Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teen Roundtable: Book Banning

From the uproar over Speak to the recent flare-up in Missouri, book banning is something the YA community is very passionate about. But one perspective that’s often missing from the discussion is that of the people it affects the most: teen readers.

So in honor of Banned Books Week, we got our Teen Spies together to ask them how they feel about the issue, and I think some of their answers will surprise you!

But first, our pre-chat conversation may not have been entirely (or at all) on-topic, but it was sure entertaining:

Alyssa: I can’t wait for Breaking Dawn!

Lennon: Me neither! Me and my friends are going to the midnight premiere!

Cristin: I heard they're not having Edward chew into Bella's stomach to get the baby out, though. I was totally looking forward to seeing how they'd do that! 

Alexandra: WHAT??

Lennon: Aww!

Alexandra: But I WANTED to see Rob rip into Kirsten's stomach! 

Laura: I would actually pay to see that! 

Alyssa: That was my most anticipated moment! What!?!?!? 

Cristin: I might be wrong. I don't know how else they'd get killer baby out.

Alyssa: The regular way? With scissors? 

Cristin: SCISSORS? 

Alyssa: LOL
Cristin: Girl, how are people delivering babies in Canada if you think that's the regular way?!? 
Lennon: That won't cut through vampire skin.
Alexandra: Bella's still human though, right?  LOL, imagine our blog post if this is all we talk about. "TEENS WANT TO SEE EDWARD RIP INTO BELLA'S WOMB IN TWILIGHT MOVIE." 

Luckily, this is not all our blog post is about. We’re totally saving the rest of our womb-ripping material for when the movie comes out! 

Now, onto the banned books! 

Have you read any banned books? Does a book being banned make you more or less interested in it? 

Alyssa: The Catcher in the Rye is one my favourite books, and I think it's ridiculous that it's been banned. I read it a few months ago and couldn't understand why such a big deal was made of it.  I’ve read worse than Holden’s vocabulary.

Plus, teens are open to even worse behaviour than foul language. We experience racism and bullying and violence all the time.

Lennon: Half of what I read has been banned. I don't think books should be banned, because writing is like art and art should not be censored. 

Also, I noticed that a lot of banned books had to do with gay relations, and since I have a friend who is gay and his parents don't accept that or know how to deal with it, he would have no idea how to handle it without books and he could have committed suicide.

Katie: I have read Speak and Twilight. I don’t see why they would have banned those two. There was nothing extremely inappropriate in them.

Lynsay: I’ve read TTYL by Lauren Myracle. I remember it being pretty, umm, inappropriate, but it was a long time ago, so I might've just been looking at it from a too-young perspective. I read it when I was like twelve, and it had sexual stuff and the girl had a thing with her teacher. 

Alison: OMG, Lynsay my twelve-year-old just read TTYL.

Lynsay: Don't panic, Alison. It wasn't gut-wrenching or anything. 

And all of our teen spies said that a book being banned actually made them more interested in the book. So start adding some extra cursing and sex to your manuscripts!

Whereas most people argue it’s ultimately a parent’s responsibility as to what their child is and is not allowed to read, which has led to the “restricted zone” compromise in Missouri, our spies were adamant that it was actually their responsibility. They don’t think their parents should have a say.

Alyssa: We know the difference between right and wrong, even if some of us don't always go along with it. My parents aren't really supportive of my reading habit, which sounds weird all on its own, so I don't want their input in what I read.

Lennon: I think parents should have an opinion, but it's my life and my mind, so they shouldn't be able to stop me if you want to read something.

Katie: How can a book hurt someone? I understand that people want to protect young readers, but ultimately it’s up to the reader to determine if it is a good or bad book.

Alyssa: If my parents forbid me to read a book, I would read it behind their backs, honestly. 

Lennon: I have to do that with my grandparents. Read stuff without them knowing. 

Laura: I know when I’m not ready for a book. When I was eleven, I read a book that contained a very sexual relationship between a young girl and her best friend’s father. It made me feel so ill that I had to put the book away. I finished it two years later when I was old enough to handle it.

Is there anything that SHOULD get a book banned?

Lennon: Nothing should be banned, but there should be a separate section so you don't open a book and see something about some animal-person action like in Sookie Stackhouse. 

Alyssa: Having characters who rely on their partner to exist should be banned. And anti-feminist lit, because it's not fair. I would support a ban on books like that 100%.
Books with characters and situations like in Halo and Hush, Hush influence people’s thinking in the wrong way. They shouldn't be published, especially not for a genre like YA where readers are impressionable, because girls shouldn't depend on guys like Nora does.

Laura: YES! I agree with Alyssa. Anti-feminist themes in literature disgust me. I don't believe any woman should be subjected to it. 

A fascinating discussion about feminism and gender roles in YA lit ensued (guys, our Teen Spies are smart), but we’re saving it for another time, so you’ll have to stay tuned! 

Swearing: how much is too much?

Alyssa: I have no issue with language. Every teen I know has a dirty mouth. Even eleven year olds I know. 

Lennon: Nothing, we say it all. But I don't because I'm a good Christian, southern girl. :)
  
Laura: Unless it reflects the character or situation, language is unnecessary. Teens are subject to and use it every day. It doesn’t need to be encouraged in literature. Language isn't a deal breaker for me, though. I use it...a lot. But when I'm reading a book that contains foul language, I'm not thinking about how it affects me; I'm thinking about how it affects others.

Sexuality: how much is too much?
Lennon: Nothing, honestly. If the author is being realistic, then know that people get preggers in as low as sixth grade. And sixth grade is when my friend figured out he was gay. But at the same time, I don't want to read about people getting’ it on all the time.

Alyssa: Yeah. Definitely. Sometimes I'm reading around my parents or other relatives and I feel uncomfortable!

Lennon: Yeah, I’d like a warning please.

Karen: So if they put content labels on books like they do movies (sexual content, violence, etc), you guys would like that?

Katie: I would. I strongly believe a book rating system would be more effective than banning. Therefore the reader knows what they might be getting into.

Lennon: Maybe. I mean, some things I read I don't want my parents to know I'm reading about.

Alexandra: Okay, so if the rating was right on the cover, it might not be helpful because it would broadcast to everyone you were reading a book with whatever in it.

Laura: Right, of course. No rating on the cover.

Are there any important issues you don’t feel enough there are enough books addressing or addressing in a way that resonates with you? 

Alyssa: Drugs and alcohol. They're romanticized (I heard that from a person I respect very much who went through a very rough time) and the rehab-process is way too rapid. 

Lennon: Teen parents. TV is glorifying it, and it's annoying. Teen pregnancy is huge all over America, but TV shows make it seem like nothing. You are not ready to have a baby in high school. want a baby more than anything, but I'm not giving up my life for one just yet.

Laura: Mental health issues. And bulimia. I've heard about a lot of bulimia books, but the majority of them aren't really written properly or well-researched.

Alyssa: Also, bullying for girls (physical) is hardly ever shown. Girls get beat up too. 

Lennon: And gay suicide, and suicide in general.

So as you can see, our teens have a variety of opinions, but there is one thing they all agree on:

They want to be the ones deciding what they read.

They don’t want teachers, librarians or parents keeping books from them, and they don’t want authors self-censoring their language, portrayals of violence/sexuality, or treatment of controversial subjects on their behalf or to avoid offending the gatekeepers.

They want authenticity, no matter how hard it is. They can handle it. 


Want our amazing Teen Spies to critique your first page? The deadline for our first Teen Crit is today! Email us your first 250 words now!

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