Saturday, February 10, 2018

Relevance of Banned Books

I was recently interviewed by a student, Donna Crane, working a "Banned Books Honors Project" for Naugatuck Valley Community College. The questions were so interesting, I thought I'd share them with you here, along with my answers: 

Read on . . . 

Q: Do you remember reading any books as a child that were in some way disapproved of or forbidden? If yes, did they traumatize you for life, or did the “forbidden” element make them more enjoyable?

A: Reading Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume as a young girl made me feel like I was not alone. I still remember the shock on my mother’s face when she’d discovered I’d read it. She told me her friends had told her the book contained awful content that no child should read. My mom never actually read the book. I was glad I’d read it before she was told it was “bad,” because the book helped me feel okay about myself.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for controversial books to be physically present in libraries and schools and not just available online?

A: It’s important for controversial books to be physically present in libraries because not all young people have access to e-books and some marginalized kids may only read the books inside the walls of the library, never taking the books home with them for fear of retribution from disapproving parents, family members, or peers.

Q: Do you ever deliberately include controversial scenes when writing for YA to shock or provoke a strong response from the reader? Or do such scenes always arise naturally from the demands of the plot?

A: I write what the plot and characters demand. I do not start out with the intention of writing something controversial. I begin with the goal of writing something I feel passionately about with the hopes of sparking emotions and ideas within the reader.

Q: Have you ever felt guilty or worried about including controversial issues in a book you were writing for YA - do you censor yourself? 

A: I don’t feel guilty, because I don’t cross lines that would cause shame within myself. I have worried about how certain scenes would be received by readers, but that’s one reason I utilize critique partners and beta readers. Based on their responses, I may modify a certain scene, but I will always remain true to myself and to the intents of the plot and characters.

Q: How you feel when people accuse your books of being unrealistic and ‘garbage’, and ask for them to be banned? Upset? Angry? Confused? Amused?

A: I was shocked when a reader posted a review of Unlocked on a library catalog’s site saying, “It explores the world of demonology and I put down the book wishing I had never picked it up. This book is not recommended for children or teens.” I told myself to let it go. It was only one review, but then other adult women posted similar reviews on library sites and Goodreads, “the dark demonic layers are not for me, my family or my home.” I know I shouldn’t read reviews, but I do. And the harsh ones still hurt.

Q: Films are classified by age, and young children are prevented from seeing films that are classified as a 15 or an 18. Do you think this is unreasonable censorship? If not, why shouldn’t we have a similar system for books?

A: Well, first of all, young children are not prevented from seeing the films. They can attend in the theater if they are accompanied by an adult, and they can easily rent or borrow the movie to watch it at home. Anyone can watch Netflix, and it has an entire range of content. I think we should have a rating system for books. I don’t think it would infringe on free speech to simply put a guide on the back of the book with a brief explanation for the rating. Something like: PG-13 for language and sex.

Q: What was the hardest scene to write for Unlocked and Who R U Really? — and where did you get the inspiration to finish it? 

A1: The hardest scene to write for Unlocked was the bathroom scene, because I pushed my personal boundaries to the limits. That scene even scared me. I was worried sending it off to a critique partner to read, but when she emailed me back with a “Holy Sh*t! You scared the crap out of me.” I knew the scene was a keeper.

A2: The hardest scene to write for Who R U Really? was the Scrabble scene, because in real life, I’d experienced that scene as the mom, but I had to write it from the perspective of the teenage girl. It was a challenge to write authentically. My inspiration to finish it came simply from the fact that the book demanded to be written.

Q: How important do you think YA fiction is for teenagers in general, especially when this genre is often criticized for having some adult content and themes?

A: YA fiction is essential, because so many teens feel alone. I speak to a lot of groups about Who R U Really?, and every single time, a teen will come up to me afterward and privately say, “I thought this had only happened to me, and I felt so stupid for so long, but after reading this book, I know I’m not alone. I’m not stupid. I’ll be okay.”

Q: Do you think that there should be some kind of line drawn that limits what an author has a right to write about?

A: No. Absolutely not.

Q: Is banning books technically crossing the line of freedom of the press/freedom of speech? Is book banning limiting knowledge in any way, meaning that by "protecting us" you are also keeping us from learning?"

A: I believe “banning” a book only draws more attention to it. The process makes more people curious about it and want to read it. And yes, banning a book crosses the line of freedom of speech. If you don’t want to read a book, don’t read it, but it’s not necessary to ban it.

Q: What do you think are the biggest issues facing young people today? And what advice would you give them?

A: A major issue facing young people today is the sense of isolation, of feeling alone and different. If a person believes no one can possibly understand what they are going through, life is hard to cope with and suicide becomes a temptation. If a teacher or librarian or parent can hand a book to a young person that helps them understand that they in fact are not alone, that book can save his or her life. I would tell those young people who are struggling: hang on, because things will get better; cling to hope, because tomorrow may bring the joy you’ve been craving.

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