Censoring books means censoring empathy – Pasadena Star

Victoria Waddle | Special Columnist

Back in 2011, Meghan Cox Guerdon began a heated debate about whether young adult literature was too dark and explicit when she was writing for The Wall Street Journal. Put simply, YA novels represent either a bulwark against censorship or a destroyer of teens who are otherwise safe from foul language, parental absence, harassment, or suicide.

That debate was a small one compared to today’s fight over teen books. Book review has reached the national stage. While early censors may have worried about the violence of “The Hunger Games,” today’s censors want to erase reality. Sex, sexual abuse, venereal disease, race, oppression and slavery are prohibited. Parents can search the school library directory for words like “gay” or “lesbian” (as one parent in Spotsylvania County, Virginia did) and ask to remove titles they are completely unfamiliar with.

As a former high school teacher librarian, I found this brave new world shocking. Country music star John Ritchie compared school librarians to pedophiles in a speech to the Tennessee House of Representatives because their collections contained “obscene books.” Virginia encourages informants to call the whistleblower hotline to report teachers with “disagreement” material. Texas, under the oversight of state Rep. Matt Krause, created a list of more than 800 questionable books. Journalist Karen Attiah noted, “It’s as if someone typed in the keywords ‘black,’ ‘racist,’ ‘LGBT,’ ‘gender,’ and ‘transgender,’ and simply dumped the results into a spreadsheet.” (I guess “Sex” is included in the keyword because “everything you need to know about seeing a gynecologist” is on the list.)

Book censorship is more threatening than it was 10 years ago because it smears out anyone who doesn’t look or think like a censor. While anti-censorship parent groups are forming, many stigmatized students cannot find books that confirm their experiences. This is important. As CS Lewis’ character in William Nicholson’s “Shadowlands,” says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Silence Different Stories continues to work to protect teens from Disturbing narrative. A parent’s objection to assigning Tony Morrison’s “beloved” in an AP literature class has me wondering: When should a student take a difficult subject? After all, the goal of an AP course is to earn college credit.

I recently tried a randomized experiment using the last two YA novels I’ve read, books I recommend for teenagers. Will they offend the censors? They must be in the school library. Teacher librarians make purchases based on recommendations from professional review journals such as School Library Journals. Both books received positive reviews. (Despite the hysterical accusations, in reality obscene material rarely appears in the collection.)

The End of Our Story by Meg Haston is about the breakup of a first love. But it also delves into family secrets, domestic violence, teenage sex and profanity. “It’s over” creates a lot of discomfort. It also creates empathy, an understanding that anyone could be fighting a secret, uphill battle.

White characters in The End, published in 2017, dealt with topics that censors now object to. However, I didn’t find it on the list of suspicious books in Texas, probably because it couldn’t be found in a search using the keywords listed above.

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