“What hell are you talking about, Machelle?”
I am referencing nothing less than censorship, the evil of all evils. I had just read the article in the Wall Street Journal about how dark YA has become, about how we need to paint the world in rays of sunshine and rainbows and butterflies for our kids, how we need to ban these “step by step, how-to destroy yourself” manuals we call kid lit. I was ranting and raving through the house about it. I was steaming mad at the total and complete ludicrousness, the unbelievable short-sightedness, the stick a needle in my eye stupidity of saying that YA literature today is too dark. You know what? Sometimes you have to explore the dark in order to find the light. But I'm getting off topic here.
I've read a lot of the “ban list” books. Laurie Halsey Anderson's SPEAK and Cheryl Rainfield's SCARS are two of my faves. Would I let my kids read them? Of course - once they are older. My kids can read well enough to understand the language, but they are too young to fully appreciate and process the subject matter. They know what the subjects are. They understand the mechanics involved. They can't completely comprehend the emotional impact. Really. They aren't even tweeners - they're pre-tweeners. But I guarantee you, when they are old enough to grasp the emotional intricacies of these books, you better believe I'll be there holding their hands and handing them these books. But again, I digress.
My husband disagrees with my stand. Usually I'm fine with him taking another view point. This isn't one of those times. Again, I can't even begin to understand why some people believe that they have the right to decide what my kids can and cannot read. “But he's their parent too.” Yes, yes I get that. But the problem is, he sides with the premise that books about the ugly side of life have no business being in a library, especially a school library. Did I mention we homeschool?
To be fair, because I don't want anyone husband hating, we haven't discussed it further because I can't seem to talk to him about this subject without getting so wound up I stumble over myself. Maybe this essay is part of my therapy.
It's an understatement to say I am extremely passionate about no censorship. Youth today face a seemingly never-ending supply of crap to deal with. They need access to everything that can help them deal with issues. I thought I faced a tough road, but life appears more difficult today. Or is it? Let's step back a moment. Between my friends and I, we faced all the obstacles that face kids today – bullies, divorce, death, drugs, rape, incest, etc. I'm sure all of us have experienced some of these, at least to some degree, if we really look back at things. So what's different? Awareness and exposure. And that's both good and bad.
What should I use for an example? Since I've touted SPEAK, how about rape and/or incest for good measure. Rape and incest have been around since the beginnings of human beings. So why was SPEAK controversial? Is it controversial because it makes us face something horrid? Wouldn't it be nice if we could employ an “out of sight out of mind” mentality. Denial. If we don't admit to it then it never happened. You know what? Rape and incest are nasty. They aren't pleasant to look at. They aren't pleasant to talk about. They are uncomfortable as hell to deal with. But. And it's a BIG but. But talking about things helps us to deal with the repercussions and work through the fall-out.
If you were raped, would it make you feel a little less dirty, a little less ashamed, to know that someone else experienced those same feelings? Even if that story were a fictional one, would it make you feel a little better about yourself? Or would that story be a “How-to” manual in the art of being raped? What? A ridiculous analogy? I don't think so. It's no more a ridiculous analogy than the accusations thrown at today's YA lit in general.
Again, I've veered off course. Sort of. The bottom line is this. As adults, we tend to look back at our childhood through a differently colored lens. I guarantee you, if we could truly access the feelings we had then, we would realize that life wasn't really as peaches and cream as we'd like to remember. I'm not saying that all of us are repressing memories of torture. I'm saying it is more difficult to remember the full impact of the bad times. It's a much more accurate memory when we remember the good times. I believe that's why it's easy for us to say times are harder now for kids.
One of the bonuses of the present time is the availability of literature that these kids can relate to. Hell, I dare say that all of us can relate to, regardless of the age of the protagonist. And this is what brings us back around to censorship. Why, why, why, would anyone wish less assistance to those who are experiencing any hardship? If a kid wants to learn how to do something, they don't need to pilfer through a novel to learn how to rape someone or how to cut themselves without being found out. There are much easier ways to get that information. The only thing censorship does is cordon off avenues of help, assistance,and acceptance.
So yes, I agree with my husband that our almost tween and under kids don't need to read a SPEAK or a SCARS at their age. But don't you dare deny my kids or anyone else's the opportunity to access these learning tools, these chances to learn they are not alone, these avenues to a path of healing.