Title: The Notebook Girls
Authors: Julia Baskin, Lindsey Newman, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen, and Courtney Toombs
Challenged In: Waukee, Iowa
For: foul language, cussing
I’ve gotta say, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Look at that cover! I was totally expecting Amelia’s Notebook for an older crowd, and that’s just what I got!! Plus, it’s non-fiction! I am all about this concept, probably because I could read epistolary works all day–such a voyeur, I know.
It’s possible that in middle school or high school you too had a notebook with one or more friends. I did in 6th grade. Rather than pass individual notes, my best friend and I would trade a notebook with each other, filling its pages during spare moments in class or at lunch or at home with funny anecdotes, doodles, questions, observations, whatever. I distinctly remember how about half of our notebook was given over to deciding which nicknames we should use for each other, and then changing them almost daily. The other half was probably about boys.
This book came about when four girls took their notebook and published it, pictures and doodles and all! It’s way more interesting than my old middle school one for a number of reasons:
1) Four girls instead of two=more drama and “plot”
2) They’re in high school, so have slightly more interesting observations about the world and life events than I did in 6th grade
3) This notebook covers a huge amount of time for a project like this, 3/5/02–12/27/03 so you really get to see the “characters” change and grow
4) They live in New York City and talk often about September 11th, which was only 6 months behind them at the start of the notebook! Their discussion of their experiences and their reflections on them at multiple points afterwards is fascinating
Also it’s published with handwriting font, and there are pictures!
I found the whole concept of this book amazing. Because it’s non-fiction, you don’t get as coherent a narrative as you would out of something more constructed. Sometimes characters or events just happen for no reason and then are never mentioned again, or aren’t really explained that well since all four writers are already familiar with them. Giant blocks of time are just missing, specifically in the summer, but all of this makes me feel like an archivist detective (maybe only I am in love with this feeling, but whatever). I think these issues might frustrate some people, but for others it’s a really enlightening look into the real lives of four teens.
But since it’s real, there are lots of things I can see some people objecting to. Lots of cursing, as the challenger pointed out, as well as drugs, drinking, and sex. Since this is real life and not a constructed story, there’s no authorial voice saying “… but that’s a bad idea” so I was surprised and pleased when the original writers do this anyway. Okay, not to the extent that Concerned Parent would like, probably, which would undoubtedly include Go Ask Alice-levels of “try marijuana one time and you will obviously die homeless in the streets”. But over the course of the narrative all four girls have moments where they admit things like “last night was a mistake, I shouldn’t drink that much” or “all of us smoke too much and it’s getting in the way of other things” or “this boy is taking advantage of me and just not worth my time anymore”. Sometimes it takes them awhile to realize these things, but I think these decisions about moderation are all the more compelling to the reader because they’re real. Teens are capable of thinking about their own lives and making their own decisions, and I like how this book validates that, yeah, we all make mistakes or try things that we might later regret–though not always–and that doesn’t make us terrible people.
This challenge, to me, had a happy ending–or mostly happy. I couldn’t find any information about the original challenger’s reaction, but hopefully they were also satisfied with the review board’s decision. Before the challenge, this book was apparently shelved in teen fiction. The challenger wanted it removed from the library completely, but the review board decided it had been miscataloged and moved it to adult non-fiction. I actually agree with this decision, since teens can still access it in adult non-fiction and it seems like it fits more in that collection. I can see why this would be a difficult book to place–it’s clearly not fiction, though it’s written in a similar format, and the whole concept of a teen non-fiction section is widely debated, with each library deciding something different. At each library I’ve visited where I’ve noticed this book, it’s always been in adult non-fiction, although many of those don’t have separate teen non-fiction sections. Yay for continued access and more accurate cataloging! A library collection is always in the process of becoming.
Previously: My Mom’s Having a Baby
Next: The Quran