Much has been written about Ellen Hopkins and her recent experience with censorship in the hands of a school superintendent in Texas. I will not rehash the event here, but I'm sad to see this happened. It made me think of why some people are afraid of books.
When I was a teen, another popular writer was under fire. Her name is Judy Blume. The school librarian even had a special parent meeting about how to handle Blume's books. She recommended parents read the books with their children and discuss the topics, but the one book we couldn't read (according to the librarian), the one book not in the library, was the book Forever.
This is what the book looked like when I read it.
Because the librarian made such a big deal about the book, Forever became very popular. We passed it on from reader to reader. For those of you who haven't read Forever, or it has been a few years, the story centers around two high school students who have an intimate relationship. Yes, they have sex. This might seem almost quaint by today's YA standards.
Let me give you a picture of what I was like when read Forever. I think I was fourteen, but you wouldn't know it by looking at me or hanging out with me, for I was very physically and emotionally immature. The fourteen year old Michèle still played with her dollhouse and read The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and all the Shoes books by Noel Streatfeild. The fourteen year old Michele wanted nothing to do with drama of social life or boyfriends at Malibu Park Jr. High. In fact, I made a case to leave school and educate myself. I told my parents I could write a novel, paint with watercolors, and get a tutor for tiresome subjects like math and science.
My parents didn't buy it.
I had to stay in school, but I did get to read Forever.
So why did the school librarian ban this particular book? Since I cannot ask her, I will guess: She was afraid we would read about sex and think it was cool to have sex and go out and have sex.
Why did I read Forever? I was curious.
I don't even entirely remember all the details about the book, but I do know it upset me. I cried when I got to the end and realized Forever didn't mean forever. What did I get out of this experience? I decided relationships required an emotional investment I wasn't ready to deal with. Forever may have helped me wait until eighteen to date guys. Well, okay, mostly this was because I was a total nerd and most guys found me scary, but Judy Blume's book did make an impact on my life, just not in the way the school librarian feared.
At the 2009 SCBWI Conference, I attended a workshop by Ellen Hopkins. She shared some letters and pictures of teens who read her books and the ways her work has impacted their lives. I was so struck with the connection these readers felt. They had found someone who could write about things they knew or feared and a sense of community blossomed.
Books continue to be challenged. The core of censorship is fear.
Fear of knowledge.
Yet, books are a way we can gain understanding. Even if we ourselves don't personally know a particular world or desire to go there, we can learn about what it is like. The more we know, the better we understand the world around us. This happened when I read Forever.
Okay, so my message has to be read in a mirror, but I think you get it!