Youngstown author Christopher Barzak makes lists — but not always the ones he wants to be included on.
Barzak, a professor at Youngstown State University, discovered earlier this month that his 2015 novel, “Wonders of the Unseen World” is included on a list of 850 books compiled by Texas State Representative Matt Krause and sent to school libraries. Krause claimed that the books contain material that “could cause students to experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or gender.”
Barzak had been following the story, which has been in national news since late October 2021, but didn’t realize his book made the list until a few weeks ago when a friend texted him and told him. asked what he thought of the list. He thought it was a general question, so he gave a general answer thinking it was a political stunt.
“No, your book is on the list” the friend tweeted back.
“That’s how I found out, when I was trying to do Wordle,” said Barzak. “She sent me a link with a list of all the books. When I saw this, I was really surprised. It was strange. At first, I had this feeling of hurt feelings for some reason. What the hell would there be in this book that someone would have found ban-able? It’s a pretty sweet book.
But Barzak and the book’s central character are gay, and the novel won a Stonewall Book Award from the American Library Association for having “exceptional merit” in his treatment of this subject. He believes that price is probably what got “Wonders” on the list rather than Krause reading the book.
“I don’t think they read much in general, maybe even the bills they pass,” he said.
Barzak found an analysis by Danika Ellis on the Book Riot website which claimed that more than 60% of the 850 books included LGBTQ characters or were written by authors who identify as such.
“I tried to understand why I had this (hurt) feeling” he said. “The act itself is mixed with memories of growing up gay in a time when it was much harder to be yourself and people obviously excluded and abused you. Getting a book shot just because you’re gay got mixed up in those memories. That’s an act of exclusion in itself… Wow, that hasn’t really gone away. There are still people out there who really want people like me to get away with it. go away and not be seen, not heard, have no voice, become second-class or even tertiary citizens again.
Barzak, 46, grew up in Johnston and graduated from Maplewood High School in 1993. He attended Kent State University at Trumbull and the University of Akron before graduating from YSU. He is the author of four novels (including one adapted into a 2014 film “Jamie Marks is dead” ) and two collections of short stories.
There have been positives since the start of the controversy. This week’s human rights campaign included “Wonders” on a list of LGBTQ+ positive books for middle and high school students. Barzak has noticed an increase in social media followers in Texas. And since he shared his feelings about being on the list, others have shared the post and encouraged people to buy the book in reaction to efforts to remove his work from libraries.
“If the sales of this book increase, it is always good”, he said. “It could put the book in the hands of people who need it.”
Barzak is currently working on revisions for a new novel, and his agent is buying a collection of short stories that is a retelling of classic monster fiction. He said it was too early to tell what impact, if any, this experience might have on his future work.
“I’ve always written novels and stories with lots of weird characters,” he said. “I always try to make the space a space for people like me… That way I don’t think anything will change. Maybe it will light more than one fire under me to do more.