When I created the Banned Books Reading Challenge earlier this month, I sent out an informal open invitation to anyone who would like to write a guest post on the subject of book-banning and censorship. Alison of the blog Alison Can Read responded with a personal experience. Her story is moving and eloquent in its frankness, and it certainly has motivated me to never stop fighting against censorship. I encourage you to give Alison your time and read her story below.
Alison Can Read. I've been blogging for a little over three months. My blog features young adult and middle grade books. When Steph posted about the Banned Books Challenge, I immediately hopped on board. I've always had the privilege to read whatever I chose and cannot imagine flatly denying other people the opportunity to do the same.
Any discussion about banned books always brings a particular book to my mind. I fell in love with Judy Blume's Fudge series in fourth grade. Naturally, when I finished those, I moved on to her other books. In fourth and fifth grade, I read Forever; Tiger Eyes; Just As Long As We're Together; Blubber; Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret; and Deenie. Most of these books faded from my mind quickly after I read them (even the salacious Forever), but Deenie stayed with me.
Deenie is a 13 year old girl defined by her pretty face. As her mother likes to say to complete strangers: "Deenie's the beauty. Helen's [her sister] the brain." While Deenie senses that her mother's statement is wrong, or at least embarrassing, she still buys into the importance of her own looks. Her mother's plans to turn Deenie into a model are thwarted when Deenie is diagnosed with a severe case of scoliosis. She must wear a back brace for at least four years to prevent permanent deformity. Suddenly, Deenie is more of a freak than a beauty. Deenie shows how adversity can transform a shallow, selfish beauty first into an emotional wreck but ultimately into a more complex, sensitive, and thoughtful young woman.
I read and re-read my elementary school library's tattered copy of Deenie and encouraged my friends to do the same. I was shocked when my friend's grandmother called the school and demanded that the book be removed from the library. Why would anyone want to keep such a wonderful book out of the hands of kids? I didn't see anything wrong with it. This was my first experience with banning books. The idea that one person could keep me from reading a book, any book, that I might care about seemed horribly unfair. Who were they to decide what I or anyone else was entitled to read? My school declined to remove Deenie from its library, and I was glad.
Now, I definitely understand why Deenie makes banned book lists. There are several references to masturbation. A few are very subtle, but there is also a clear definition of what it is and a discussion of its morality. It was just thrown in there, like a public service announcement. I almost laughed out loud when reading it. My 9-year-old brain completely skipped over this. It was so blatant that I can't believe I missed it, especially given how many times I read the book, but it clearly was too far above my maturity level to be absorbed. I imagine Blume included it in there, because few books of the time (or even now) discussed masturbation at all, and she thought teens should have a safe place to learn about it. It certainly didn't further the plot.
Have something about censorship and book banning that you'd like to share? Email me at stephxsu at gmail dot com. Thanks to all who are supporting the freedom to read and speaking out against censorship during these weeks. You are the ones who will define the future, and I am glad for it.