Maybe I’m a little bit of a rebel, but when I hear about a book being banned, I automatically put it on my to-read list. For example, I’m currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time (I know, shame on me!) because I heard it was recently banned in the public school district in Biloxi, Mississippi. I’m a curious person by nature, and I always want to know why a book gets banned. To Kill a Mockingbird has been regularly taught in schools across the country for many years, so why is it suddenly being pulled from shelves? According to one article I read, it’s because “there is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” Um, hello? It’s a book about racism. It’s supposed to make people uncomfortable.
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford is one of my favorite young adult books and one which was recently challenged in the school district where I grew up (Broken Arrow, Oklahoma). In fact, one of my friends is a librarian in this district, and she’s the one who recommended I read it. Why was this book challenged? Because a parent thought it was “vulgar, vulgar, vulgar”. Now, let me give you a little background: the main character of this book is a teenage boy. Are teenage boys vulgar on occasion? As someone who taught middle school for many years, I can tell you the answer is yes. This book is hilarious and very realistic. And because of that, it just may get that reluctant teen boy reading, which in my opinion, is a very good thing.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was also challenged in New Jersey and also Washington because of “sensitive material in the book including excerpts on masturbation amongst other explicit sexual references.” Again this is another book where the main character is a teenage boy. Frankly, I was surprised to see this one on the banned/challenged books list because I don’t remember it being that bad. I loved this book because of its unique story structure, humor, and the fact that the main character is Native American– a race that is definitely underrepresented in not just young adult literature, but all literature. To me, those positives far outweigh any negatives the book may have.
My favorite John Green novel, Looking for Alaska, was also banned in a Tennessee school district because of inappropriate language. I say parents need to wake up and smell the middle school/ high school hallways. Not that I condone it, but inappropriate language is an everyday reality in schools. Maybe not for every teen, but for many. Contemporary novels reflect real life and like it or not, inappropriate language is real life.
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers is another book I asked for at my library as soon as I found out it had been banned by a South Carolina school district. This book is about a high school senior who is ostracized and bullied by her former friends after she reports an attempted rape by a popular boy. Yes, there is bad language, and yes, there are sexual references. But is rape a reality for some teens? Unfortunately so. Not all teens live an ideal life. In fact, many do not. Characters in books such as this one show that they are not alone.
I’m sure adults who ban books have good intentions, but when they vote to keep a specific book off library shelves, they may not realize they’re actually promoting that book in a way. When it makes the news as a banned book, I’m sure many a teenager will try to get their hands on it just for the sole fact that someone is telling them they can’t. Because that’s how teenagers operate, ya know?
As both a writer and reader of young adult fiction, I’m not easily offended by language and sensitive subjects. Stories can make us uncomfortable. But heck, real life can make us uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean we should hide under a rock or try to shelter our kids from every possible evil in the world. I don’t allow my children to use bad language, and I expect them to make good choices, but I would never tell them they couldn’t read any of the above books.
I agree with Sherman Alexie when he said, “I believe in any kid’s ability to read any book and form their own judgments. It’s the job of a parent to guide his/her child through the reading of every book imaginable. Censorship of any form punishes curiosity.”