On Wednesday, we talked about SOPA and PIPA in class. I wasn’t surprised at the number of students against these (very possible) laws, and I was so very happy to hear that some of us were participating in the blackout protest. Because of our discussion, I decided to retract my original second blog (a review on the holiday novel, Let it Snow) and instead, write about censorship and book banning in the world of YA lit.
If you were a child of the ’90s and early ’00s who watched the Disney channel, you might remember a show called The Famous Jett Jackson. What the entire series was about isn’t important, but there was an episode that aired way back then that has stuck with me all this time. The episode’s name was “Saving Mr. Dupree,” and it was all about Jett’s high school english teacher, who was teaching the book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Upon reading the book, Jett tells the class, “That can’t happen now, though. They don’t ban books.” A few minutes more into the episode, Jett’s teacher is in fact arrested for teaching Bradbury’s novel and the class is left astonished. The problem with the book, the county said, was that it made firefighters look bad (a much milder version of what has actually caused the book to be banned in real situations). The firefighters and other local officials took all of the copies of 451 that the school had and prohibited students from reading them. But the students fought back. They stood up to the police with sit-in protests and won the battle to get their teacher back and the book successfully unbanned. The moral of the story: Book banning still happens today, and it isn’t in the least sense, right. Have you ever seen an episode of Hannah Montana with that kind of message?
What happens when a book is banned?
Whether in schools, public libraries, or independent bookstores, book banning happens all of the time. Only one person has to be offended by the content of a book for it to be banned. One parent. One government official. One “concerned” citizen. In many cases, book banners don’t even read the books they are defacing. They claim that a book’s use of profanity makes it worthless (example: Huck Finn by Mark Twain), that its brief mention of sex is “pornography,” (John Green – Looking For Alaska), or even that it contains “witchcraft” that encourages kids to worship the devil (Harry Potter). It doesn’t take a lot of effort to have a book removed from the shelves, and when that happens, it becomes much harder for young adult literature to reach the hands of the those who need it, because it is also much more difficult to get a book un-banned than it is to ban one; an unfortunate fact to face.
YA helped me get through high school. I can list a hundred or so books I’ve read, that at some time were banned. But those books also lifted my outlook on life and school. For one second, imagine (if you have to) being a high school student with a disability or difference. You hear about a book featuring a character with that same disability or difference. Finally, you think, a novel you can relate to, instead of that boring old stuff they assign in English 10. You’re so excited to go to your school library and check it out, but when you ask the librarian where you can find it, she tells you, “Unfortunately, we don’t allow literature with that kind of language in this school district.” You’re gutted and don’t understand why they would make it impossible for you to read a book written for people your age. You do more research on the book back at home and find out that it was banned for the repeated use of the curse, “god-damn.” Tell me, does it sound right to you?
Book banning and censorship are ridiculous, unnecessary, and damaging abuses of power. Just because a book does not hold the same ideas and values that one person may have does not mean it is unacceptable and inappropriate for society.
Book banning and SOPA/PIPA are similar in that their supporters believe they are protecting the people of this country. I believe that they are doing the exact opposite. We read books to learn, to escape, and to grow. We share ideas and things over the internet to achieve the same. Censorship is wrong. It stunts the growth of society, and prevents needed content from being shared. If you witness censorship around you, wherever you are, stand up to it, so that maybe one day banned books and a censored internet will be the stuff of fairy tales and we, like Jett Jackson, can say, “That can’t happen now.”
Below is a video from Penguin Young Readers of young adult authors standing up against censorship that emerged not long after the news of SOPA spread.
The only thing I have left to say right now is read all you can, read when you can, and read what you want to read. That includes you, adults. You, who are afraid to read YA fiction, and all of its juicy, banned greatness.
Seriously, do you think they would go through all of that trouble to censor boring kids’ books?