Wednesday, October 01, 2008
in celebration of banned books
Being Wednesday, today brings us smack dab in the middle of banned books week, and though it's depressing to think that we're living in a time where such a recognition remains necessary, necessary it nonetheless remains. So let's recognize, yes?

Here is the ALA's list of the most frequently challenged books of 2007/2008, and though I haven't read them all, I have read most of them. In fact, three of the titles on the list happen to comprise my favorite three young adult works of all time: Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Copies of all three books currently reside in my classroom library, and I frequently recommend and lend each title to my students. So, does that make me an irresponsible adult? Well, I guess it depends on who you're asking. But since there are those who would deem me irresponsible, I suppose I deserve the right to defend myself by defending the aforementioned titles.

And so defend I will. *Ahem*

The Chocolate War is #2 on the list, and is awarded that "distinction" for being sexually explicit, as well as containing offensive language and scenes of violence. And I will assure you that it does indeed contain all of those things. (Well, assuming you think a subtly written and very brief masturbation scene is reason enough to declare an entire book "sexually explicit." And maybe you do. Because you're a Puritan, perhaps.)

As far as young adult authors go, Cormier was one of the most intense. His books are dark, complex, and troublesome. They focus on subject matter such as the dangers of mob mentality (The Chocolate War), anger and revenge (Heroes) and insanity (I Am the Cheese). But underneath the violence lies an important message: Life is hard. Evil people exist. But, you do not need to become one of them! Be strong. Be brave. Be better. Who wouldn't want their child to hear such a message? Furthermore, how can this message be realistically delivered to a fourteen or fifteen-year-old kid in a story devoid of violence and offensive language? You can't have a resurrection without a crucifixion, folks. Cormier, particularly in The Chocolate War, speaks to the importance of personal responsibility and the dangers of mindless conformity. And really - this is something we should be protecting teens from?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 10th on the list, is charged with containing homosexual characters, being sexually explicit, containing offensive language, as well as being unsuited to its age group. With the exception of the latter, I again assure you that all accusations are true. But the language is more realistic than gratuitous, and the "sexual explicitness" is largely due to the fact that the protagonist eventually reveals himself to be a victim of molestation, an issue which is handled tactfully, honestly, and not particularly graphically. And unfortunately, 15 out of every 100 Americans is either a victim or a victimizer of child molestation, so failure to address this topic isn't doing any of us any favors.

And yep, there are homosexual characters in the book. Just like there are homosexual people in life! You know that idyllic small town you grew up in where everyone was "normal"? Well, hate to break it to you, but it didn't exist. There is no normal, diversity isn't scary, and the faster kids learn all that the better off we all are in the long run. Do you know what happens when homosexuality is connected with hatred and fear rather than understanding and empathy? Matthew Shephard happens. Think on it.

Finally, and perhaps most bizarrely, is The Golden Compass, reaching #4 on the list for its "religious viewpoint." Ahhh, where to begin... So author Philip Pullman is a self-proclaimed atheist. So freaking what? The book is a fantasy, and unlike other famous fantasy stories before it (*cough!* TheLionTheWitchandtheWardrobe *cough!*) it is not a particularly religious (or anti-religious) book. But so what if it was? If your faith is such that it can be shaken merely by reading a fantasy fiction book penned by an atheist, then I hate to break it to you - your faith was pretty damn weak to begin with.   

Nevermind that the dissenters aren't even pretending to separate the author's life from his work. We live in a scary time when an artist's religious affiliations (or lack thereof) are sufficient grounds for the censorship of his work. In the words of Pullman himself, banning a book on religious grounds is "the worst reason of the lot," and "destroying intellectual freedom is always evil." 

And what are the critics protecting our dear little children from by keeping them away from Pullman's trilogy? A epic adventure where the young female protagonist is depicted as being daring, tough, brave, intelligent and wholly capable. Nope. We wouldn't want our young girls (and boys, for that matter) reading that garbage...

To conclude, I would sincerely recommend any of the above titles to readers both young and old. Each is beautifully written, moving, and has brought something fresh, complex and incredibly valuable to the table.

And let's be honest - banned books are simply just more fun.

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Blogger Mary said...

Thanks for the link to the banned books. I'm embarassed to find out that I've only read one of the Maya Angelou. And I only read it last year. I'm trying to get through all the books I was assigned in school, then maybe I'll go through the banned ones!

Blogger Nathan said...

Great post.


These are the same people who think that a 12 year-old devouring a 400 page Harry Potter book in 48 hours are all being brainwashed into witchcraft.

It's not real. Kids realize they aren't wizards but embrace the story and are READING!


Life is hard and complicated. As long as it is being told at an age appropriate level and with realistic language for their age nothing but good can come from it.

Unfortunately, I don't think enough parents realize the surroundings in which their teens live. They don't go to school with "The Brady Bunch."

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