Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Powerful Guest Post Against Book Banning

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.


I'm Alison of 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.

Deenie came at the perfect time for me. I was diagnosed with scoliosis shortly before reading the book. Fortunately, the only inconveniences I experienced from the condition was an annual doctor's visit four hours away and an admonition not to run marathons or go horseback riding. But with my penchant for hypochondria, I was certain that my back was going to twist into a new and extreme shape at any moment. Reading about a character with scoliosis was therapeutic. Unlike Deenie, I thought the idea of a back brace sounded interesting, or at least dramatic (I imagine I would have felt differently had I actually been required to wear one). I also loved reading about Deenie's typical adolescent issues, particularly any and all references to her period. Few things were more exciting in my pre-pubescent mind than menstruation. It was certainly a lot more interesting than boys.

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.

I picked up Deenie last week. It's been almost twenty years since I last read the book. I knew Deenie was frequently on banned book lists, along with many of Judy Blume's books, but still didn't understand why. All I remembered of the book was Deenie's scoliosis, her shrew of a mother, and references to menstruation. I re-read Deenie in a few hours. To be honest, I was disappointed. I didn't remember Deenie being such a shallow brat before developing scoliosis; she would have tormented a plain-looking, quiet girl like me. I also thought the characters were flat and the writing was too simplistic (which explains why I was able to read it easily at 9 years old). It felt reminiscent of the cookie-cutter after-school movies.

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.

Does Deenie deserve to be on the shelf of a school library? Yes. I don't believe that any book should be flatly banned from shelves. That being said, if I had a 9- or 10-year-old daughter, I would probably not let her read Deenie. It really is more appropriate for a 12- or 13-year-old girl. But I think it should be up to a parent to decide for his or her own child. You may just have a young girl with scoliosis desperate to read everything she can about the condition who also happens to be so naive that she skips over any material inappropriate for her age. Individuals differ. What is inappropriate for one person may be just what another person needs to read. Banning books unfairly assumes that what is right for one is right for all.


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.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story Alison! And I can completely relate to re-reading books that I loved as a child only to find that I can no longer stand it and that there is so much material that was unsuitable for my age when I loved the book.

    I agree with you that what is inappropriate for one person may not be for the next. Book banning is not needed (or wanted by most) if parents/guardians get involved and determine was is right for their child and only their child. There is no need to push their own personal opinions about a book upon others with attempts at banning books.

  2. Your statement that what is inappropriate for one person may not be inappropriate for another person is at the very heart of banning books. Just like television, video games, or even movies, parents should reserve the right to limit what their children watch or read. However, everyone has the right to make that choice. Banning books preemptively is not a stand-in for parenting, and more importantly, it is not necessary to foist one person's opinion upon an entire library, school, city, etc.

  3. Great post! I, too, loved Judy Blume and loved Deenie as well!!

  4. Fab guest post. I have to say I read this one quite young and I missed those references too. I vaguely remember Deenie asking a teacher (anonymously) a question that the teacher didn't want to answer, and I remember not understanding why... so maybe that's it.

    I have to say, while I do agree to an extent that parents should decide what their kids can and can't read, at the same time I suspect that kids whose parents are bigoted, for instance, will miss out on books that might broaden their horizons and make them more accepting. I don't think there's a way round that though, sadly.

  5. That's an amazing story! I'm participating in Tahereh's Banned Book Bonanza by posting reviews of banned books.

    I did two reviews -To Kill a Mockingbird and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

    Check out my blog:


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