Laurie Halse Anderson, a writer I admire immensely and have talked about here, just posted a note her site about how two of her books are currently under consideration to be banned by school districts in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and California.
If the fury this inspires in me were measurable by the Richter scale, it would constitute the most annihilating earthquake known to man.
Objectively, I know that fighting for Free Speech and the Freedom of Information Act is a constant battle. It’s waged on a large scale, against government regimes that want to keep people in the dark about what’s really going on in the country and in the world, and it’s waged on a small scale, by individual teachers and librarians, against strident parents who want to impose their ideas of what’s appropriate for children to read on every kid in school. And it is waged EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I know that. My mom is a librarian, and I read enough authors’ blogs to know that no matter the book, someone somewhere is trying to get it banned. And, objectively, I realize that this is the dark underbelly of Free Speech. People are allowed to think that some books should be banned, and to voice that opinion, no matter what I think about it.
But the fundamentals of our goddamn constitution prohibit the actual banning of said books. Because taking information away from other people limits their right to free speech and free information.
I’ve got that, objectively. And I feel confident that in the majority of cases, the constitution wins. Objectively, I also understand where some of these people’s arguments are coming from– populating the shelves of a school library is difficult, and the age appropriateness of books, in terms of language and content, is a legitimate concern. But it is one that librarians go to school and get degrees in Library and Information Science in order to deal with in a way that does not violate the rights of the people their libraries serve.
That’s objectively. But on a knee-jerk, gut level, all I know is that banning books is tantamount to burning them.
It is the most base and insidious form of cruelty you can level against a person– to take away their right to learn and understand things. To me, it constitutes a fundamental blow against humanity, and I find this so abhorrent, I admit I AM CRYING RIGHT NOW, AS I TYPE THIS. I kid you not.
Banning books violates and degrades the person who is limited by the strictures you put on them. And the worst thing is they may never know they are being so totally violated. How could you even think of doing that to someone? How could you ever do that to a KID?
I do not hesitate to point out that slave owners throughout history have employed ignorance as a way to maintain slavery. Slaves were not taught to read for a reason: it wasn’t just that the owners didn’t think of them as anything more complex than human-shaped cattle; it was also the most effective way to keep them from getting information. Information that might make them think they were human beings capable of real thought and real decisions, instead of simply walking, talking property.
It really, really bothers me when people treat kids as though they aren’t people. They are. They are not accessories you acquire and then dress to match your outfit. They aren’t dolls you speak for and manipulate with impunity. THEY. ARE. PEOPLE. And as such, their rights can be violated just as easily as yours can, except that they’re relying on you to fight for those rights, since they can’t vote. Yeah, it sucks when your kid learns about ideas you’d rather they didn’t have. It sucks when a kid reads books like Anderson’s Speak or Twisted and comes to realize that sexual assault and rape exist, or that people can be so unhappy they try to kill themselves. That’s hard knowledge. It’s fucking scary. BUT IT WOULD SUCK WAY WORSE AND BE WAY SCARIER IF THEY NEVER KNEW AND THEN HAD TO DEAL WITH SOMETHING LIKE THAT. Awful and traumatizing things happen, and they happen to kids and teenagers with the same frequency that they happen to adults. You’d rather your kid remained protected and safe from the fact that bad things even happen? Fine. Control what they read. Try to control what they do, or what the world throws at them, so that they never know. But don’t try to force every kid to suffer such a paralyzing lack of knowledge.
On her blog, Anderson posted a draft of the letter she wrote to the superintendent of the school in Kentucky where Twisted is being challenged, and here is a quote that I found really important, because it empathizes with the teenage reader in a way that some parents clearly don’t:
I suspect the roots of the parental concern about TWISTED are the scenes in which teenagers make stupid, dangerous, and occasionally horrifying decisions. Why on earth would someone like me put things like that in a book?
Because readers who can experience those decisions – by reading about them – and appreciate the consequences of those actions – by seeing those consequences affect the lives of a book’s characters – are less likely to do the stupid, dangerous and occasionally horrifying things themselves.
Jesus knew this. He did not simply reiterate the Ten Commandments, or tell us to love one another and walk back into the desert. He told stories that made His listeners think. They make us think two thousand years later.
Storytelling is the traditional vehicle mankind uses to pass wisdom from one generation to the next. TWISTED contains a lot of bad decisions, hard consequences, and wisdom.
She included the addresses of the schools in question and has asked readers to send polite letters to the powers that be, urging them to dismiss the ban. You better believe I am going to send some, too. If you’d like more information or want to send a letter yourself, check out Anderson’s full post: