It’s Banned Book Week and I have a bone to pick. Why are books banned? Some are banned from school libraries because of certain subject matters (i.e. drug use and sexual content) or language. But who gets to decide what books are “okay” for young adults to read and what is deemed “inappropriate”? Usually it is a select few who easily take offense to topics and/or language, present their case to the school or library board, and when they make enough noise, they win the ban on the book.
Check out the American Library Association’s 2009-2010 list of banned and challenged books. How many times does the phrase “a parent complained about…” (or ” parent was appalled”, “a parent’s belief,” etc.) appear within the document? Out of the 53 books, 11 contained that phrase. Eleven. These books were banned (or close to being banned) because a parent (that’s right, just one) complained. One person is fighting for your right not to read.
One parent even challenged the dictionary in a school library because a child came across the term “oral sex.” Seriously, the dictionary? Are children no longer allowed to look up words they don’t know because they may come across, oh, I don’t know, INFORMATION? God forbid we let our children grow up with a healthy vocabulary! Let’s just pluck them all down in front of the Disney Channel and pray that they become smart, fulfilled, happy adults. That should do the trick.
***End of sarcastic tirade***
Some schools don’t ban controversial books but restrict them to a certain age or with written consent from a parent. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still taking freedom of choice away from young adults. One book that was restricted in Beardstown, Illinois is Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. The reason for the restriction was because the book “describes sex, uses foul language, and contains other ‘R-rated’ content.” I’ve read Nineteen Minutes and the sexual content is minuscule and occurs only in a few scenes. I’m guessing that whomever wanted the book banned had a major problem with two teenagers having sex. Okay, I get that, but here’s a reality check: teens have sex. I’m not saying it’s right but it happens. The book can actually be used as a good example of why teens shouldn’t have sex. The girl who has sex later has to come to grips about possibly being pregnant – a very real consequence to sex.
For those who haven’t read it, the premise of Nineteen Minutes is about a lonely boy who goes to school one day and shoots his classmates and teachers. The book also goes into the events of the boy’s life leading up to the shooting, and his trial after the shooting. If anything, I think that the book could be a learning tool for both teenagers and adults. Parents can discuss the issues brought up in the book: bullying, depression, suicide, teen sex, abusive relationships. They may be difficult topics, but ones that should be discussed between parents and kids. Books like Nineteen Minutes can be a good starting point to get the conversation rolling.
Sadly, a lot of books that can teach its readers a valuable lesson are the ones most often challenged. One of my favorite books, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, is one of them. A pastor in Missouri recently wrote an opinion piece to News-Leader of Springfield because he thinks it’s “soft pornography.” The book follows Melinda through a year of not speaking until she finds the courage to stand up and confront her rapist. Yes, there are a few rape scenes but as Anderson pointed out in her blog, “The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Also, young women need role models (whether they are real or fictional) of strong women. They need to see that rape victims do not have to revert into themselves and become shells of the person they once were. They can stand up and speak out against their rapist.
The more books that are banned, the greater disservice we are giving future generations. Books that can help our youth grow and develop into mindful, ethical, and well-rounded adults need to stay on our shelves.