Yesterday, we discussed children’s books, and also penguins who shared a forbidden love, except not forbidden, and totally awesome.
Today: young adult novels. And sorry in advance, this sucker is LONG. Maybe take a break halfway through! Have a muffin! Some coffee! Take a nice walk!
As a young adult, the last thing I wanted to be reading was young adult novels. I wanted to be a grownup! Which meant reading grownup novels, full of grownup things like jobs! And illicit sex with your married next-door neighbor! And carpooling! Also, when I was a teenager, many moons ago, there weren’t a lot of good young-adult novels. We had the Sweet Valley High series. If you grew up reading these, you know they were not good. Our options were kind of limited.
Young adult literature is currently fantastic. I don’t wish I was a young adult in 2011 – too many opportunities for people to take embarrassing cell-phone videos of me – but I do wish I was a young adult reader in 2011. These kids have options. It’s awe-inspiring. Sure, there’s still crap *coughTwilightcough* but there are also a lot of amazing books out there for young adults to read, if they choose to read young adult lit, as opposed to adult lit.
I’m quickly on my way to middle-age, and I love young adult lit. I probably read as much young-adult lit as I do traditional adult lit in a year. There are missteps, sure, just as there are in any genre, but there are also a lot of excellent books out there.
There’s also a huge backlash against young adult lit right now, so much so that there’s an entire YA Saves movement out there. Do a Google search and you’ll find a ton of blogs with their stories about how YA literature saved them when they needed someone and there were no people available. Books are always available. Books can save us. I believe very strongly in this myself, as the woman a bullied teen grew into.
The list of YA novels that are banned is a lengthy one, because WE NEED TO PROTECT THE CHILDREN is very strong when the children are teenagers. The teenagers! They need us to protect them the most! Otherwise, they might see DIRTY CUSSES! And VIOLENCE! And SEXUAL SITUATIONS! That they would not see ANYWHERE ELSE EVER ONLY IN BOOKS! Oh, wait, they’ll see them EVERYWHERE else. And like I said yesterday, if it’s in a book, you can also read the book, and you can open up a discussion with your teen – and *gulp* - HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH HIM OR HER. Whoo! Groundbreaking stuff, talking to your teenager!
Am I saying that young adults need to be reading actual pornography? Why, no, jackass, I am not actually saying that! What I’m saying is, give our children some credit. Underneath those baggy jeans that are falling down that I’m too old to understand and their trendy t-shirts are actual LITTLE PEOPLE. (Not “little people,” you weirdo. Sheesh.) With brains! And feelings! They would like to choose, personally, what they read. Even if it’s sparkly-vampire garbage.
Listen, I don’t want kids, and I don’t plan on having kids. But if I did, well, the karmic joke would be that they’d hate reading, I suppose. But let’s just assume they liked reading. I’d talk to them about the books they wanted to read. I’d suggest books. I’d discuss the books after they were done reading. We would have discussions spurred by the topics in the book. I loved the adults that talked to me in an adult way about literature when I was a teenager. Why do we assume our kids aren’t capable of handling topics in an adult fashion? Kids in today’s society are, honestly, more savvy about a lot of things than I am. Which is sad and a little scary but also true.
Today’s banned books! Young adult edition!
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Reason for ban: “too negative”
Synopsis: in a dystopian future, a young man is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories for his community. Once he grasps the truth of what is happening around him, he struggles with the hypocrisy of his society.
(Note – this is actually the first in a series of young adult novels, and continues with Gathering Blue and The Messenger, both set in the same version of the future. However, unlike the series I cover below, this book is most definitely a stand-alone as well, and I like it better than the others in the series, so I’m going to include it on its own.)
I read this book in college and was absolutely blown away by the leaps and bounds that young adult literature had made since I was a teenager. The topics in this novel are deep and profound and the writing is mysterious and beautiful. I don’t want to give too much away, in case anyone hasn’t read it. I know most of you have read The Hunger Games, probably, and if you did, and you like dystopian novels, you will love this book (and the whole series, although this is the best of the three, in my opinion.) The “too negative” ban made me laugh. Too negative? Yes, the topics covered in this book are fairly negative, sure. But here’s the thing – THEY’RE TRUE. They’re a potential outcome of where our society is heading. They’re eerily accurate. This is the young adult version of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984, without being a copy of either of those novels. The people that don’t want our children to read this are the type of people that will end up creating the dystopian futures of young adult literature. Does that scare the shit out of you? It should.
Reason for ban: Violence, death, profanity, promotion of secular humanism/occultism
Synopsis: Jess, a lonely boy, meets Leslie, a new girl in town. They become best friends and create a magical world in the woods where they can play and use their imagination together.
You’ve all read this, right? You have. Please tell me you have. Or you saw the movie, at least, which wasn’t as good as the book, because instead of you using your imagination to create Terebithia, the set designers and animatronics guys did and it was ok, but not great?
It’s kind of killing me to not just say what happened in this book that makes it both the most transcendent and also the most devastating thing I read in my childhood ever. But if it means I’m not spoiling even one person, I won’t say a word.
The reason this is being banned is because the book banning people – who have SO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS OMG CAN I HAVE A LITTLE OF THAT THANKS – think Terebithia is about witches or some such shit and this book will teach children that the Kingdom of God is nonsense and that we don’t need no Jesus, we can create our own religion in the woods with our imaginations and that is NAUGHTY. Well, you know what I want to teach my hypothetical and not-going-to-ever-exist child? That their imagination is a very powerful force, and to use it or lose it. This book never says that religion is medicine-man hokum. If that’s what the book banners are reading into it, well, they’re using THEIR imaginations, now, aren’t they?
This book is also another example of a book that’s banned because it has a lot of truth in it that people think we have to shield our children from. There are bullies, and parents who don’t always act in the best interest of their children. There’s also A Very Bad Thing. A Very Bad Thing happens in this book. Which I won’t mention just in case you haven’t read it. But it’s something heartbreaking, and when I read this book, it was something I’d never read in a book about children before, and I remember putting the book down and actually saying, out loud, “No. No, that can’t be right,” and reading VERY VERY FAST ahead, ahead, ahead, to see if it was a joke, or a mistake. It wasn’t. I like that this book didn’t pull any punches. I respected that. This book scares the book-banners. Which is why you should read this book with your children, like, now.
Reason for ban: Sexual violence, violence against women/children
Synopsis: a young woman stops speaking rather than give voice to a tragedy that occurred in her life.
This book should be required reading for any young woman. I don’t say that lightly. Is it violent? Yes. Is it violent against women? Yes. Do the book-banners have a point in their criticisms? Well, listen, the book-banners have a point in MOST of their criticisms. They’re not made-up reasons. It’s not like I could say “I want to ban The Bible because I don’t like the way it trivializes the way toilet paper should hang over the roll” because immediately, people would say “THAT ISN’T EVEN IN THERE” and I’d look like a huge weirdo dumbass toilet-paper fetishist. Most of the reasons that the book-banners want to ban books are reasons that are actually IN the books, because it would look pretty stupid if they wanted to ban them for non-existent reasons.
This book should be read for the simple reason that it shows what happens, very graphically, to a teenage victim of sexual assault. Sorry if I gave that away, but I’m pretty sure you could have guessed from the reasons people want it banned. I won’t go into much detail, because I think you should read it (or watch the movie, which is an indie film starring Kristen Stewart before she became a morose vampire hoor – the plot varies, but it’s still fairly compelling. And KStew actually isn’t the world’s worst actor, when she’s given decent source material.)
If we protect our darling baby-pink princess daughters from all the scary things in the world? They will get eaten alive by said scary things the minute they step foot outside of the castle in their fairy kingdom. Would you send your boy-scout sons out for a night camping without a canteen and a tent? No, you would not. Then why in the name of all that’s holy would you not prepare your daughters for the possibility of violence against women?
“It’s ugly. My daughter doesn’t need to see that.” Yep, you know what else is ugly? Your daughter getting date raped because she wasn’t prepared for that possibility, or even aware that that possibility exists. “It’s violent, and violence only begets violence.” Well, I’m pretty sure a young woman reading this isn’t going to perpetrate what happens to the narrator on another young woman, so that’s a bit of a moot point. “Children don’t need to read things like this; they’re ugly.” Then don’t let children read it. Let young adults read it. And the world is filled with ugliness. This book is not pretty, but it’s true, and for how heartbreaking it is, it’s also triumphant.
Here’s something I have discovered during Banned Books Week 2011, which probably a lot of people already knew:
The people banning books are doing so because they’re scared. What are they scared of? Truth. And to keep the truth from your children, they want to make books containing it hard for them to obtain.
YOUNG ADULT SERIES
Reason for ban: “could numb students to the effects of violence”
Synopsis: In a dystopian future where America is broken into Districts, many of which are quite poor, young people are forced, annually, to fight to the death for public entertainment.
Have I mentioned my love for dystopian fiction? I would think it’s pretty obvious. I love it in books, I love it in movies, I love it in television series. Well, when it’s done correctly, anyway. Suzanne Collins did this series WELL.
Strong female lead. Tell me you don’t hear “The girl who was on fire” and get chills. Characters you care about. Plot so well-done and suspenseful that you can’t put it down.
Could it numb students to the effects of violence? Well, I suppose a lot of things could happen, in this crazy world we live in. I guess that could happen. I guess it could do that. I guess it could also show young women that they don’t need to be rescued by a man and that they have the inner strength needed to rescue themselves. Or that adults don’t always do the right thing. Or that our future might not be so rosy, if we’re not careful. Anything can happen, really. You know what happened when the daughter of a co-worker read the first book? A young woman who, previously, had to be bribed to finish her homework and wouldn’t be caught dead reading for *ugh* FUN? She wanted the second book. And then the third. Then she asked her mother, “Are there other books like this one? About girls like this?” I almost cried when I heard that story. I’m a little teary-eyed now. IT INFECTED HER, you guys. It made her want MORE. So by all means, let’s ban this, please. Let’s ban something that makes our young people want to read. That’s a good move.
Reason for ban: Witchcraft, violence
Synopsis: Really? Do I have to? Don’t you already know? Fine. A young man finds out he is a wizard and enters a school of witchcraft, where he meets friends, has adventures, and fights enemies.
I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell anyone reading this about this series, because if you haven’t read it, or watched at least one of the movies, or read about it, or somehow absorbed something about it via osmosis, I think you might live in a cave, and how are you reading my blog?
Is there witchcraft in this series? Um, well, yes, yes there is. Since it’s about witches. Is there violence? Yes, again, there is that, especially when you get to the later books in the series.
There’s also friendship. And love. And valor. And compassion. And bravery. And intelligence. The writing and plot are crisp and work both for young adults and adults (as an adult who started the series in her mid-twenties, they certainly work for adults.) Stephen King’s famous Harry Potter quote, just because I love it: “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”
Also, there’s Neville Longbottom. Let’s set aside, for a moment, movie-Neville, who went from a chubby dorky kid to a drop-dead gorgeous young man over the years, and concentrate on book-Neville. I liked Harry and Ron and Hermione and I kind of loved Snape and enjoyed a lot of the other characters but I ADORE Neville. Neville had it rough. He could easily have been The Boy Who Lived, but Voldemort didn’t pick him. He isn’t the golden boy. He keeps his head down, he does his job, he works hard, he’s a good friend, and he gets bullied. Relentlessly. His parents are dead (or as good as dead, really.) He lives with his abusive, abrasive grandmother. But Neville never lets this get him down. Neville is all of us. We don’t shine. We’re not the stars. We’re in the shadow of the stars. But we get our moment, once and a while. I liked everyone else. I loved Neville. My heart broke for Neville, book after book after book. This is something we should ban? This is something we should keep from our children?
Is this series going to make young adults want to start practicing Wicca? Well, I suppose, some of them. I can’t rule that out. But most of them will be turned off when they realize they can’t make potions that turn them into other people or make things levitate or create a Patronus, I’d imagine – and the ones that stick with it, well, I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing, because it’s a good practice that I’ve been involved in and it promotes caring about yourself, the earth, and other people. Is it going to make them violent toward one another? Well, again, I suppose anything’s possible, but I think it’s probably fairly unlikely that Harry Potter is inspiring anyone to attack their classmates with a Cruciatus Curse. Or that they’d have the right wand to do the deed correctly, honestly.
Reason for ban: Drug use, violence, cruelty against children and animals, anti-Christian message
Synopsis: In an alternate England where magic works side-by-side with science, a young man and woman come of age while having a series of adventures.
If you’ve seen the movie, please pretend you didn’t. The movie was not indicative of how amazing, brilliant, heartbreaking, awesome, and wonderful this series is.
Lyra Silvertongue. One of my favorite literary heroines of all time.
I’m always amazed when people haven’t read this. It’s the forerunner to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, people. It is BRILLIANT.
It’s pretty obvious why it would be banned. This book does not care much for God, and does not hide that fact. At all. I won’t spoil it, but when it comes to God, this series pretty much says, “Who needs THAT nonsense?” and kind of literally, too. Read it. You’ll see what I mean. It’s not a series for someone who doesn’t like to ask questions, or who doesn’t like their worldview shaken. But it is a series for an intelligent reader, a thoughtful reader, a caring reader. Lyra is a strong female lead who – shocking news ahead! – MAKES MISTAKES LIKE A NORMAL HUMAN WOULD OMG. Real things happen. People die. Sometimes the wrong people. People make the wrong decisions; people screw things up irreparably; people in this series are very much like everyone you’d meet in real life. They’re not above error. And you love them for it. And you root for them. And you weep with them, and you cheer for them. It’s not a happy series, overall. But it’s a TRUE series. And sometimes that’s better, both for young adult readers and for adult readers, because real life is messy, and if you’re reading books where everything turns out perfectly all the time, you start to wonder why things in your own life are so screwed-up if everyone else’s lives are so perfect.
I know, I know, I promised to keep this brief. I didn’t succeed. I’m a bit of a book nerd, as you can tell. If anyone’s still with me, you’re probably as much of a book nerd as I am, and I love you for it. Tomorrow (hopefully, if work doesn’t kick my ass into submission like today did!), my favorite banned adult novels, or why the classics are warping the youth of America’s minds so badly they will probably die unless we ban the shit out of them for their own good.