Banned Book Week 2010 featured the firestorm over SPEAK, the powerful YA novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. A man in Missouri called it “pornography,” and wanted it (and just about every other book taught in the schools there) banned. Which, of course, has led to every blogger involved with writing to blog about censorship. So, here’s my two cents.
I favor censorship. Wait, wait! Let me explain. I favor personal and private censorship – if a book offends you, don’t read it. If you feel the content in a book is not appropriate for your children, don’t let them read it. Your right to NOT read a book is as inviolable as my right to read it. No one has the right to make those judgment calls for any other person, or any other person’s children. Your beliefs are not mine. Do me the favor of allowing me to make up my own mind.
I do not favor across-the-board, yank-it-from-every-library censorship. If a community were to decide to ban a book completely, there’s only one way that decision would be acceptable to me: only if the majority of people who have ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK deem it ban-worthy. So often, the people who want to ban books haven’t read them—they just read blurbs on websites and make judgments. They read excerpts taken out of context on like-minded people’s websites and use those “details” to make their point to the school boards. I feel this must be the case with this man in Missouri. He knew some details, but if he had read the book, he certainly could not have interpreted them the way he did.
I read SPEAK a few months back, before the controversy. I had heard wonderful things about it, and wanted to read it to see if it lived up to its billing. At first, I thought I was going to be disappointed. It seemed like it was going to be a “typical” date-rape story, with the predictable plotline. Since there are only so many plotlines in this world, in many ways this turned out to be true. But what Halse Anderson did with this basic plot was brilliant. The way she depicted the complete breakdown of Melinda, the disintegration of who she was and her complete inability to find words to alleviate the pain was gut wrenching. Melinda’s finding her voice and fighting back was inspirational. SPEAK deserves all the praise it has garnered.
What I admired most about SPEAK, from a writer’s point of view, was Halse Anderson’s use of weather/setting and the sculpting of the tree to illustrate Melinda’s emotional state and track her inner journey. Showing my character’s emotions without using the dreaded “felt” is something I have been working on in my own writing of late. In SPEAK, I got to see a master at work.
In my opinion, SPEAK should be taught in schools, both as an example of excellent writing and a way to discuss a difficult topic that is unfortunately very relevant to children these days. Those who seek to ban it have obviously missed the point of the book, if they have bothered to read it at all. SPEAK is certainly not the only book that is on the “threatened” list in Missouri or elsewhere (see Ellen Hopkins’ saga here). We as writers and as readers should fight censorship wherever we find it. We should all Speak Loudly.