So we all know the usual suspects: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Heather Has Two Mommies. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Alice in Wonderland. Yeah, yeah. We know. These books were banned at some point in history yada yada for reasons of yada yada yada. It makes sense, right? They’re controversial. Right? But it doesn’t happen much anymore because we’ve evolved. Right?
Let me break it down for you: The truth of the matter here, people, is that the world has changed.
And for kids, it’s changed in a way that will shape who they are because they just don’t know any different. Because social media has become the new BFF, because teens stare at electronics more than they stare at their high-school crushes, and because school shootings have become as commonplace, as routine, as college applications, we need books—all kinds of books—for the simple reason that we need to make life human again. Like adults, kids need experiences in order to feel. They need stories in order to find someone out there who is just like them. They need books—all kinds of books—to help them know that they are not alone. And that’s where we writers come in. It’s our job to tell these stories. The light ones. The dark ones. And the really, really dark ones.
So I want to tell you a story about a book I love called Eleanor and Park. The author is Rainbow Rowell and sometimes, when I read her books, I curse the sun and moon and every star in the sky because she writes so well, so beautifully. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. Instead, I want you to know that recently, a school in Minnesota, put Ms. Rowell’s book through the kind of scrutiny I never could have imagined her books would ever face.
This is how it happened.
So, one day, the parents of a teen who had read (and apparently loved) Eleanor and Park decided to take an eagle-eye look and what their impressionable teenage daughter was reading. And—holy shitballs—what they found was a whole lot of profanities happening there, between Eleanor and Park’s 328 pages. That’s right, they found like 135 cuss words and countless other super inappropriate uses of the word “God” “Jesus” and “Christ.” As a result of this shocking discovery, the author’s upcoming visit to the school, and therefore chance to talk to a large group of kids about the heart and soul of her story was, apparently, cancelled.
Now, this story is problematic to me for a couple of reasons. Most obviously here, it is a fact that teens swear, say the word “God” in an unreligious way, and sometimes act in a manner that is shocking, sexually or otherwise, to non-teens. So. Did Ms. Rowell’s book actually convey anything that, I bet, a whole 98% of teens haven’t already heard or said at some point themselves? I think not.
But this story is ludicrous to me for another, bigger reason. Nowhere in the articles I read regarding this incident was it mentioned that the parents of said teen actually read Eleanor and Park and had issues with the actual story Ms. Rowell told. If they would have taken the time to really view this fine work of literature—yes, literature—they might have understood that Eleanor and Park is, in fact, an incredible read. Furthermore, instead of condemning Ms. Rowell’s choice to have teens speak like real live human teens, they might have realized that Eleanor and Park is important, simply because somewhere—perhaps in their very own neighborhood—there is a girl, in a bath, with door taken off it’s hinges, who is scared, who is hopeless, who needs more than anything to hear what Eleanor has to say.
Humanizing. That is what it’s all about, after all. That is the fundamental reason why we can’t take books off shelves that deal with a child having two mommies, two daddies, no mommies, no daddies, war, death, religion, cancer, AIDS or the sexual abuse of a child from a parent. Because somewhere out there, that child dealing with that issue is waiting for that book to be written, and to read it.
And when they do, it will give them hope. It will help them hang on. And it will, at the very least, let them know that their story will be recognized, and will endure.
It’s that simple, you guys. Write books of all kinds. Read books of all kinds. And tell your kids to read whatever they can get their hands on with hopes that these stories can and will change an already changing world. But this time for the better.
Jill MacKenzie is the author of YA read SPIN THE SKY, which will be released by Sky Pony in Fall 2016. Because Jill is currently completing her MFA at the University of British Columbia (which is kicking her a** so far she can’t even see straight), Jill spends every single second of her time writing and, of course, reading banned books.