Writer Alane Ferguson is a dear friend of mine, and she recently emailed me about an article she’d written. Since I touched on the subject of censorship in my most recent post on sex in YA, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to “reprint” Alane’s piece (which was originally posted on her own blog, here).
First of all, I believe not all published work is suited to all readers. There, I said it – to me it’s a simple fact. BUT, having said that, we wade into the murky waters of who decides for whom what is and is not appropriate.
So! I will now weigh in. Remember, this is just my take on the question as an author. (Yikes! I hope when I’m done people won’t pelt my house with olives!)
I’ll begin with little back-story. I may have mentioned earlier on my blog that ALL are welcome in my home, and those are not empty words. I have had teenagers (girls, mostly – although boys have landed here, too!) who have moved in when things have gotten rough, which has translated into hundreds of hours negotiating sticky areas between teens and adults. My conclusion? Let me just say that there is A LOT MORE GOING ON in the lives of young adults than many parents might care to acknowledge. Yes, there are some protected teens who have never heard a swear word, but they are, sadly, a small minority. Most teens I’ve encountered have matured beyond their years. (Another fact: I might not like the way they have walked away from their childhoods too soon, but choices are made apart from my pearls of wisdom. I work from what IS, not from what I wish could be). And having said all of that, it is my belief that banning books won’t change behavior, not in the slightest.
I mean, isn’t that the fear? That a child reading about a certain behavior will suddenly indulge in said behavior themselves? I have never personally witnessed anyone renounce their core beliefs because of some random author’s take on life. Quite the contrary. I’ve found reading is the safest way to explore alternative world views. Personally, I welcome a chance to talk about ‘banned’ subjects, not to preach as much as to listen. To probe into the decisions of a fictional character and discuss fictional consequences enlightens everyone involved. How much safer is it to talk about imaginary pregnancy than to face the real thing?
Now comes a caveat: Parents know their kids, so I invariability bow to their choices and wisdom when it comes to their offspring. If they deem my books (which some have) as too graphic (for some readers they are) then by all means, censor my books from your family! It’s not a problem with me – discretionary reading has my blessing. However, and this is where some people get stuck, the idea of honor goes both ways. Those same parents MUST honor the right of the many to read material they themselves may deem ‘unsuitable.’ I believe we must not allow individualistic sanctions to put the kibosh on a teacher’s/classroom’s/librarian’s choice of material. For me, the few should not control the rest! We’re all about freedom, right? (Man, I feel those olives coming my way…)
Last but not least – one thing life has taught me is that it is impossible to please everyone. Let’s not try. To that end, I am a big believer in offering all sorts of books to all kinds of readers – no judgment! I respect their choices…problem solved! Respecting differing points of view is the key.
So! In my humble opinion, let the few choose NOT to read, allow the many to ENJOY, and let the conversations begin!
I really like Alane’s thoughts here. I think that — my own personal values, religion and politics aside — my baseline for these issues boils down to choice and truth. There are people who advocate for banning books on principle, of removing the “threat” from shelves for the “benefit” of everyone. And then there are people who advocate for choice — letting parents, educators, and kids choose what they recommend, teach, and read — but at least making all books available.
I get very uncomfortable with people who take it upon themselves to make decisions for others, who have the ego and the righteousness to think that they know better. Sure, some kids lack the life experience that some adults possess, but that doesn’t mean that more life experience is better or more valid. Our shelves should be allowed to reflect the wild diversity of our world: every person who has lived, and read, and thought, has their own truth and worldview. Each book should be allowed to have the same. In the end, it’s as simple and as complicated as that.