Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dear Book Banners,

I started falling in love with books when I was eleven or twelve years old, and my parents happily agreed with my newly discovered hobby. They brought me to the bookstore once every few months, and would buy me two or three books of my choice. When I strolled into Borders, I walked straight for the TEEN / YOUNG ADULT section. I browsed the shelves, made my choices, and told my parents when I was done. We went to the checkout counter, paid, left, and I thanked them. Every single trip, it was the same thing. 

My parents never, not once, asked to see my book choices. 

You might think, well, maybe you had parents who expose their children to anything, appropriate or not. Or, maybe even you had terrible parents who did not care about you enough to worry about your reading material. You would be wrong in both cases. My parents have always been very protective and concerned about me. They knew where I was at all times, who I was with, what I was doing, and were always present in my life. They always made sure that I was making good choices in my life. 

So, why did my (slightly controlling) parents never check my book choices? 

It is because my parents trusted me. They trusted me to know what I was ready to read and to know right from wrong (and be able to discern both from the content of my newly purchased novels). They trusted me to make good decisions, to use books as a learning experience. They trusted me to realize that novels are not real, and that my life will not always reflect the ones presented in the story. 

I’m sure they realized, at one point or another, that some of those YA novels featured sex, drugs, alcohol, cursing, and et cetera. But, they still encouraged my reading. They trusted me to learn from those stories and from the "bad behavior" featured in some of them. They preferred to have me read about those subjects in order to learn, as opposed to shielding me and possibly leading me to make those mistakes in my own life. 

YA novels taught me that I never want to do drugs. I learned that sex should be meaningful, and it should be something both parties are prepared for (including unintended consequences, such as pregnancy or STI’s). I learned to never cheat, and even if it means failing. I learned that alcohol can make people do stupid things, and I have yet to touch even a drop, despite the fact that I am legally of age to drink. I learned that people curse, and at the end of the day, those are merely words. They cannot hurt you, unless you let them. I learned that some words can, however, hurt others who are sensitive. I learned to treat others the way I want to be treated. 

I learned how to be the best version of myself through YA literature that is routinely challenged for banned for featuring “adult” or “questionable” content.

Now, I am a college student with two Associate degrees, and I will also (hopefully) earn a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature this spring. And, honestly, I feel that I have done well in life so far. I know I owe that to my parents, but also to the novels I read as a teenager. Those stories shaped who I am, and I will always be grateful for them. I will always be grateful to my parents for never telling me “You can’t read this” and even more grateful that they let me read anything and everything. Instead of censoring, they let me learn and grow through literature. They let me read about the "uglier" side of life, and I am a better person for it. 

I understand why some adults are nervous when it comes to letting their teenagers read YA novels that have cursing, sex, abuse, and etc. I understand completely. But, many of these topics are already in every teenager’s daily life. 

I had friends who had sex as teenagers. I decided to wait. 

I had friends who drank alcohol and did drugs as teenagers. I refused. 

I had friends who cursed like sailors as teenagers. I…well, I cursed as a teenager. Barely. 

The truth is that you cannot protect teenagers and children from everything. 

Literature is a safe haven. Let them read, and discuss it with them. Better yet, let them read, and allow them the chance to discover right from wrong on their own. If you cannot do that, I’m sorry. I wish you could, for the sake of your child(ren), who could learn so much from those novels that you are currently waving in the air and urging other adults to ban from schools and libraries. 

If you do censor your children’s reading material, I hope that you do not extend this censorship to public schools or libraries. You do not have to right to take books away from other people. I would never walk up to you and tell you what you or your child can and cannot read. If I did, you would be annoyed with me. Furious, even. I realize you only want to help, but you are hurting many teenagers by taking away literature that can change their lives for the better

I read YA books with “questionable” content, adult books with adult content, and classics as a teenager. Thanks to those novels, I made good life choices as a teenager, and I still try to do so as an adult. Reading those novels did not turn me into some sex-crazed, alcoholic, cursing, abusive person. They turned me into a young woman who tries to live happily and healthily, who always tries to be kind to others, and who strives to learn as much as possible. 

I think I turned out pretty well. I think your teenager will turn out pretty well, too, so long as you give them the opportunity to learn from literature. While sharing darker issues with your child is scary, it will help them grow. I hope you give them a chance to do so. I hope you look at literature and see it as a tool for learning, not as the enemy. 

I hope you embrace literature, because literature will never hurt you. Literature will show you mistakes you should avoid in life and teach you new ideas and perspectives. But, at the end of the day, YOU are the only person who can decide what you will learn from every story. There is not a single book that will force you to believe or behave in positive or disagreeable ways. You make that choice, all on your own. 

SOME BOOKS THAT I READ AS A TEENAGER (Both YA and Adult Literature): 
PRIVATE series by Kate Brian
SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
HARRY POTTER series by JK Rowling
DREAMLAND by Sarah Dessen
THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER by Sarah Dessen (and other Dessen novels)
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
GOSSIP GIRL by Cecily von Ziegesar
DEVILISH by Maureen Johnson
ERAGON by Christopher Paolini
THE LUXE by Anna Godbersen
JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte
ROMEO AND JULIET by William Shakespeare
MACBETH by William Shakespeare
THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne
MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinback
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinback
LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
NIGHT by Elie Weisel 
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory
And many more!

This post was inspired by Banned Books Week


  1. Well said!

    I put together a banned/challenged book display at the library and I was surprised by some of the books that were banned or challenged and the reasons for those challenges. Some were completely ridiculous!

    In a related note, I was sad to hear that Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is currently being challenged in Minnesota. Such a great book. I hope it won't be removed from any shelves.

    1. Books are challenged and banned for so many ridiculous reasons. I'm constantly amazed by it all.

      Oh yes, E&P! I haven't read it yet, but I purchased a Kindle copy (and one of Fangirl) as soon as I saw the article on the challenge. Any book that's challenged is immediately on my To-Read list. And the reasoning for the E&P challenge is ridiculous - profanity? Really? Do parents honestly think that their teenagers never hear curse words? I hope it isn't removed from shelves, too. It's always a shame when a book is banned, simply because an adult is afraid of it.

  2. Great post! I too have become very annoyed with banned books. I feel pretty much exactly the way you do. I sincerely believe that taking away these books are hurting kids more than helping them. Recently, like Christina said in the above comment, Eleanor & Park is falling under the banned category. Hearing that has made be sad, but also furious, because it's an amazing story. Turning a blind eye to the ugly things in life will not make them go away, and I hate authors being put down for being realistic.

    1. Books are knowledge - taking that away from children and teenagers only hurts them in the long run.

      "Turning a blind eye to the ugly things in life will not make them go away" - exactly! It's better to read about the ugly aspects of life and LEARN from it. Avoiding those things only makes someone more likely to make the same mistakes portrayed in the book

      Thanks for dropping by! :).

  3. What a lovely post. Thanks for putting all of your thoughts in such a strong post. I've been hearing and reading about people banning books - especially YA novels. I've seen the list of banned books and I'm genuinely surprised that they were banned at all.

    1. YA novels are always being challenged and banned, which is so unfortunate. I wish other adults would stop being so afraid of literature.

      Yes, there are usually a few surprises on banned books lists. Like Harry Potter being banned because it "promotes occultism" - which is a ridiculous statement. It's a fantasy book. That's all!

  4. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing. <3 Book banners are awful. I think that everyone should get to choose for themselves what they are old enough to read.

    1. Book banners are frustrating people. I understand their concerns, but I will never understand why anyone thinks it's okay to tell a larger group of people what they can and cannot read.

      "I think that everyone should get to choose for themselves what they are old enough to read." - agreed!

  5. Love this post! I really never understood why they Banned Books....the books that they challenged were always the best books. It's ridiculous! Like you, my parents didn't censor what I read either and I am so grateful for that as well. :)

    1. That is true - the best books always seem to be the ones that are challenged!

      Yay for parents who didn't censor reading material! It took me a long time to realize just how strange that was (and how lucky I was), because a lot of parents are not like that.

  6. Yes! My parents were exactly the same--they never questioned my choice of books, and I was so grateful. I also had a great high school librarian who would celebrate banned book week by encouraging all of us to read books that had been challenged and banned. Those books taught me how to make good choices in life, too. Lovely post!

    1. Glad your parents were awesome pro-books people too! Your old high school librarian sounds fabulous, too. I get why some adult's are afraid of books - they can teach you good or bad ideas. But really, I think they do more good than harm.

  7. Wow, it's nice to know someone understands. I'm only a teenager at the moment but I'd have to agree. My parents are like yours and they never check what I read because they trust me to make the right choices. I think it's a little stupid when people say we shouldn't be exposed to inappropriate things but even if we weren't reading it in books we see it everywhere. It's all in the media and it's something we learn in school I think some adults need to realise that it's all part of growing up and that we're going to know about it someday and we learn from our mistakes.
    Great post, I understand completely what you say.

  8. I admit I've accidently told a parent "no wait no um that book isn't for her age group" I realized before I finished that I had made a mistake as a library assistant I'm not allowed to tell people weather they should or should not read a book.
    The thing is we do get kids coming over and looking or parents who really are not sure. The only time I figure its okay to say "wait a minute" is when it comes to the manga since manga and comic's have a rating on the back I then let the mom and child decide for themselves but I like letting them know that there IS a rating on those books specifically
    I tend to try and not censor other people's choices sometimes its just reflex to want to warn them a little

  9. Wonderful, wonderful post! I could not agree with you more on everything that you said. My parents were just like yours. They were very protective of me and knew where I was, who I was with, etc too. But they also completely trusted me. They knew I would make good choices and they knew that I had the common sense to decide what was right and wrong. They never once questioned my reading material, either. I've always loved reading and read books past my age level when I was younger. But like you, I read things that made me a stronger person and be a better person. I read about characters making bad life choices and I learned not to make those same mistakes. I think it's only detrimental when parents ban certain books that could very well teach their children what and what not to do. The crazy thing about the whole banned and challenged books is that, like you said, 98% of teenagers are already exposed to people who do the same things that parents hate about some YA books. I knew of at least 5 people who cursed almost every other sentence. I knew people who partied and drank, smoke, did illegal substances, etc. Reading about those things in books was nothing knew. But I can tell, they didn't encourage me to those things. The main characters usually struggle after making those choices and have to fix themselves. I think that's the important lesson that parents who ban books are missing!

  10. This is such an awesome post and I recognize myself in it. My parents always let me read books I wanted to read. They trusted that I was responsible enough to pick my own books and I'm so grateful for that. When I was younger I already read most of the children's books, so my parents took me to the 'adult' section so I could continue reading. They even got me a special library card (you had a children and adult card) so I could lend those adult books on my own card. It made me the reader I am today :) I want the same for my children. I hate it when people try to tell you what you can and can't read. Bad influences, don't make me laugh.

  11. I almost could have written this myself-my parents never looked over what I was reading and not because they didn't care (maybe a little because they couldn't keep up with the rate at which I read) but mostly because they trusted me. Plus if you're reading about all this bad stuff, you're probably not out there doing those things.