This isn’t a new thing. Books have been (insanely) banned for centuries, for a host of reasons. We sort of laugh about it in publishing, knowing that a banned book will be read by gazillions of folks because of it.
Highland Park High School, in Dallas Texas, took to this true insanity a few years ago. Books now needing permission slips from parents include: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. These are for 11th-grade Advanced Placement English students, who elect to take the college-level course. This resulted from parents deeming books too mature for teens.
Seriously? They offended parents’ sensibilities, in one way or another, and adults literally had one book jerked while the students were reading it—which meant the teachers couldn’t discuss the themes in their classrooms.
The debate grew so heated that in September of 2014, the superintendent suspended seven books, then reversed the decision after heated backlash.
And while I do rejoice that the parents at least knew what their kids were reading, and were involved, and parents should have a say in what their kids are taught, this banned list is so misguided that it boggles the mind. Especially one.
The Art of Racing in the Rain?!?! A book about what it means to follow your dreams, about true compassion and love. About fighting for those you love, against astronomical odds. Truly, about the art of living.
And those same kids are watching The Real Housewives of Nekkid City, the characters drunk half the time, boobs hanging out, cursing like sailors, without a moral fiber between them. Don’t tell me kids aren’t—I hear them talking about it.
When my nieces were teenagers, I was a lifeline for them. They could tell me anything—and did. Dear God, what I learned. As my niece’s friend said, “We can talk to you, Aunt Sue, ‘cause you’re not really an adult.” I took that as high praise then, and still do. Because by being able to tell me anything, we got through some fairly perilous times.
The teenage passage is a tumultuous one, filled with demons and ogres at the gates. It’s complicated, although adults often laugh that off. But the journey is fraught with perils, with the potential of lifetime mistakes at every curve. Many of which can produce lasting results of ruin. Yep, sounds a bit purple. But true. And it never ceases to amaze me how adults get teenage amnesia, burying so deeply their own troubles from the time, believing their own kids are skating through.
No one skates through.
One thing I know for true is that old saying: “Your children are leading very different lives from the ones you think they are.” Yeah, buddy. Even the goodiest two-shoes of the bunch is well aware of what’s going on, and dealing with it. So let’s jerk works of wonderful literature from them and replace it with platitudes and BS.
A sophomore from Highland Park High School said it best, in an NPR interview: “We’re dealing with so much more than what’s in these books.” Out of the mouths of babes.
Far Beit that we challenge them with thought, dissecting moral issues, presenting them with quandaries from which they grow. Oh, no. Instead feed them television pablum—and worse.
Because the point is, that’s exactly what great works of literature do: They cause you to think. To feel. To be faced with moral quandaries and grapple with what you would do about them. To read about the “other” in our midst and realize that she’s not so different from us after all . . .
So today, get a banned book for your teenager to read. Read it as she does. Talk about it. Listen to her thoughts about what happens, choices made, moral decisions. You just might learn something about what’s actually going on in her world.
But don’t get too excited about that. She’ll still keep her secrets. And hopefully, she has an old Aunt Sue to tell them to . . .
How do you get your kids to talk about issues?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.