Lauren Myracle’s Luv Ya Bunches, a cutesy, chat-acronym infested middle-grade novel about a quartet of fifth grade girls all named after flowers, received a lot of attention from the blogosphere after Scholastic declined to include it in elementary school book fairs. The juicy bit was not the ban of the book, which does feature some (ho-hum) swearing and a lisped iteration of the word “penith,” but rather that Scholastic asked Myracle to change the fact that Milla, one of the main characters, has two mothers. To her credit, Myracle refused. In an article in School Library Journal she is quoted as saying “kids benefit hugely from seeing themselves reflected positively in the books they read. It's an extremely empowering and validating experience." This quote brings us to an important point about Luv Ya Bunches: This is a book about positive representations of minorities. The lesbian mothers play no role in the story; (all the parents in Luv Ya Bunches are of the wah-wah Charlie Brown variety) they are only there because they make Milla a minority figure. All the main characters are in some important sense minorities. Perky, know-it-all Katie-Rose is biracial, half Chinese and half Caucasian. Mysterious, sad Violet is African American, with a mentally ill mother. Shy, kind Yasaman (Turkish for Jasmine) is Muslim. And blonde haired, blue eyed Milla (short for Camilla) has her two mommies. At first, I was skeptical, finding the contrivance very heavy handed. I mean come on, how many times did we need to hear that Yasaman was a big fan of peace?
But midway through the book I began thinking about my own middle school clique, and that was when I started to cut Myracle some slack. Looking back on it, I realized that we were a pretty diverse lot. There was half Jewish me, two ABC’s (American born Chinese), an immigrant from Russia, a half Filipino girl from Australia, and our token WASP, who had recently been demoted from the sixth grade A-List. And here lies the actual important contribution of Luv Ya Bunches to the children’s literary canon: (and no, it is not the bold mention of dingleberries) This isn’t a book about nerds or cool kids. This is a book for the rest of us. My friends and I weren’t diverse in a deliberate, representative way like Myracle’s characters, but we did become friends for the same reason as the Flower Girls. Like Katie-Rose, Milla, Yasaman, and Violet, we met in the middle. Whether we were refugees from the popular crowd or from silent, almost nerd-dom, we were looking for people to giggle with us, crush with us, protect us, and ultimately give us a sense of belonging, a group identity. We might not have had a lot in common, but we gave each other the confidence to become the teens and ultimately the adults who we were meant to be. Luv Ya Bunches depicts this common middle school phenomenon in a way I haven’t seen in other books, and in that way, Milla’s mothers, and each of the other girl’s racial or ethnic identities, become secondary. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that Myracle stood up to Scholastic and refused to straight-wash her book, but I think, in the end, the story would have worked either way. Myracle could have written this book about four white girls from “traditional” families and it still would be one in which girls would recognize themselves and feel proud.