Have you heard about the right-to-burn-a-book incident? Author Neil Gaiman was talking about a recent development where certain folks were upset/offended by a book in a library. So they declared that they had a right to burn the offensive book. No, this is not in one of those countries fighting for free speech and all that; it's in one of the northern states of USA. To be fair, the fact that there is an ongoing debate is testimony to presence of free speech and rights of man; in a truly repressive nation, the book would probably be banned from all bookshops and libraries by now. Well, the main point of this article is talking about the issue of challenged books.
In this case, I am guessing this book is going to be on the challenged list for a while. Let me mention a little bit of detail about the book in question. It is called Baby Be-Bop and was written by Francesca Lia Block. The book is about a gay teen who struggles to be himself. If you think about it, it's bad enough that young folk have to deal with peer pressure and feelings of inadequacy when growing up. Add in fear for safety and outright adversity when dealing with questions about their own sexuality and you know the kid is in for a rough time. The main protagonist is attacked by a a bunch who were not very tolerant of his sexual orientation. This is the sort of situation faced by many teens and adults in real life and it is great to see an author address this topic.
But, given the relevance of this book to modern society, why are some folks protesting so vehemently? I could assume a number of reasons but let me check the official statements.
Quote from The Guardian:
Their suit says that "the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library," and that it contains derogatory language that could "put one's life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike."
How can a book put one's life in jeopardy? I could say that about some of the rather trashy romance novels donning the shelves of almost all libraries but I wouldn't set off to burn or ban any of them. To each their own and all that good feeling, right? And how is it that this book is deemed bad for adults as well? Isn't it sad that a small group decides what is right and wrong for the entire population? Surely you have to let people decide for themselves?
The issue of challenged books is something that has been going on for a while. Baby Be-bop is joining a long list of books that have been offending the sensibilities of folks all over US. Like I mentioned earlier, at least in US there is a strong movement (Banned Book Week etc.) which address and fight for intellectual freedom; in some countries, books can disappear or be banned without anyone having a say in it. In such cases, it would be a Orwellian-type paranoid atmosphere in which folks will nab and digest such books which in turn makes it even sadder.
To illustrate my point let me point out three of my favorite young adult books which have been banned or challenged over time.
Blubber by Judy Blume
She is a bit of a legend where anti-censorship fight is concerned. A lot of her books have made it to blacklists in many libraries. Funnily enough, most of them are quite harmless where content is concerned. Take for instance Blubber. The main theme is peer pressure and bullying in schools. This book tells the story of a young girl who joins her friends in ganging up on the chubby girl in class. Well, one day the tables are turned and the chubby girl joins with the gang to bully the main protagonist. It is one of those stories that are timeless; bullying has always been there and books like this help kids cope with difficult situations in their lives. At the very least, they know they are not alone. And why was this book banned? Apparently for strong language and because there was no happy ending.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
That's right! At one time or another, this book was banned or challenged by grown-ups. Who in their right mind would ban this book? This book is testimony to one of the saddest and mos tragic events in human history. It shows the human suffering resulting from an atrocious campaign carried out by a brutal regime. Do I even need to explain why this is an absolute-must for all libraries? Well, do you know this was banned or challenged? Apparently it was such a stark and bleary tale that it was too sad for young ones to read. Oh, and the Anne Frank's occasional questions about sexuality (think curious mind of an average teen) was offensive to some folks.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Everyone knows the story by now. A poor boy wins a ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. When you think about it now, it almost seems like the children's version of the Survivor. No one gets to vote off anyone but the kids have to make it through the tour of the factory. It is one of the most loved children's classics and continues to be a top favorite today. Of course, many point out that the book might be suited for older readers as opposed to children. However, what I found most interesting were the actual objections to this book - namely questions about the main protagonist's character as well as the dreary atmosphere of the overall book. Time and time again, many folks objected to the story being depressing and also about Charlie being a bit of an unlikely hero (i.e. he's not exactly the eptiome of a stereotypical choosen one, is he?) . For me, it seems more appropriate to present ordinary characters, ones that children can identify with as opposed to large-than-life caricatures.On the other hand, why dictate what should or should not define a main protagonist? Why not leave it up to the author?
What's the lesson here? That books are challenged or banned for the strangest reasons?