As you all know, we are nearing the end of Banned Books Week. It went so fast and I am sad that it will be over soon. Of course, just because the week will end doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention to banned books. Unfortunately books are challenged and banned all the time. On the bright side, thanks to the internet and social media the book loving populace is able to stay on top of these heinous crimes. I’m posting specifically today, Thursday, because I signed a blog post on some website that now I can’t remember. I wish I had written it down or emailed it to myself that way I could link back to the site, but woe is me. Anyways, I promised that I would do a post today about a banned book.
I thought really hard about what book I wanted to blog about and originally I was going to blog about Lauren Myracle’s TTYL, but Forever Young Adult covered that one pretty well and I was afraid that I’d unconsciously steal stuff that they said. Then I decided that even though everyone’s been talking about it lately, I really wanted to blog about Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. (Don’t worry Jen, I don’t think I can really spoil this book for you, so feel free to keep reading)
I don’t remember exactly when I read Speak, but I do remember that I was most definitely in high school. So I like to think that I got my hands on the book relatively soon after it was published. I have since reread Speak a few times, the most recent time probably 2 or 3 years ago. Now, I am not a big crier when it comes to sad things. I do not cry during sad movies when beloved animals die, etc. I even got through the entire book Where the Red Fern Grows without shedding a tear, which according to my neighbor at the time was impossible. I am more the kind of person to cry during times of intense happiness – like at the end of Rookie of the Year or when they do the house reveal during Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Am I weird because of this? Probably.
But I did cry while reading Speak. A lot. Not because of what happened to Melinda, but because of how everyone treated her afterwards. Nobody knew what she had been through, but nobody reached out to her when it was obvious that she was deeply depressed. I cried out of frustration for Melinda that instead of being concerned for her, they were all pissed at her for not talking. Why couldn’t they tell that something was VERY WRONG? I’ll be honest. I had a pretty idyllic childhood (I include up to age 18 in childhood). Nothing bad really ever happened to me. I was never beaten up, never abused, never raped, etc. I can’t claim that Speak saved my life the way some people can. I just can’t relate to Melinda’s situation very well because it never happened to me. Regardless, Speak is one of the books that had the most profound effects on me.
Because I read this book, I know a little bit of what rape is about. I will never EVER claim that I know what it’s like to be raped, so please don’t think that is what I’m trying to say. When I read a book, I can be very emotionally invested in the book. How invested depends on a combination of the subject matter and the author. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best authors I’ve ever read. Hands down. Her words haunt me long after I’ve put her books down. I’m so thankful for her because she tackles unpleasant topics and forces us to react to them. I’d like to think that because of Anderson (and other authors) I am more empathetic towards other people whose situations I wouldn’t otherwise really understand.
I get so angry and disgusted when I think of the man down in Missouri trying to ban Speak. He called the rape bits, soft core porn. To say that rape is a form of porn is to imply that it is a fantasy. No woman fantasizes about being raped. A fantasy is something you enjoy. Rape is sex against someone’s will – therefore THEY ARE NOT ENJOYING IT. Rape is a nightmare. Not a fantasy. This man, Scroggins (whose name I dearly hope will somehow be turned into some terrible meaning. I’ve been reading all over the internet about this. I want it to happen), is either dilusional or a very sick man. That he wants to keep people from reading this book is reprehensible. How else would he rather young adults learn about rape? Hopefully not first hand.
We go to school and read from books to learn things. Math books, history books, spelling books. Why is a story book any different? Instead of learning about the founding of our country, we’re learning what it would be like to be poor, or homosexual, or abused, or a movie star, or even an awkward princess. Why is that such a bad thing?
I truly don’t think it’s right to keep anybody- children, teenagers, adults, ANYBODY- from reading “questionable” books. I don’t even think that it’s right for a parent to tell their own child that he or she can’t read a certain book. I do recognize that a parent has the right to restrict reading material. I still don’t think it’s right. Wouldn’t it be so much better if that parent would just read the book along with their child and then discuss the issues? My parents never took a book out of my hands (unless it was past my bedtime or at the dinner table, and that was for the obvious reasons) and for that I owe them much thanks. Sure they never read anything that I was reading or discussed it with me, but at least they didn’t say I couldn’t read it. When I’m a parent, I fully intend on reading everything my children read and if the issues are important we’re going to discuss them.
Books are what got me through my childhood, especially my “tween” and teenage years. Up above I said that I had an idyllic childhood and I really do remember it to be pretty good. But that doesn’t mean it was perfect. Sure, nobody ever put a hand to me, but I was verbally torn down almost every school day of junior high. For two years I absolutely hated my life. I wanted to be home schooled but both my parents worked full time and it wasn’t an option. I had no friends. I had acquaintances, sure. I even went to a few sleepovers. But were those girls my friends? No. They talked behind my back (I know this because they kept a notebook and “accidentally” let me see it. It was full of passages of how ugly I was and how no one liked me) and made me feel like I was worthless. The only reason I stuck around them was because they were the only ones who let me sit at their lunch table. I got into extracurricular activities for the sole reason of being able to ride the late bus home. Everyone on my bus hated me so much that there were multiple times when I rode to school and home in the middle of the aisle on the floor (OK, now that I think about it, no one did lay a hand on me, but I was physically KICKED out of my bus seat by a girl once – I never got close to her ever again), and the times that I did score a bus seat by myself, I would get home and find lollipops and gum stuck in my hair and my bookbag soaked by pop (I put this down as partially my fault because I should have been paying more attention to my environments – it’s not like I didn’t know they hated me).
But you know what? I got through all that crap. You know how? I would get home, feel sad for a few minutes while I cleaned my books and pulled gunk out my hair, then I would go read a book and I’d either have someone else to feel sorry for because their situation was so much worse than mine or I would get pulled into a surreal fantasy world where I could battle dragons or be friends with giants. If I didn’t have books to pull me out of my own reality, I would have grown up to be a much different individual. I would probably be a mean, unhappy person who hated other people. But I’m not. And it’s all because of books (OK, and my family. They get SOME credit too). Lucky for me that I made it to high school where most people got nicer and I found friends and I didn’t have to rely so heavily upon books for my happiness.
So when I see people trying to stop other people from reading, it makes me want to lock them up and force them to live through the kinds of situations that the books they are trying to ban teach others about. It makes me want to climb onto a dragon’s back and pull a banner behind me that tells people to READ READ READ! It makes me want to grab all my favorite books that helped me through difficult times and shove them into people’s hands and say “READ THIS NOW!”
I’m so grateful that we have books like Speak, and authors like Laurie Halse Anderson who not only write about the darker things in life, but are willing to stand up against book banners for people, like the under-18 populace, who need these books.
Speak loudly everyone. Make sure that the public can hear you. We will not have our books taken away from us. We will not be told what is proper to read or write. We will not have our basic rights stripped from us. Ours is a country where freedom of speech and the press is our right. Book banners are unpatriotic people who will ultimately cause our fall if we allow them to succeed in their mission.