Seriously. The moment your book is banned, you can be assured, as an author, that you’ve made an impact on someone. That you pressed a button somewhere, pushed the envelope into unknown territory. That you wrote about something that matters.
So, it’s Banned Books Week. I haven’t had much time to keep track of banned book events with my revision of Devil’s Fire in full swing (and, supposedly, due tomorrow–yeah, okay), but I have spotted a couple fascinating links that weave a tale of why it’s so important that, especially in young adult literature, we give readers access to books of all kinds–it expands the mind to new ideas, and creates adults sensitive to viewpoints other than their own.
Recent Controversial Books
A collection of author responses to their books being banned went out on the Flavorwire yesterday, and there is one quote in particular that drives this point home:
“I take the side of young people, but I am also a realist; it is especially offensive to me when an uptight adult suggests that my stories are ‘inappropriate’ for young readers. I imagine, when I write, that I am writing for young readers — not for uptight adults.” –John Irving
A couple books on Goodreads have been attracting attention lately purely for their controversial content (no, these are not yet banned books, but everyone already knows about all those so I want to cover some new ones).
One is Revealing Eden, by Victoria Foyt–the first novel in a dystopian YA series called Save the Pearls (when you hear the blurb, this series title will probably make you feel ill). It’s about a dystopian future in which black people are the dominant “race,” and white people (known as “pearls”) are subordinate to them. It is, to put it bluntly, a totally bizarre and very racially-charged premise. Not to mention that one of the main plot points is blackface.
Another book spurring endless Goodreads debate is The Glimpse, by Claire Merle. Another dystopian novel that takes for a spin a controversial setting: a society divided between those at risk for developing mental illness (“Crazies”), and those “Pures” who are not. And it’s not just the premise that Goodreads readers take to discussion, but Merle’s scientific treatment of the development and manifestation of mental illness. One of the most scathing reviews says, “Telling someone they’re crazy could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they live up to their label.”
Why Write a Challenging Book?
But I’m forced to wonder: Isn’t that the point of this novel? That categorizing and labeling people based on their likelihood to develop mental illness as “Pures” vs. “Crazies” makes those labeled “Crazies” far more likely to appear they are living up to their label? And that such a labeling system is wrong? (I mean, it’s a dystopian novel. That’s kind of the point of dystopian novels is to showcase an undesirable future. …Right?)
This brings me back to banned books. Books are banned for all kinds of reasons–by religious groups (on the basis of witchcraft, homosexuality, or pre-marital sex), by PTA groups (Think of the children! The children!), and even by libraries (see Fifty Shades being banned across the nation). But isn’t this kind of discussion happening on Goodreads… good? I mean, debating the psychological effects of labeling children is, well, kind of awesome. This is the kind of stuff we talked about in junior-level Social Psych when discussing how to prevent minority students from dropping out of school. And not only that–it’s pretty clear when you see the overall ratings that Revealing Eden is just an all-out race manifesto (1.5 stars, ish) and The Glimpse has some gold in it (3.5 stars).
Facing Bullying and Other Teenager Issues
And, of course, bullying. A book called League of Strays came out on Monday that’s been sparking intense debate since the ARCs were first released. The book blurb is about a group of bullied “outcasts” who then form their own bullying group–an interesting premise, and one that sounds like a great way to open up discussion in schools about bullying and how it’s not right, no matter which side of the tracks you’re on.
So, I’d like to propose a toast to banned books. To the things they teach us about ourselves and our society, the way they open our minds, and the way they weed out the bitter and intolerant among our literary community. I hope that someday, I write a book so morally and thematically intense that somebody hates it enough to ban it from their school or library. And in the words of Ray Bradbury:
“… it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities … to interfere with aesthetics.”
Yeah. That’s right. It’s art. I like making art, and I’ll keep doing it–no matter what.