The project I took on for the new year continues. The American Library Association has published a book of the 52 titles that most often provoke an urge to ban those publications. The ALA challenge is to read every book on the list and record your reaction to each.
A recent report says that the last twelve months have shown a tremendous surge in groups advocating that thousands of books be restricted or outright unavailable at school and public libraries. Concerns over sexual content, LBGTQ issues, racial history and depictions of violence fuel this uptick.
School and public librarians are under fire. Some library board meetings open to the public have become shouting matches, with threats of shutting down a town's public library not unheard of. In fact, a few communities have eliminated all library funding over this issue.
While I believe book banning is a horrific option, I understand that not everything published is appropriate for everyone. In most cases, we should defer judgment on appropriateness to the parents of a child.
When I get my hackles up is when a group of people (or just one) decides their choices for their offspring must be applied to all, regardless of age or circumstances. It strikes me as ironic that some groups that are most vocal about restrictions include the word "Liberty" in their name.
Now into the fourth month of this project, I want to update you on my progress. As noted in previous posts, I promised to approach each with an open mind, attempting to understand why a listed book would generate such opposition.
I am also interested to see how many books on the list are available at my library. As an additional benefit, the ALA notes that keeping these books in circulation helps deflect attacks and complaints.
After my last report in early February, here is a progress report:
* I have read seven more of the listed books. My reaction to each will be noted below.
* So far, every book has been readily available in my library. That tells me minority pressure has yet to limit everyone's choices in my town.
* The bulk of the books in this challenge are YA, or Young Adult, in orientation. I would select very few of them as a personal choice, not because of their content but because the narrative is not meant to appeal to me.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Hannah is a teenage girl who committed suicide before the story begins after having her self-confidence and self-image destroyed by a series of events. She leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes that the thirteen people who were instrumental in her decision to die are meant to listen to.
In a compelling format, Hannah's words on the tapes are presented in italics, while the narrator, a boy who doesn't know why he was one of the thirteen, is printed in regular font.
The story stresses how seemingly inconsequential events and actions can have long-lasting, life-altering consequences.
My Thought: Not only should this book not be removed from library shelves, I believe it should be required reading for all teenagers. Suicide is a significant problem in this age group. This book could help lift the taboo over its discussion and awareness.
Note: Netflix has a series based on this book, but reading it should come first.
I Know Why Caged Birds Sing by Maya Angelou
This critically acclaimed 1969 autobiography tells of growing up young and black in Arkansas, where rampant racism and discrimination are simply a fact of life. Maya presents her story in a way that highlights how the unthinkable and unacceptable are just how things are. There is virtually no emotion or anger in her story, which makes it much more terrifying and gives the story its strength. Maya simply knows hows the world works and does her best.
The sex situations are pretty tame by today's standards, and nothing someone entering puberty has not wondered about.
My Thoughts: This story is open, honest, and memorable. It is part of this country's history and must be told. It is entirely acceptable for anyone 10 years and older.
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
If this book is considered pornographic, I shudder to think what those same folks think of what is on TV, movie screens, The Internet, and many social media apps.
At least at my library, this title is shelved in the adult section. It describes a world that is not all cotton candy and bunny rabbits. Mike, the lead character, meets various personalities in his quest to leave the world of lawn care and pet poop collection behind.
While I finished Lawn Boy for this project, I had difficulty, investing myself in Mike's life. It wasn't the language or sexual situations that bothered me. I simply wasn't captured by his struggles and life narrative.
My Thoughts: Not appealing to those younger than twelve. No problem for older teens and adults who find the story engaging.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
I enjoyed this book enough to want to read the two other books in the trilogy. A young adult fantasy adventure story about a young girl who lives in a world very different from ours, where youngsters have demons attached to their minds and bodies.
These demons represent free will, companionship, and the ability of children to figure out what they believe. As they age, their demons eventually disappear, representing the loss of childhood innocence and dreams.
The lead character, Lyra, discovers a much darker universe: witches, shape-shifting animals, reptiles, birds, amour-wearing polar bears who talk, and adults behaving badly.
Children mysteriously disappear from neighborhoods around a college in England. They are taken to a "research lab" in the far north, where the childhood demons are cut off, eliminating the desire to question authority and to eliminate sin.
The force behind these "cuttings" are authority figures of the church who are determined to stamp out any challenge to their interpretation of how the world operates.
The Golden Compass is also a 2007 movie starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Read the book first, or the film won't make as much sense.
My Thoughts: the author has very strong feelings about the church's power to influence individuality and freedom. His opinions are the driving force behind this novel. Those who have this book in their banning sights object to the religious and political positions espoused by the characters and their actions. There is no sex and only cartoon-type violence.
I see no valid reason why Golden Compass should be banned. Most YA books of today contain much more graphic violence and disturbing images. This book is in trouble only because of its position on organized religion.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jackson Reynolds and Ibram Kendi
"This is not a history book," declare the authors upfront and often. It is not a chronological retelling of America's story. Instead, I found it more like a conversation among friends. The writing style is chatty, witty, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek, but always clear in communicating the reality of where we have been and where we are going.
My thoughts: There is absolutely no rational reason for this book to not be fully available.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A study of human resilience and adaptability while growing up in a seriously dysfunctional family. This is the true story of Jeannette's youth and young adulthood as she navigates life with a flighty, self-indulgent but loving mother,, and a father whose dreams and lack of practicality affect the whole family in ways that are shocking, sad, funny, and honest.
I had to remind myself that this was an autobiography and not a work of fiction. How the family normalized daily life in such a haphazard, topsy-turvy manner seems almost unbelievable. But, The Glass Castle strongly portrays the power of individualism, commitment, and family.
The Glass Castle was made into a movie in 2017. Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts are the leading actors portraying the real-life Walls family. The film is rated PG-13 and is a somewhat sanitized and much less powerful retelling of the book.
My Thoughts: I can find no reason this book should offend. There is a sexual occurrence and a few "adult" words occur, but nothing graphic or particularly shocking. I doubt someone younger than early teens would be attracted to the story, but if so, they would certainly be mature enough to be gripped by the key messages of the power of the human spirit.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
A family immigrates from China to Anaheim, California. They find a job managing a motel; Mom and Dad take care of all the maintenance while their young daughter, Mia, must learn to handle the front desk. The family endures long days and interacts with a mix of customers, both short and long-term residents of the motel.
The motel owner is a nasty, penny-pinching racist who treats the family poorly. He will stop at nothing to increase his financial situation by taking advantage of the Yang family at every opportunity. Of course, he passes his worst traits onto his son, who makes Mia's life even more unpleasant.
The story is semi-autobiographical: the author had similar experiences during her youth after moving with her family from Hong Kong and managing several hotels in California.
My Thoughts: For the life of me, I have no idea why this book is objectionable to anyone on any level. It portrays racism as hurtful and demeaning, yet that is the criticism leveled by those who want this YA title removed: it is accused of teaching anti-racism.
There is no sex, no violence, and no objectionable language. Anyone old enough to read would find important lessons of tolerance and persistence in Front Desk.
Your thoughts and reactions are encouraged!