Thursday, August 4, 2011

And now for something completely different...

In a Missouri newspaper article on July 26th, it was reported that a school had voted to remove two books from its library's shelves and keep one after a complaint was filed about the three books. The book that was kept: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  The books that were removed: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.  Horray for Speak!  Horray for...wait, what?!?!  Twenty Boy Summer was banned?  Seriously?!?!

I haven't read Slaughterhouse Five, but I know enough about it to understand why it ruffles feathers, but it's considered a classic now for heavens sake.  However, I have read Twenty Boy Summer (TBS from now on) and it was fantastic, and nothing like how it’s being portrayed by the folks who opposed it.  It’s about dealing with loss and the strain that tragedy can put on relationships.  It’s realistic in its portrayal of how some people don’t handle grief well, how they make mistakes when they try to just make it go away.

Frankie is outgoing and spunky, but when her brother Matt dies suddenly she doesn't deal with it so well.  Her best friend Anna has always been the more quiet of the two.  Anna and Matt had been in love but because they’d all been friends for years they hadn’t told Frankie yet, so Anna keeps her loss to herself.  When Frankie asks Anna to come with their family on a summer vacation on the California coast a year later, Frankie tries to drown her sorrow in boys.  Anna has a hard time emotionally joining Frankie in the flirt-fest because she’s still not over Matt (and she still hasn’t told Frankie).  Even when Anna meets someone new she can’t help but feel that she’s betraying Matt’s memory.  When the truth does come out about Anna and Matt’s relationship, the friendship between girls is almost broken.  Frankie feels betrayed that she was never told and Anna feels that Frankie is insensitive to her own sorrow over Matt.  However, it does end up being the turning point that they both needed to start healing. 

It’s beautifully written and deeply touching.  I cried, multiple times, particularly hard when Frankie screams a torrent of grief at the ocean.  After reading the article several times and mulling this over for half of today, this is how I interpret the explanations of why Speak was kept and TBS was not.  In Speak the main character is a victim, but in TBS the main characters are responsible for their own actions.  It doesn't matter why they did what they did or that Frankie in particular ends up regretting how she acted or that TEENAGERS DO STUPID THINGS OUT OF GRIEF TOO (and definitely more than most adults want to acknowledge), many adults who will read TBS will only see the parts that they label "inappropriate" and completely ignore the part where the characters actually learn something and start to change.  

I could go on and rant about how there's not one thing in the article to indicate that the man who put forth the complaint is a parent of a teenager at this school.  I could rant about how ridiculous it is that TBS was removed from the curriculum, which means it was probably just on a suggested reading list because can anyone imagine asking a high school guy to read and discuss this book? (insert crickets sound here).  But I won't because Sarah Ockler has actually just won something: a place in the group of other fine authors whose work has been banned because it challenges people to see the world around them differently.  And that, my fellow YAngleists, is one heck of an awesome group to be a part of.

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