Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banned Books Week: Day Four

Instead of featuring one book, today I'd like to talk about a sub-genre of books that has been challenged a lot lately.  Books that depict rape or sexual violence have taken an enormous beating in school libraries across the country.  Such books include Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

As the mother of a daughter, and a feminist, this trend is particularly disturbing to me.  Every two minutes in America, a woman is raped.  One in four women are victims of rape or attempted rape, and 38% of rape victims are between the ages of 14 and 17.  Nearly half - half - of rape victims never report the crime.

It is because of books like Speak that the other half do report the crime.

In the Platinum Edition of Speak, released in 2006, Laurie Halse Anderson had this to say: 
"But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.

We like to think that our children attend high schools like Sweet Valley High or East High School, where nice boys just want to hold hands and kids break out into song.  But the reality is is that our children are being forced to grow up earlier and earlier.  They will know kids who are bullied, abused, raped, who cut themselves, who drink or do drugs...or they will experience it themselves.

We all know that reading books together with our children opens lines of communication.  As difficult as the subject matter may be, reading a book like Speak or Just Listen can keep those lines open, so that if - heaven forbid - down the line, our child has to deal with an issue like rape, they will talk to us about it.

And that is what books are for - to bring people together.  There's a reason why the art of storytelling is older than time.  Stories drew our ancestors together and fostered discussion around an ancient fire.  Stories reach across time and space and makes us realize that, despite our differences, we're all the same.  And if a story like Speak can make one child reach out to another and say, "I know.  I understand.  You can talk to me..." - that story is worth telling. 

Learn more about Banned Books Week

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