meaning, the word couldn’t be difficult to understand. There were only four letters in it.
Drying his hands, Freddy let the word sound through his mind. Then, very quietly, he tried it aloud. “Fuck,” he whispered, feeling oddly nervous. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He threw the paper towel into a tall receptacle, seeing his own pink face in the mirrors over the sinks. He turned around.
The door of the boys’ washroom opened. Without looking up to see who was coming towards him, Freddy began to move, fast.
He noticed as he passed that the person was much taller than he, a teacher, wearing a plaid sports jacket and gray trousers.
Freddy ran down the hall to rejoin his class.
A few chapters later:
Freddy sat up. “What do you know about Westerns?” he said. “You don’t even know what fucking is.”
“It was you who asked me,” said Johnny. “I just told you what I knew.”
“My dad always says that sometimes it takes more courage to admit you don’t know something than to pretend you do.”
“O.K., O.K.,” Johnny answered, planting his features squarely into a show-me face. “You tell me, then, if you’re so smart.”
“Well,” Freddy began, “I’m not exactly sure yet. But it has to do with making babies. And brothers and sisters don’t do it. One if its names is sex and it has something to do with blood, too.”
“Blood?” echoed Johnny.
Johnny’s brow formed two lines between his eyes and he shook his head, thinking. “I’ve got it,” he announced triumphantly. “I know what you mean!”
“You do?” said Freddy. “What?”
“Menstration,” Johnny instructed.
“That’s where the blood comes in. It must be.”
“What are you talking about?”
Johnny hunkered down closer to Freddy. He looked straight into Freddy’s eyes. “Girls bleed,” he said in a half-whisper.
Johnny paused. “Their tits.”
Johnny nodded as though Freddy all along had known and agreed with him. He was very serious. “Once a month,” he said, “blood comes out.”
“I never knew that,” Freddy admitted.
“Well,” Johnny mused, “maybe Pru isn’t doing it yet. But my sisters are. Both of them.”
“How do you know?” asked Freddy. “Have you ever seen it?”
Johnny shook his head no. “But I will,” he said firmly.
“That must be terrible,” Freddy said.
“Everyone of them does it, though,” Johnny answered. “Haven’t you ever heard of Kotex?”
“What’s that?” asked Freddy.
“A sort of bandage. Girls stick it in their bras, to keep the blood from leaking out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure!” Johnny was beginning to lose patience. “You think I’d go around making these things up?”
FREDDY’s BOOK in a new paperback format is available at iUniverse.com. Have fun!