September 19, 2020 03:38 PM Posted by juliannadouglas
Every year in September, I join the American Library Association (ALA) in celebrating Banned Books Week. Reading is a very fundamental right that can enrich our lives in many ways. That’s why I think that everyone should have the opportunity to read the types of books that they enjoy, which is why I stand against the censorship of reading materials. I sometimes understand the reasons behind why people are offended by certain books. In all honesty, there are a number books that I find offensive, too, but to attempt to censor or outright ban them is a very slippery slope. Once you start challenging books that have viewpoints or content with which you disagree, you’re opening a door for people on the opposite side of the spectrum to challenge books you may love. That’s why I simply choose to leave books which I know or suspect will offend me on the shelf.
But what about the kids, you may ask? Shouldn’t we protect them from reading material that may be inappropriate for their age? Well, here’s what the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights states: “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Parents are the only ones who should be able to choose what’s appropriate for their kids and it’s only their kids for whom they should be making that judgment call. An attempt to make that choice for someone else’s child is crossing a line.
One of my biggest reasons for holding such a strong opinion about censorship has to do with the power of storytelling. Storytelling – whether fictional or biographical – is a powerful medium that can help foster understanding of our fellow human beings in ways that merely living our daily lives often doesn’t. It can accomplish this by helping us to develop empathy, compassion, and tolerance for others who are different than we are. In these days that are so fraught with conflict, it’s more important than ever to build these tools of humanity within ourselves. Books can also educate us on a myriad of topics if we just take the time to exercise our curiosity by reading, thereby combating ignorance and helping us to expand our minds in ways we might never have thought possible.
I can’t even begin to list the things I’ve learned from reading, nor express how many worlds have been opened up to me through the pages of books. That’s why I value the right to read so dearly.
This year, the ALA’s official celebration takes place during the week of September 27-October 3, but this post is going up early so I can include it in my monthly email newsletter. This year’s Banned Books Week tag line is “Censorship Is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read.” I encourage you to exercise your own freedom by reading a banned book this month. To help you get started, check out my social media feeds during Banned Books Week for more insights on banned/challenged books as well as a countdown of the top ten banned/challenged books of 2019.
Now as part of my celebration I’m going to highlight and give away one of my favorite banned/challenged books. I couldn’t help but notice that eight out of the top ten challenged books of 2019 are on the list for containing LGBTQIA+ content, so I’ve decided to combat this by offering one of my favorite LGBTQIA+ themed books, The Drowning of Stephan Jones. The book ranked among the top 100 banned/challenged books for the decade 1990-1999 and also made the ALA’s list of most frequently banned/challenged young adult books. My research turned up a few different reasons why these books have been challenged or banned, so here’s where I’ll offer my opinions on these reasons.
1. Homosexuality – This complaint is one of those that makes me think, “Well, duh.” All one has to do is read the book blurb and they’ll know that this is a prevalent theme, and my opinion is that if you know you won’t like it because of this, don’t take it off the shelf. Considering that this book was first published in 1991 when the environment for gay people was still pretty hostile, I think it was not only a groundbreaking story, but also a pretty brave move on the part of the author. Even today, these sentiments are still seen all the time, but at least more people are becoming educated on the topic and fostering more open-mindedness. As far as the main gay couple, Frank and Stephan, they’re merely two guys who happen to love each other, trying to go about their daily lives, and I don’t recall much anything beyond that being detailed about them, certainly nothing graphic in nature.
2. Sexual Themes – Since this is listed separately from homosexuality, I’m going to assume that it doesn’t include that theme, in which case, this content is pretty minimal. Carla mentions Andy pressuring her for sex. She had thought long and hard about her answer before it even came up between them, and her response was a very mature one which IMHO sends a positive message to teens, especially girls. Other than that, there is no other sexual content in the story that I recall.
3. Offensive Language – The book admittedly does have a fair bit of strong language, including several uses of the "f-word" and a lot of hate speech. However, I didn't find it to be gratuitous, as it fit the characters and situations. I also don't think the story would have had quite the same impact without these "bad" words.
4. Violence – This is another one of those “Duh” complaints as the violence, at least in part, is mentioned right in the title. Admittedly any teen who is has been bullied or fears being bullied might be upset by the scenes in which Stephan is bullied. The final scene right before his death is particularly intense, as three good size guys, as well as two girls, are beating up on, molesting, and otherwise menacing a much smaller, innocent man who is begging for his life. In spite of this, I still believe that most older teens could handle the mature subject matter. In my opinion, it is no worse than some PG-13 movies. It all just depends on the reader's sensitivity and maturity levels.
While there are a few potential negatives in this story, I also feel that there are positive messages for young people as well. The author sheds light on how certain beliefs can lead to hateful ideologies, ending in violent and tragic consequences. She also explores the idea of responsibility and when it is our duty as citizens to speak up for what's right, as well as the very simple concept of treating every person equally and recognizing their humanity regardless of whether they're different from us. Lastly, she touches on the importance of educating ourselves and our children, so that hate and criminal behavior like this doesn’t spread in our own communities. The story also highlights everything Banned Books Week is about through Carla’s mom, a librarian, who constantly stands up for the right of the community to have access to books and who encourages open-mindedness in her daughter. I know not everyone is going to be persuaded by my arguments, and if this is a book that you know will trouble you, then don’t read it. Or if it’s something you don’t want your child to read, then request that their teacher offer an alternative assignment, but please don’t try to take it out of the hands of teens who might learn something from its pages.
So there you have it, my two cents on why The Drowning of Stephan Jones 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. For anyone who wants to learn more about LGBTQIA+ motivated hate crimes or who might want to challenge themselves to see those in the LGBTQIA+ community from a different point of view, I would encourage those people – as long as they’re mature teens and up – to give it a try 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.
Hate. It's the farthest feeling from sixteen-year-old Carla Wayland's mind. She can't believe people would persecute others just because they are different. But she isn't about to worry about the injustice surrounding her because she's in love with handsome and popular Andy Harris. Although raised to act on her ethical beliefs, Carla finds that her enchantment with Andy makes her a silent partner in his hate campaign and harassment of gay couple Stephan Jones and Frank Montgomery. At first Carla manages to overlook and explain away Andy's atrocious behavior toward the men. But Stephan drowns as a direct result of what Andy and his friends do, and Carla can no longer deny the truth. Carla must decide before the trial which side she's on and what she stands for. Will justice prevail?
Read my complete reviews of The Drowning of Stephan Jones.
If you would like to win a copy of The Drowning of Stephan Jones to see how good it is for yourself, just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. One lucky winner will receive a print copy (sorry, it’s not available in ebook) of the book. I will have it mailed directly to the winner via Amazon. Good luck!
International Entrants: You are welcome to enter my contest. If the winner is outside the U. S., I can 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.