Cupping her mouth with her hands, Gabriela Sugiaman tried hiding her gasp when she read a crude metaphor regarding a woman’s pearl necklace written by a beloved children’s author.
“Obviously, ‘semen’ is the only word that sticks out to me on the first page,” education sophomore Sugiaman said about “Watch Your Mouth,” a book by Daniel Handler published in 2000.
The novel was released a year after Handler debuted his hit “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which was published under his alter-ego, “Lemony Snicket.” Handler will appear this weekend at the Texas Book Festival to debut another explicit novel, “All The Dirty Parts.”
Like many of Handler’s readers, Sugiaman grew up reading the author’s dark and adventurous “Unfortunate Events” novels about orphans evading their treacherous uncle. However, she struggles to comprehend the author’s presence in scandalous young adult fiction.
“It’s messed up,” Sugiaman said. “I’m very shocked and surprised.”
“Watch Your Mouth” is about a college boyfriend who visits his girlfriend’s family and discovers their bizarre secrets, such as their inclination for incest. Both satirical and sexually graphic, Handler plays the characters in front of a metaphoric opera, adding stage and orchestra directions to heighten the dirty drama.
In one scene, the protagonist Joseph asks his girlfriend’s father, Ben, if he is fixated on incest. The author then cites a theme in orchestra called The Unknown Dread: “‘Are you talking about incest,’ I asked, but Ben just turned and smiled at me like I hadn’t said anything. This is the first entrance of one of the orchestral leitmotifs that will keep popping up as the plot-knot is tied tighter: The Unknown Dread.”
And now this won’t be Handler’s only venture into crude content. “All The Dirty Parts” chronicles a teenage boy’s pursuit of a girl and his sexual quests.
“Let me put it this way: this is how much I think about sex,” said Cole, the 17-year-old protagonist. “Draw a number line, with zero is you never think about sex and 10 is, it’s all you think about, and while you are drawing the line, I am thinking about sex.”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Handler said he wrote this book in part to encourage young men to read more. He dismissed worries of his younger audience discovering it.
“It’s funny, isn’t it, that we worry about young people reading about sex, instead of, say, people shooting each other with laser beams,” Handler said. “This anxiety is precisely what led to the novel.”
English senior Abby Adamo, a childhood fan of “Unfortunate Events,” said she wouldn’t be worried if a young reader was exposed to Handler’s graphic language.
“I think if I had a kid, sure, read it, because they gotta learn some time,” Adamo said. “I feel like it’s an effective way of getting kids comfortable with things they have to look forward to.”
Adamo said Handler shouldn’t be singled out for writing both children’s and young adult fiction. She compared him to author Judy Bloom, who is known for her coming-of-age novels.
“Her books were for kids, but they’re also for overcoming the leap from childhood to adulthood, and a lot of that is sexual,” Adamo said. “It’s pretty normal for children’s authors to expand into young adult fiction.”