Banned Books Week

What a slacker I am! I didn't even realize it was Banned Book Week here in the US! It's over on Saturday, but you should never stop reading banned books. In my opinion, the reason books are banned is because people can't handle the (sometimes difficult) truths in them. One of my favorite YA authors, Laurie Halse Anderson, deals with parents trying to ban her books from schools all the time. She has some very interesting posts on her LiveJournal about the effects these attempts can have on teens and their ability to cope with the things they handle every day.

A book I constantly recommend to people who are interested in reading banned books is her novel Speak. It's about a teen girl who is raped at a party the summer before her freshman year of high school. She withdraws into herself, has trouble expressing herself, and finds the strength to speak and reveal him only after a long school year of rejection, self-discovery, and ultimately an attempted second attack by her rapist. It teaches teens that they are strong enough to get through the trauma of rape, and that they need to speak up if something like that happens to them.

Another book of hers that I loved was Wintergirls, a novel about a teen girl caught in the spiral of anorexia. Throughout the book she counts the calories of everything she is forced to eat. Her life is a game of numbers and self-deprecation. She criticizes herself, says she's fat even though she's is near-death, and eventually almost dies. Even if this is something you have never dealt with, reading it will give you strength to help friends who may be suffering from an eating disorder. Or it may talk you out of developing one, or help you understand that you can conquer it if you do suffer from one.

These books are constantly being challenged in school districts because of their dark topics. Parents don't want their children to read about rape because they believe it exposes them to violence. At the same time, they have no problems letting their kids play violent video games, watch violent tv shows and movies, and talk violently to their friends. They don't want their kids to read about eating disorders because they believe it will lead them to develop one. All of this is ridiculously wrong, and yet they can't see it. And school districts let parents dictate what the kids can read, instead of leaving it up to the teachers.

When I was in high school, I was in 10th grade Enriched English. We were reading To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), a book that has been banned in the past and continues to receive challenges. My teacher wanted us to read a modern take on the novel, and decided that we should read A Time To Kill by John Grisham. Because of the violent rape scene that opens the book, we had to bring home permission slips to our parents. The slip explained the educational value and the reason we were reading the book. Not one parent objected. I guess you could say we lived in a progressive school district - we were also given the option to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that year, which is now facing calls to censor the n-word out (because there's absolutely no value in reading something in its historical context, right?). Thank goodness most of the criticism comes out on the side of the book and not the man responsible for the censorship, but the fact that it's being challenged at all is pretty crazy.

Banned books to me are actually a challenge - the people who challenge books are daring me: "Read it, read it if you dare." And I do. Oh, yes I do.


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