September 14, 2018 04:43 PM Posted by juliannadouglas
Welcome to my annual Banned Books Week celebration! If you haven’t been around for my previous ones and you’re wondering what this is all about, every year the American Library Association hosts this celebration to highlight books that have been challenged or banned and to help raise awareness to combat censorship. As a reader, I enjoy reading all books, including ones that have been banned, and as an author, I’m very much opposed to censoring of book content. That’s why I decided to hold my own little Banned Books Week event on my blog each year in which I’ll share some of my thoughts on the topic and give away one of my favorite banned/challenged books.
Everyone has their own reading preferences, things they enjoy reading about and other things they don’t, including things that they might never want to read for one reason or another. I totally get that. I’m the same way. By the same token, there are certain topics many parents may not want their children to read about. Again, I get that. I’m a parent, and although my children are now grown and can choose to read (or not read) whatever they want, there was a time when I helped them carefully choose books that were age appropriate. But where I respectfully disagree is when people try to make those choices for other readers by attempting to get certain books banned from libraries, schools, and public spaces. Not every book is going to be right for every reader, but in my humble opinion, every reader has a right to make that decision for themselves, or in the case of minors for their parents to choose for them. No one has the right to prevent someone else from reading a book they want to read or to prevent another person’s child from reading a book that that child’s parent doesn’t object to. That’s one of the main reasons I support the ALA’s efforts during Banned Books Week.
Another reason is that more often than not, I find that books that have been banned or challenged are some of the best books I’ve ever read. Many times, they are the ones that make us think more deeply or challenge us to see a particular topic in a different way, which I think oftentimes frightens some people. If allowed to, though, these books can cultivate empathy within us for those who are different from ourselves and help us process difficult subjects through the safe lens of a fictional story. There is so much that these books have to teach us, and yet many times, they are relegated to the proverbial back room because they’re deemed inappropriate by a few, when they should be proclaiming the message within their pages to the world. As this year’s ALA Banned Books Week tagline says, “Banning Books Silences Stories.” This couldn’t be more true.
So during the week of September 23-29, I encourage you to read a banned book, so that rather than silencing the stories that the characters and authors of these books have to tell us, we fully embrace them and learn what they have to teach us.
This post is going up early so I can include it in my monthly email newsletter, but check my Facebook and other social media feeds during Banned Books Week for more insights.
Now as part of my celebration I’m going to highlight and give away one of my favorite banned/challenged books, Summer of My German Soldier. This book was ranked #88 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list for the decade 1990-1999, and moved up to #55 for the decade 2000-2009. It also ranked at #5 on the Top 10 list for the year 2001. My research turned up a few different reasons why this book has been challenged or banned, so here’s where I’ll offer my opinions on a few of these reasons.
1. Offensive Language - Profanities are used, both a handful of mild ones as well as Patty's father taking the Lord's name in vain several times, but I felt that it fit with his character being an extremely unhappy, violent man. I don’t recall this being over the top or anything. However, if language is one of your triggers this may not be the book for you. As far as it being OK for the teen readers at which it’s aimed, though, I’d say that most teens are probably using and/or hearing these types of words at school on a daily basis, so in my view it isn’t a big deal.
2. Racism - There are a number of racial slurs against blacks and Asians, but they were certainly consistent with the time period and setting, so in my opinion the book is simply being historically accurate rather than outright offensive. Not to mention, Patty herself feels different and not entirely accepted because of being the only Jewish girl in a predominantly Christian community, so this is an issue with deep implications that can be good to explore.
3. Sexually Explicit – This is something of a head-scratcher for me. The best I can figure is that on two occasions, Patty's father makes the incorrect assumption that she’s had sexual contact with a man, but it’s presented in a subtle rather than overt way. There is also a scene where Patty briefly wonders when her body will mature and prays to get her "womanly curves," which seems like a perfectly normal thing for a girl who’s going through puberty. In my view, though, these things are hardly “sexually explicit.”
4. Pessimistic Ending – I’ll admit that this book doesn’t really have a happy ending, just a glimmer of hope for Patty’s future. But in all fairness her story doesn’t end with this book either. There’s a sequel where she finds some peace and closure for the events in this story. While I love my HEA endings, I didn’t necessarily find the less-than-stellar ending to be a detractor. In my opinion, to allow kids to think that life is nothing but sunshine and roses, is doing them a disservice. Life is messy and certainly isn’t always happy, so while it did make me rather sad, I simply viewed the book as more realistic in nature. I know I’m being rather blunt, which isn’t usually my style, but to ban/challenge a book for not having a positive ending is a pretty dumb reason if you ask me.
While I can see how these things might be of concern to some people, I didn't feel that anything was wholly inappropriate for teenagers of approximately 14 and up, maybe middle-schoolers with parental or educator guidance and depending on their maturity level. I might have some concerns about children younger than middle-school age reading it, not so much because of the content, but more so because there are many complex themes that might be difficult for them to comprehend. In fact, I was a little surprised that I didn’t find any instances of people objecting to the book because of Patty’s parents, particularly her father, being abusive. Not that they didn’t, but if anyone did it didn’t come up in my research. Personally that was harder for me to read than any of the reasons cited above. In general though, despite any potentially objectionable content, I think Summer of My German Soldier is a wonderful book, and it would be a shame to take it out of our youth's hands.
No matter the age of the reader, there are many positive things to be gleaned from this book's pages. There are some solid lessons in tolerance, open-mindedness, and showing care and concern for others who may be in need either physically or emotionally. There was also a wonderful message about how our differences truly don't matter when it comes to love and friendship. Summer of My German Soldier also has a strong historical element. In doing some research on the author, I discovered that the story is partially autobiographical as Bette Green's life in many ways mirrored Patty's. I even learned a couple of things I didn't know about POWs being housed on U.S. soil and German U-Boats actually reaching our shores during WWII. It was interesting as well how the attitudes of some people were not that much different than those of today, a sure sign that while some things may change others stay the same. Overall, I thought it was a great little story, not the type that will leave the reader with warm fuzzy feelings, but it is one that can impart some deep food for thought to readers of all ages.
So there you have it, my two cents on why Summer of My German Soldier is a great story that has found its way onto my keeper shelf, as well as my counter-arguments against the allegations made by those who wish to censor, challenge, and/or ban this book. I would encourage everyone, teens and up, to give this thought-provoking story a read if you haven’t already. And to help you achieve that, I’m giving away a copy. Keep reading to learn how you can win it for your own library.
It was a summer of love. A summer of hate. A summer that would last a lifetime.
Read my complete review of Summer of My German Soldier.
If you would like to win a copy of Summer of My German Soldier to see how wonderful it is for yourself, just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. One lucky winner will receive a print copy of the book (believe it or not, this isn’t available as an ebook). I will have it mailed directly to them via Amazon. Good luck!
International Entrants: You are welcome to enter my contest, but please note that I can only mail it to you via the Amazon website that services your country, pending availability and cost. Otherwise I will mail it to you via U. S. Amazon's standard international shipping, but it may take up to 6-8 weeks to arrive, and I may not have the capability of tracking the package.