By Irene F. Starkehaus -
The American Library Association marked its recent Banned Books Week (September 22-28) by generating enthusiasm for books that have received a recommendation by the ALA but have been deemed too controversial for some communities or particular segments of the population. Those books have, in some instances, been removed from certain library book shelves across the country or are allowed only controlled availability for minors. The ALA registers their method of disdain annually by campaigning against those communities and their narrow-minded, bible-thumping, conservative madness. The top three challenged books for 2013 are:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
- Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher.
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
The melodrama that is created with the ALA's hyped 30 Years of Liberating Literature is on full display with all the sanctimony one might expect from an organization that couldn't survive without its annual stipend from the federal government. Check out the website for a full view of your taxes at work, but it's a tad self-righteous to suggest that there's really such a thing as a banned book in this day and age when all one has to do is go on Amazon, B&N or any number of independent book sites to buy it oneself. Oh. I see, but then the book wouldn't be free for one and for all.
Alas, nothing… nothing is free, my friends. It just looks like it's free because it's sitting on a library shelf, but someone is paying for it to be there, and it gets down to the question of whether you, the taxpayer, should be required by law to make soft porn available for kids just because the ALA recommends it for Young Adult reading. I suppose since the Supreme Court has ruled that you are required by law to make abortions available on demand, the problem eventually takes care of itself on the other side of the transaction.
But maybe I'm veering off point.
It's neither here nor there, because if the ALA proclaims a book to be fit for reading then, by golly, every library in the free world had better abide the command. By all means, let us bow and curtsy to the ALA's Virginia Reel of enlightened condescension because the ALA knows what's best for you, your children and your community. They are, after all, the experts.
Side note - A friend of mine said recently of the shocking state of Young Adult literature, "You know what ancient Greek children read? The Iliad and the Odyssey. Kids should read the greatest of the greatest. No tertiary or secondary books. There's no time for them. Children don't know the difference anyway, so start with books that have been deemed "great" by generations of writers and thinkers." …Frankly, I can't confirm or deny what the ancient Greek children read having never been an ancient Greek child myself, but methinks we should consider the point that just because a child can read and comprehend a book doesn't mean he should.
Now…if your community's middle schools decided to assemble students into their individual cafetoriums to offer a showing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo without parental consent or notification…and I'm not talking about the still relatively heinous Americanized version – odious though it is with its oh-so toned down violence. No. I'm talking about the original, subtitled, oh-dear-heaven-I think-I'm-gonna-puke film…I think it's fair to say that parents would be calling for some resignations.
Why are books afforded content-latitude where films and video games would never get a pass? Are those same parents who would flip a gourd over an unauthorized showing of an NC-17 movie at school aware that YALSA recommends Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, and that such a recommendation can be used by school libraries in deciding whether DTA will end up in the school's inventory of recommended reading? Don't Turn Around is described on the Amazon website in this way:
In Michelle Gagnon's debut YA thriller, Don't Turn Around, computer hacker Noa Torson is as smart, tough, and complex as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander.
The first in a trilogy, Don't Turn Around's intricate plot and heart-pounding action will leave readers desperate for book two.
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her hacking skills to stay anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in a warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.
Now, I haven't personally read Don't Turn Around as of yet and I'm just going off book descriptions, so I don't know the extent of the similarities that characters Noa (DTA) and Lisbeth (TGWTDT) have with one another or if Amazon's description holds any value at all. When you compare the Amazon synopsis with the YALSA "Best Of" summary…
Computer hackers Peter and Noa stumble across a conspiracy targeting runaway teens.
…it's kind of hard to make an informed judgment about content. You see where I'm coming from? The YALSA "Best Of" summary makes no comparison to Lisbeth Salader (TGWTDT protagonist) who is a victim of multiple acts of rape and violence. It offers no plot cues whatsoever. It offers hardly a summary at all. YASLA gives us one sentence. That's it.
In fact, it's not until you start digging into YALSA site content that any reference to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is finally linked to DTA. When we surf over to YALSAs The Hub, we can read about a youth services librarian offering advice to young adults in the post entitled YA Recommendations for the Adult Skeptics in Your Life. This comes complete with reference links to DTA and TGWTDT:
Skeptic #4: The co-worker who doesn't read very often, but had to rip through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when it hit the bestsellers list.
Recommendation #4 – For a similar tech-based thriller, I would recommend Michelle Gagnon's Don't Turn Around. Teen hacker Noa wakes one day unable to discover how she arrived hooked up to an IV in a shady warehouse. When she teams up with another teen who has been threatened by a large corporation, Noa finds herself on the run from shadowy figures that want to silence her, even though she can't remember what pivotal information she may have known.
So YALSA will give information to parents and local libraries regarding content as long as those entities are willing to invest a big chunk of time to dig around the YALSA site for it. Very user friendly, don't-cha-know.
I could spend an inordinate amount of time summarizing the remaining books found on YALSAs 2013 list of Best Fiction for young adults. I could dissect the dystopian adventures of The Pledge by Kimberly Derting with its drug allusions, classism, and New Ageism. I could detail the anti-Christian, anticonservative love-fest highlighted in the pages of The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth with its lesbian awakenings and violent imagery. I could walk you through the descriptions of a character that was forced to witness the violent serial killings committed by his now jailed father and together we could while away the hours just imagining the Freudian nightmare unleashed upon your children by author Barry Lyga in I Hunt Killers. I could laugh and I could cry with you over the 17 year old pregnant character that lives in 1971 America where abortion is legal but not accessible, and I could describe how Love and Haight by Susan Carlton allows us to experience the main character's drive to drug-riddled San Francisco to kill her child and meet the boy that she wishes she had waited for. It sounds marvelously romantic by the way.
I could compare and contrast each and every recommended book on the YALSA list to its Amazon description, and still I would not scratch the surface of anti-social pabulum that passes for young adult literature these days. In the words of our next presidential heir-apparent, what difference does it make? It wouldn't stop the taxpayer funded ALA from recommending and then speciously defending every stream of consciousness meandering that can be produced for teenagers to consume as part of their middle or high school experience.
Speciously defended, indeed. Conservatives can only wonder whether the ALA will mount as vigorous a defense when libraries across America refuse to offer Rush Limbaugh's Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims book. Since nary a book on YALSA's "2013 Best Of" list comes from a conservative point of view, it would seem that most conservative fiction writers have yielded to progressivism's inevitability by simply not offering any alternative outlook for our children. Rush Limbaugh may very well act as a test case regarding the ALAs asserted commitment to "the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular." We'll definitely want to keep our eyes and ears open for that imminent fight.
Regardless, what I find most interesting about the ALAs recommendation process is that it doesn't vet children's literature with the same authenticity that the American Motion Picture Association screens and rates films. It makes no attempt to mimic the ESRB regarding video game content. There seems to be no attempt by the American Library Association to provide information that can help parents make informed decisions about reading materials offered to children. In fact, from my perspective, the ALA goes out of its way to circumvent parental authority by making its book descriptions so bland as to obscure the true content of many of its recommended books. This means that parents either have to read every YA book before they allow their children access to them or turn a blind eye to the outright garbage that's being shoveled into their kids' heads.
Should there be a rating system for children's books? Yeah. There should.
Never fear. Starting Thursday, IR will begin book reviews for children's literature and will offer both a five star system for conservative content along with a content rating system which can be understood by parents who wish to ascertain the suitability of subject matter for children. This rating system may be used only with the permission of Illinois Review and lays out in this way: