Here’s a rich irony: I’m writing today about a new children’s book, but I can’t describe the plot in a family newspaper without warning you first that it is entirely inappropriate for children.
The book is “Rainbow Party,” by juvenile fiction author Paul Ruditis. The publisher is Simon Pulse, a kiddie lit division of the esteemed Simon & Schuster. The cover of the book features the title spelled out in fun, Crayola-bright font. Beneath the title is an illustrated array of lipsticks in bold colors.
The main characters in the book are high-school sophomores – supposedly typical 14- and 15-year-olds with names such as “Gin” and “Sandy.” The book opens with these two girls shopping for lipstick at the mall in advance of a special party. The girls banter as they hunt for lipsticks in every color of the rainbow:
“OK, we’ve got red, orange, and purple,” Gin said. “Now we just need yellow, green, and blue.”
“Don’t forget indigo,” Sandy said as she scanned the row of lipstick tubes.
“What are you talking about?”
“Indigo,” Sandy repeated as if that explained everything. “You know. ROY G. BIV. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.”
“That’s seven lipsticks. Only six girls are coming. We don’t need it.”
What kind of party do you imagine they might be organizing? Perhaps a makeover party? With moms and daughters sharing their best beauty secrets and bonding in the process?
Alas, no. No parents are invited to this get-together. A “rainbow party,” you see, is a gathering of boys and girls for the purpose of engaging in group oral sex. Each girl wears a different colored lipstick and leaves a mark on each boy. At night’s end, the boys proudly sport their own cosmetically sealed rainbow you-know-where – bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of “party favors.”
In the end, the kids in the book abandon plans for the event and news of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases rocks their school. But the front cover and book marketing emphasize titillation over education, overpowering any redeeming value the book might have. Indeed, according to Publisher’s Weekly, the bound galleys sent to booksellers carried the provocative tagline, “don’t you want to know what really goes down?”
The author and publisher of the book seem to have persuaded themselves that they are doing families a favor. Simon & Schuster did not return my call seeking comment, but Bethany Buck, Ruditis’ editor, told USA Today the intention was to “scare” young readers (uh-huh), and Ruditis told Publisher’s Weekly:
Part of me doesn’t understand why people don’t want to talk about [oral sex] … Kids are having sex and they are actively engaged in oral sex and think it’s not really sex. I raised questions in my book and I hope that parents and children or teachers and students can open a topic of conversation through it. Rainbow parties are such an interesting topic. It’s such a childlike way to look at such an adult subject – with rainbow colors.
Teenage group orgies are “an interesting topic”? Is Ruditis out of his mind? We can only pray Simon & Schuster keeps him away from the preschool “Rubbadubbers” books.
In a small sign that decency and common sense still survive in the marketplace, a number of children’s book sellers are refusing to stock “Rainbow Party.” But as Ruditis’ comments indicate, it’s just a matter of time before the book ends up on public school library shelves in the name of “educating” children and helping them “deal with reality.” The teen lit market is now awash in sexually explicit books that would require brown-paper wrapping if sold at 7-11 – their authors are being hailed as “edgy.”
For once, radio shock jock Howard Stern has my sympathy. When Oprah Winfrey aired a show last year in which a guest joked bawdily about teenage “rainbow parties” under the guise of enlightening parents, Stern pointed out the regulatory double standards. Why should he be punished for indecent broadcasts while Oprah escaped scrutiny for equally explicit – and exploitative – content?
Stern is in the wrong line of work. If you want to peddle smut with society’s approval, children’s books and sex ed is where it’s at.