Banned Book Week

Did you know that September 21-27 is Banned Book Week?

Don’t worry, I didn’t know either, until Amanda told me about it, via Book Journey. Then, I read though some of the lists of books that have been banned over the years, getting angry and also wondering if I had anything to contribute to this conversation that hasn’t already been said a  millions times.

Clearly, I write a blog about books, and you are reading this blog about books, so let’s just assume that you and I both are opposed to the idea of banned books, right?

Scrolling through the list, I saw titles of classic works that I know have long histories of controversies, fantasy books that lead to accusations of black magic or something ridiculous, and, god forbid, kid’s books that normalize same-sex relationships. Oh, the humanity!

But you already know that, right?

What did jump out at me though, were a couple books banned because teenagers use drugs, namely Looking For Alaska and Go Ask Alice. I read both of these books as an adult, not a teen, but I don’t remember reading them and thinking that those books really glamorized drinking and drug use. After all, there are dire consequences in both.

And then I thought about a book I did read as an actual impressionable youth – Sweet Valley High, On the Edge – AKA, the book where Regina dies from cocaine. I remember nothing about that book or the circumstances (though I did remember the name Regina just now to Google), but the message came through loud and clear: all it takes is one time to kill you, kids! To this day, I remain terrified of the mere idea of cocaine. Clearly, I am not the only one, as evidenced by this post from Forever YA: Regina Morrow is the reason I never tried cocaine.

I’m pretty sure that reading Go Ask Alice would have a similar effect on teens – “Alice” is a middle-class, regular old teenager who gets caught up in drugs – and she does not have a happy ending. The kids in Looking for Alaska get into trouble at boarding school, and the book ends with a pretty clear warning.

I suppose I understand why someone who thinks banning books is an appropriate thing to do might look at the descriptions and shout “BAN BAN BAN,” but seriously – this is the opposite of logical.

For one thing, is banning books that include kids doing dumb/illegal/dangerous things based on the assumption that anyone who reads about something is going to go out and try it? I mean, how many people read Life of Pi – and how many of those readers then got onto a boat with a tiger, just for kicks?

Second, that’s completely discounting the lesson, or conclusion, found at the end of the book(s). Spoiler alert: sometimes people die from drugs/drinking/stupidity. Isn’t that exactly the lesson you’d want to impart to a young readers, as opposed to teaching them that some ideas are off limits?

And, my final point – don’t use cocaine, guys. Not even once. #terrifiedsince1992

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10 Comments

  1. Fantastic post! Loved it and loved the last sentence (literally laughed out loud!) You bring up valid points here… have to say, after my boys read Harry Potter they did not try to fly off the roof on a broom… although they did go through a season of wearing their blankets as capes…. hmmmmm 😉

    Thank you for writing an amazing post!

  2. I’ve always said that the Harry Potter books no more taught me to cast spells and be a wizard than Star Trek taught me how to travel the universe in a star ship. The magic is an element of the storytelling that opens up larger questions of good vs evil and making good choices.

    When it comes to book banning, I feel like we’re missing the forest for the trees. Or in this case the tree for the pine cones.

    I’ve read a couple of YA novels in recent memory where the young adult characters (gasp!) act like teenagers — including swearing, drinking and engaging in hanky panky! I think too often we want to ban a book because teens act like teens in it. And then we wonder why young adults don’t want to read the sanitized stuff we push on them as “recommended.” If you let them read about characters or stories they can relate to, they might want to continue reading.

    Call me crazy, I guess.

  3. I wonder how often the people who ban the books have actually read the book. I remember volunteering at a school book fair one time years ago and a dad came in livid that we had sold a book to his daughter that condoned witchcraft. I forget what it was but it was basically a DIsney channel version. I wanted to tell him that if his daughter took things that seriously than books were going to be least of his problems. I never read the Sweet Valley High books for some reasons but now I kind of want to go read about Regina Morrow!

  4. Holy crap. Awesome post. I’m dying over here. Cocaine…not even once.

    I totally remember reading Go Ask Alice as a teenager. It scared the pants off of me. She was a freaking mess! I think that’s what a lot of these gung-ho banning proponents are missing. It’s not glamorizing…it’s exposing. Yes, sometimes characters get lucky and make it through their crap, but sometimes…well, sometimes they’re Regina.

  5. We learned so much from dear Sweet valley, didn’t we??

    But on a serious note, I think banning books in school is incredibly short-sighted. Yes, we need to be cognizant of what is appropriate for the age group. I don’t want my first grader reading about sex yet.

    But in high school, it would be difficult to find a book that covers a topic they don’t already know about. The thought that we can keep our kids from sex or drugs or swearing by refusing to let them read about it is ignoring the fact that they are experiencing it in real life! We are missing a real opportunity as parents and educators to discuss these things through the lens of a story.

    Wow. That got kind of long….

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