Posts Tagged ‘challenged books’

Banned Books Week 2017: Big Hard Sex Criminals

This cover pretty much says it all

This cover pretty much says it all

Title: Big Hard Sex Criminals
Author: Matt Fraction
Challenged In: It’s a secret, apparently
Because of: Sexually explicit

Sex is a plot point in this comic, so obvs it’s going to involve sex. The two main characters have the rare ability to stop time after an orgasm. They end up trying to use their powers to rob a bank and are apprehended by the TIME STOP COPS lol. It’s kind of ridiculous and silly, and I think if it were a normal book instead of a graphic novel, it wouldn’t be on this list. It’s shelved in the adult section (see the back cover above), but graphic novels always get more grief than regular ones because ~the children could just open it up and see a penis~. So maybe watch your children in the library instead of trying to tell the rest of us what to do.

Previously: George
Next: Make Something Up

Banned Books Week 2017

Happy Banned Books Week! Here’s the list of books that were most frequently challenged in 2016! I’ll be posting about the ones I haven’t read this week.

1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, sexually explicit with mature themes

2. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: LGBT characters, sexually explicit, and offensive political viewpoint

3. George by Alex Gino
Reasons: transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”

4. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints

5. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Reasons: cover has an image of two boys kissing, sexually explicit LGBT content

6. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons: a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”

7. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction
Reasons: Sexually explicit

8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Reasons: profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”

9. Little Bill series by Bill Cosby
Reasons: oh you KNOW why

10. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Reason: offensive language

This year, 50% are books for teens and 30% for children. Fifty percent are illustrated in some way (either graphic novels or picture books).

Get pumped for ~illicit reading~

Banned Books: Two Boys Kissing


Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Challenged in: Fauquier County public high school library, VA
Because: homosexuality, condones public displays of affection

I was wary starting this book given my previous disagreements with David Levithan. Luckily this book was okay. It’s narrated by the collective “we” that is the chorus of gay men two generations ago, who died of AIDs and lived in fear. They’re looking on from the grave at the current generation of gay teens with compassion. It’s a narrative choice that I thought would work really well in a short story but not so much in a novel. Then at the end I found out–surprise! Levithan wrote this book to expand on a short story he’d done, kind of cramming in the plot around the conceit. That’s why it reads so disjointed. The plot itself I enjoyed: it follows different gay teens for a few days, two of whom are trying to break the world record for longest kiss. It showed the variety of experiences, like accepting and supportive parents, angry and denying parents, or parents who are just whatever. One of the boys was also transgender, which was cool. Levithan also doesn’t shy away from the negativity that is a very real part of being a gay teen today. Even if it’s better than when his collective narrator lived, it’s still here: bullying, abuse, isolation, self-hatred, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide. Even though he includes these aspects, he also doesn’t dwell on them, making the book uplifting and hopeful over all. In the end, this book is expressly not for me, so it doesn’t matter what I thought of the narrative choices.

As to the complaints, homosexuality and public displays of affection are what this book is all about, so if you hate either of those, you probably won’t like this book. But not liking something and trying to save the rest of us who don’t share your beliefs from it are two different things.

Previously: I Am Jazz

Banned Books: I Am Jazz


Title: I Am Jazz
Author: Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Challenged in: Mount Horeb Primary Center, Wisconsin
Because: Inaccurate, sex education, homosexuality, religious viewpoints, unsuited to age group

This is a picture book about Jazz Jennings and her life–how she likes dressing up as a princess or a mermaid, how she has two best friends, how she has always felt that she is a girl even though the people around her didn’t always agree. It explains what being transgender is in a way kids can understand, and shows that Jazz is pretty much like any other girl you would meet, except that sometimes people are mean to her for who she is. The book doesn’t dwell on this, though, and the illustrations are very cute. It’s the perfect book to read to a class, for instance, when one of their classmates is transgender to forestall any bullying that may occur. Which is exactly what was going to happen in Wisconsin until a hate group and some parents complained. It’s a pretty innocuous book, unless you don’t believe that transgenderism is a thing, and then I guess it’s a sadistic attack on everything you hold dear or something. You can tell that from the vague accusations against it.

Inaccurate: Hard to be inaccurate when it’s just one person’s experience. Unless you’re taking issue with the fact that she is a girl.
Sex education: Of course these are the same kinds of people that see sex education as a bad thing. The closest this book comes to it though is the sentence “I have a girl brain in a boy body.”
Homosexuality: This is a children’s picture book, so no sexual preferences are referred to at all.
Religious viewpoints: Religion is never discussed at all.
Unsuited to age group: This is only the case if you think elementary school is too young to know that transgender people exist, a hard argument to pull when one of their classmates is transgender.

Kids seem to freak out about this stuff way less than their parents, and it’s really sad that all of these adults are setting out to bully a child.

Previously: Looking for Alaska
Next: Two Boys Kissing

Banned Books: Looking For Alaska


Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Challenged In: Marion County, KY; Sumner County, TN; Lumberton Township, NJ; Waukesha High School, WI; Verona High School, NJ; Knox County High School, TN; Depew High School, NY; probably more
Because: sexual content, “too racy to read”, inappropriate language, it might tempt teens to “experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, and profanity”

This book is the second I’ve read by John Green, the first being An Abundance of Katherines. That one was alright. But my previous John Green knowledge allowed me to accurately predict everything about this book because it’s the same but more pretentious and insufferable. Here’s the plot: a scrawny teen boy without any personality besides one twee-as-shit quirk that stands in for one (in this book it was memorizing famous people’s last words; in the last it was math) finds himself in a new place for vague, Eat-Pray-Love style reasons (in this book it was going to a new boarding school to “seek the great perhaps” ugggggh; in the last it was going on a destinationless road trip waiting for a “eureka moment”). His best friend is always short, stocky, and funnier than him, and exists in the text solely to give him succinct but poignant life advice and generally be the common sense brains of the outfit. Bland Nice Guy (TM) falls in love at first sight with the most beautiful and amazing Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the entire world, but she has a boyfriend so he has to pine for her from the friend zone and angst about it in his internal monologue whenever her beautiful perfect elbow chances to brush against his or whatever. She never really has a personality either, besides being fun and random but also ~dark and mysterious~ because all hot girls have a secret sadness that only a bland Nice Guy (TM) can see and understand. Then later he learns lessons about life, usually that he’s not the center of the goddamn universe, which is a tough lesson for an entitled white dude with no personality to learn, so no wonder it takes a whole book. Usually his stupid quirk ends up tying into some Great Gatsby-style smack you in the face symbolism too.


Anyway, despite all those problems, I would never challenge this book, and I can see why teens might be into it. They probably haven’t encountered these stereotypes as often as I have to be frustrated by them, and maybe they might identify with the ~angsty~ protagonist’s unrequited love. Also all the characters are well-read and reference classics in their Deep and Meaningful Life Conversations, which I find tiresome but Teen Me would have found exciting and comforting. And yes, the characters smoke, drink, think about sex, and say “fuck”, but in that regard it’s a somewhat accurate portrayal of high school. Granted, I didn’t smoke or drink in high school, but I knew people who did. Seeing it in a book wouldn’t have opened up A Whole New World of vice to me that wasn’t already available if I wanted it. And if seeing people I knew in real life do those things wouldn’t change my mind about my own choices, random book characters certainly wouldn’t. Luckily, most of the challenges above kept the book in libraries, at least. Maybe next year I’ll challenge a bunch of books for Manic Pixie Dream Girl portrayals of women. Since we can just do that for anything in books we disagree with now.

Previously: Habibi
Next: I Am Jazz

Banned Books: Habibi


Title: Habibi
Author: Craig Thompson
Challenged Because: Nudity, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

This graphic novel is set in what turns out to be a post-apocalyptic Middle East where the only source of non-polluted water is controlled by a decadent sultan and the majority of the populace is starving and living in piles of trash. The main characters are two escaped child slaves doing anything they can to try to survive. Which mostly involves lots of prostitution.

While the art is lavish and beautiful, I don’t know enough about Islam to critique this book effectively. All I know is, it made me uncomfortable. Craig Thompson has clearly researched the Qur’an, Islamic folktales, and art styles, but the main character’s time in the sultan’s harem complete with bitchy concubines, eunuchs, and opium addiction seems straight out of a bad 1970s romance novel. I guess when your book is set in a ~fantasy future~ you’re not really worrying about historical accuracy, but employing these tired stereotypes seems sketchy at best. Plus, every man is a rapist who sees women solely as sex objects! The only man who is not portrayed as such is a eunuch, and became one specifically to escape his desire.

So I didn’t like this book, but of course that’s not a reason for it to be taken off library shelves. As to the complaints against it, there’s a lot of sex in it, and, since it’s a graphic novel, the visuals always get people more riled than all the sex in, say, Shakespeare. I think “unsuited to age group” pops up in these challenge reports anytime a parent realizes that there’s not some gate that keeps kids out of the adult stacks where ~they might encounter a book with boobs in it~ and freaks out. The answer to that, of course, is to watch your fucking kid since librarians aren’t babysitters or the Book Police.

Previously: Nasreen’s Secret School
Next: Looking for Alaska

Banned Books: Nasreen’s Secret School


Title: Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
Author: Jeanette Winter
Challenged In: Duval County, FL public schools; Eau Claire, WI public schools
Because: Violent subject matter; “promotes a religion that is not Christianity”; contains an Islamic prayer

This book definitely contains all the things the complainants list, but I don’t really see any of them as a problem, especially since it also contains courage, feminism, and the importance of reading and education. This book is awesome. It follows the story of a young girl named Nasreen whose parents are “taken” by the Taliban. Rather than simply give in to despair, her grandmother enrolls her in a secret school for girls. Since the Taliban have banned all education for girls and women, the girls must be sneaky and use cunning to meet and learn despite the danger. The story is truly inspiring and shows how education can improve life even in the harshest conditions.

True, Nareen’s parents are taken by the Taliban (the book doesn’t show anything beyond that), and I wouldn’t read it at storytime. This is for a slightly older child, or at least one who is more mature. Most libraries that own it shelve it in the non-fiction section (along with the same author’s other awesome title The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq). The circumstances of the story are sad, but so is the world. The book’s message turns that sadness into strength, which is a good lesson at any age.

As to the “challenge” that it features a religion that’s not Christianity and how that’s somehow perceived as a problem, fuck you.

Previously: Banned Books Week 2016
Next: Habibi

Challenged Books: The Bluest Eye and The Color Purple

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Recently East Wake High School, about 30 minutes from my apartment, banned the use of The Bluest Eye in English classrooms after parental complaints, and relegated The Color Purple to alternate assignment lists. I hadn’t read either of these before, and I was excited for the excuse to get some more Toni Morrison in my life. In the end, I think I liked Alice Walker better, but I can see why these books are often taught together, as they treat similar themes in different ways.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I get why some people objected to these books. They deal with serious topics and harsh realities that we wish didn’t exist. You should feel uncomfortable reading these books, because the reality experienced by the characters is upsetting. It’s not the kind of book someone picks up for a fun escape, and therefore might be largely ignored for the majority of casual readers outside a classroom context. And I think that’s why it’s important for books like these to be read. For anyone dealing with the issues of poverty, racism, and abuse in their own lives, it’s important to see themselves in literature, realize that they’re struggles aren’t their’s alone. Breaking free of the isolating nature of these problems is the first step to overcoming them. For any of us lucky enough not to have to face those issues firsthand, books like these teach us empathy. It’s one thing to read statistics or factual reports about other people’s problems, but works of fiction can get us to feel for them and really understand their lives in ways that news reports often can’t. I really think the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position is one of the greatest assets to becoming a compassionate human, and reading literature outside of our comfort zone is an important way to gain that skill. That’s why I’m grateful to my high school curriculum, for assigning books I definitely would not have picked up on my own even though I’m an avid reader, about characters whose lives were so distant from mine that their struggles shouldn’t have been able to touch me. Good writers can take us outside our own narrow experience and broaden our worldview in a way that’s needed more than ever as society becomes more interconnected and global.

So, I’m sad that these books won’t be able to change lives, but I’m happy that the controversy at least let them change mine.

Previously: A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl

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