So I'd planned to write up and post another book review today but that's just going to have to wait. Instead I'm going to use my meagre free time to put in my two cents on the news story that is setting the book blogosphere on fire. In case you might not have heard, here's the overview. On Sunday, the wonderful author (and blogger) Laurie Halse Anderson posted on her blog about a college professor named Wesley Scroggins in Missouri who wrote an opinion piece for the local newspaper in which he described her book SPEAK as inappropriate for students to read, classifying it as soft core pornography--primarily, it seems, because the novel contains two rape scenes. Anderson has called for support because she is concerned that this man's complete mischaracterization of the book might lead to it being pulled from the school curriculum. The feedback from teens that Anderson has received over the years since SPEAK was first published has illustrated that this book can change kids' lives in the best of ways and she would rather the students of the Republic School District not be denied that opportunity.
Now, so many other bloggers have already posted on this topic. See the bottom of this post for a list of just a few! And they all have been so eloquent and powerful. So, I'm going to try and avoid total repetition but it will be hard because I agree so wholeheartedly with these smart people.
My gut reaction to these events was total disgust and outrage for two reasons. First, I become somewhat volatile and upset at most mentions of people attempting to control what other people read, especially via banning or, in this case, inaccurate badmouthing of a text. If a parent wishes to restrict his or her child's reading, then fine--until that child is 18, that's your prerogative. But I believe in intellectual freedom and the First Amendment, my friends. So I do not think that a single person has the right to prevent other people (and teenagers are people) from reading whatever material they wish to read. Second, I have read SPEAK. It was required reading my freshman year of high school. Now, I am a geek who actually enjoyed most books required for school, even the 'old ones.' But SPEAK was different. Reading SPEAK was and is one of the most powerful experiences with a story of my life. If you have never read SPEAK and do not wish to be spoiled, look away now!
SPEAK tells the story of Melinda, a freshman who is beginning high school as a social outcast after calling the cops at a party during the summer. What no one at school (or at home) knows is that Melinda called the cops because a popular senior boy raped her that night. But afterwards, she became so traumatized and paralyzed by fear and confusion that she essentially stopped speaking altogether. The novel follows Melinda's slow and difficult path to finding her voice again and finally speaking out and standing up for herself.
SPOILERS OVER! It is safe again!
I have been very lucky; I personally have never experienced trauma like Melinda. But I felt very voiceless in high school; as a shy and bookish teen, I felt alternatively invisible in and glaringly misfit for the social world of high school. SPEAK captures those feelings of powerlessness and of fear that every young person feels at one point in his or her life. Moreover, although I have been lucky, I have friends who have not been as lucky. I have been there in the aftermath of sexual assault and so I am even more furious and disturbed that Mr. Scroggins feels that rape could be equated with pornography, which is defined by its intent to titillate and provoke sexual pleasure. I have been involved in V-Day activities for the past several years. I have heard the stories from girls (and guys) at Take Back the Night events. Silence is the enemy in the fight against sexual violence and assault. SPEAK is a text that is fighting that fight; it is a novel that tells all kids who feel silenced or afraid, for whatever reason, to find their voices and speak up. What censorship and ignorant fear-mongering like Mr. Scroggins' article does is tell those kids to quiet down. To shut up because their voices do not matter. I personally find that attitude to be far more immoral than honest and emotionally powerful literature for teens.
If you would like to get involved, check out Laurie's original post. She lists several ways to show your support, including writing letters and utilizing online networks such as Twitter. Also, check out these other, far better blog posts on the topic.
The Story Siren
Liz B. at School Library Journal
Good Books and Wine
Sarah Ockler, whose novel Twenty Boy Summer is also condemned in the article and now is also under threat in MO, has posted on the subject.
There are many, many more awesome posts out there. I've just mentioned a few here-go look around for yourself and check them out!
So, please, join us in SPEAKING LOUDLY for this wonderful book, this brave author, and every kid who feels alone and unheard. Banned Books Week is September 25th through October 2nd. This year's tagline is "Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same." This message seems more important than ever right now. So let's celebrate our freedom to read and SPEAK out!