Monday, September 29, 2014

Banned Books Week Part 4: Two Sides to Every Debate

"You have to be brave enough to stand up for what you believe in."

When I was at church yesterday, a sweet woman shared this sentiment with the class. She was speaking about a parent in Riverside, Ca. Karen Krueger, recently requested that John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars be removed from her child’s middle school library, or be available for check out only with permission from a parent. (I kind of like that second idea. It could solve a lot of problems in the debate about banned books.)

I read John Green’s book over the summer and I enjoyed it. I actually finished it in one sitting while on a road trip to Mammoth. (Don’t worry. I wasn’t driving.) 

I didn’t have a problem with the book. But I am not a parent. 

The concerns about the book seem to be the use of crude language and the fact that the two main characters have sex. 

My copy of The Fault of Our Stars has been book-napped by a friend, so I can’t check this, but I don’t remember the sex scene being graphic. In fact, one of the reasons I love young adult novels is that they deal with difficult issues, but they do so in a way that is not graphic. (As you can tell from the title of this blog, I am religious. I don’t need, or want, to read a sex scene any more than Mrs. Krueger’s child needs to.)

There is little doubt in my mind that the woman who challenged The Fault of Our Stars did so for one reason: to protect her child, and others, from an example she considers to be inappropriate. 

I applaud her for being brave enough to stand up for what she believes. 

I want to follow her example and stand up for what I believe. 

Last week I said that I don’t believe in banning books. I stand by that statement. However, that does not mean I approve of every book out there. Nor does it mean I think every book out there should be easily available to every audience. 

The inspiration for this post, that sweet lady who spoke up in church yesterday, made me realize that I had neglected to address the other side of the argument: people who want to ban books. I intend to address that lapse now. 

As parents, guardians, and teachers, it is our responsibility to be educated about the books our children are reading. Twilight, the book I defended earlier in the week, portrays a relationship that would be unhealthy in the real world. 

Edward becomes overly protective and borderline abusive when he tries to prevent Bella from doing what she wants. He even goes so far as to set his sister on “guard duty” so Bella can’t leave. All, he claims, in the name of protecting Bella.

I won’t lie, this makes me uncomfortable. If I was Bella’s mother, I would be furious to learn that Edward was trying to control her and that he was using his physical strength to enforce his rules on my daughter. 

Still, I do not think the book/series needs to be banned. Rather, it needs to be discussed. 

Reading with your children, no matter the age, gives you the opportunity to connect with them. As controversial issues or inappropriate examples come up, you should take the opportunity to deepen your relationship with your child by discussing those issues as a family. 

In the case of Twilight, you have the opportunity to discuss what a healthy relationship looks like. In the case of The Fault of Our Stars, you have the opportunity to discuss appropriate language and guidelines about sexual intimacy. 

Remember, the purpose of fiction is not only to entertain, but to inform. When we study fiction we begin to better understand the world we live in.

Whenever people question Twilight because of Bella and Edward’s relationship, I can’t help wondering what Stephanie Meyer thinks about healthy relationships. I’ve read the series several times and I can’t help suspecting that Meyer has similar concerns about Edward’s behavior. Think about it. When Bella rebelled against Edward’s rules and “escaped” to see her best friend Jacob, we cheered. Stephanie Meyer is the one who helped Bella find a way to do this. Eventually, even Edward admitted that he was wrong. 

Most of the people who want to ban books are parents or caregivers who are worried about the influence such books could have on the rising generation, their children. They have a right to be concerned. And they have a right to stand up for their values and beliefs. 

I am hopeful that a middle ground can be reached.

Karen Krueger is right. There are some subjects that are simply not appropriate for young children. I can only assume our society agrees with this. Otherwise we would not need to assign ratings to TV shows, movies, and even video games. 

Perhaps we need to begin applying such rankings to books as well. Or, as Mrs. Krueger suggested, require parent permission before such books are made available to young children. 

Books are powerful. The debate about banning them is a testament to their power. They open our eyes to the world and influence our philosophies. As such, we have a right and a responsibility to question which books we will allow in our homes and which books we will allow our children to read and when. 

We do not, however, have the right to tell other people which books they should allow into their homes.  

I applaud Karen Krueger for standing up for her beliefs, for being brave enough to say: No. I do not want this book in my home, or in my child's hands.

I offer this challenge to everyone reading this post. 

Pick up a book. Read it. Start a conversation. 

Happy reading everyone. 

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