WARNING: This post uses some offensive language for the sake of argument and clearly communicating a point. Also, I express some opinions about parenting, even though I am myself not a parent. These opinions are mainly the result of being raised by awesome parents who only encouraged my reading, and monitored it properly. Thus, I feel justified in my assertions. You have thus been warned.
The books on today’s post all share in the fact that they have made high marks on the list of challenged books at some point or another. Another thing that these books share is that I have very strong opinions about them as a reader. One group is a trilogy that I truly love, and the other is a book that, while I appreciate its existence, I absolutely loathed trying to read it in high school. Rather than start with dessert, let’s begin with a robust, if somewhat chewy helping of what I consider literary brussels sprouts.
Yes, indeed this short little book has basically been making the banned book list (and has successfully, and fully, been banned in multiple places) before there was even a record of challenges being kept by the Office of Intellectual Freedom. There are even cases of teachers and librarians being dismissed from their jobs over this novel. What is the threat? The most common citations are for language and sexual explicitness. Fun fact: those are two of the most common reasons for challenging books, along with violence, racism, and satanic undertones/witchcraft. Now, this book definitely uses a large swath of colorful language. However, those challenging the book should take into account that most teenagers, and even younger if we are being completely honest, use this kind of language well and often before ever encountering this book. There are some who claim that such texts encourage and justify the use of such language, to which I say, “Damn right they do!” I myself cannot pretend I do not utilize a few “fucks” and “shits” when it suits my purpose and my audience, and I support books that do the same. Do I think there are books that totally mis/over use curse words? Absolutely, I definitely agree with that. Do I think that such books should be totally removed from the public cannon for this reason? Absolutely not. In terms of the book in question, the language is completely appropriate to the character and the style of the story being told. Holden is a 17 year old with a lot of issues he is trying to work through, and that is a situation that I think merits language expressing discomfort with what society conventionally finds acceptable. As for the other reason, sexual explicitness, heaven forbid we allow teenagers to read about struggles with sexual identity and desire. Obviously, they have no clue about that, just like they only say “oh dear!” when they want to vocally express frustration. In sooth, the novel is not even that explicit, considering Holden never follows through on the act, choosing instead to talk with the prostitute as a person rather than using her as a sex object. Though I did not personally enjoy this book (okay, so I loathed it, and it was the first time I ever used SparkNotes because I couldn’t get through all of it), I think one day I may give it another shot, if only because it makes such a ruckus. For a review of this book that I found well-written and quite clear, go to http://otherpointsofview.blogspot.com/2011/03/catcher-in-rye-controversial-and.html
Now for dessert. The Hunger Games trilogy made number three on the list of challenges in the year 2011. The charges against it include all kinds of fun things ranging from “insensitivity” to “sexual explicitness” to “anti- ethnic” and blah blah blah. Another issue that these books faced that Catcher in the Rye has yet to contend with is that they are currently being made into cinematic pieces. The first was released earlier this year, and obviously did extremely well. The problem with the book being turned into a movie is that complaints and charges against the film were mixed up with the first book, and thus claims that making one of the characters African American was racist bled over into the outcries to have it removed from the shelves. (*The book does imply that Rue is of that ethnicity, but the author is very good about making character descriptions clear enough to help the reader envision the character, but not necessarily so specific as to box them into a racial or ethnic group as we in the present come to define such things). Having read all three books, I can write with complete confidence that claims of sexual explicitness are utter crap. Though the third book does reveal that a character was viciously forced to prostitute himself, there is no description of any physical acts between characters aside from kissing. As for the violence factor, I will agree that the violence present in those books is probably not appropriate for young children… but then again, as a lover of gory fairy tales and Michael Crichton novels by the time I was in the 5th grade, I suppose that is not exactly a fair assessment either. The important thing is that parents should be monitoring what their children are reading, not trying to shield them from things that they will eventually have to learn how to handle in the world outside of books. This trilogy is a great way to discuss difficult topics like war, violence, manipulation, government dictatorships, as acts that actually have a negative effect on people, not just as abstract concepts. If I was a parent, I would rejoice that there is an engaging piece of young adult fiction that could allow a gateway for their child to approach these terrible realities in a way that may allow them to process them on a deeper level. Regardless, I enjoyed this trilogy, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to read them.