Over the weekend, I found out that a book I recently read -- Twenty Boy Summer,* don't judge it by the title -- is starting to be banned by school districts.
People, I kind of thought we were over the "book banning" thing. I mean, the Harry Potter fiasco was AGES ago, am I right? Yes, I know, the American Library Association still has Banned Book Week, which is going on now, but I'd like to think that's more for historical purposes of celebrating how far we've come since folks (whose underwear was clearly three sizes too small, causing serious discomfort and confusion) started campaigning against the evils of Faulkner and Mark Twain. (And don't forget Judy Blume. Gasp! Girls get periods! And think about God! Why I never.)
I think we all know that some books are not "age appropriate" for some kids. But rather than trot out the old lines of, "But that's a parent's responsibility!" I'd actually like to just say that reading an inappropriate book is just part of growing up.
Was I warped by reading Flowers in the Attic at age 12? Of course, but that's part of what gives me my charm today. (Also, I feel like my parents' biggest objection, had they been aware that I was reading a book about filicide and incest in the sixth grade, their greatest objection still would have been shoddy writing. Be that as it may.)
I remember reading naughty words and scenes via Christopher Pike and thinking, "I shouldn't be reading this." And a split second later deciding, "But I'm going to, anyway."
(Am I really hanging my hat on the argument that reading a book called Die Softly is an important part of gaining maturity? I sure am!)
Frankly, literary rebellion is going to be the most minor of a kid's possible rebellions while growing up, but it's the most important one. Not only is the act of deciding what media you are going to invite into your brain, regardless of what your parents and teachers might think, an important step to independence, but it helps create a brain capable of creative thought. You can't think outside the box if you've never ventured beyond the box.
Now, I'm not saying kids should go read smut just for fun, but that if kids don't find themselves reading the questionable (and then deciding, independently, to either go forward with some smutty fun or to put the book back on the smutty shelf) they may never figure out for themselves, "This is amazing!" or "Haha, this is gratuitous, and on top of that, it blows!"
Is that a scary thought for parents of impressionable youth? I imagine it probably is. But ask yourself -- "Self, was there ever a time in MY teenage years where I read something I maybe shouldn't have? Something that was possibly beyond my level of maturity to understand?"And if the answer to either question is "Yes," ask yourself -- "Did I suffer any actual damage from that decision?" (And I imagine the answer will most likely be, "No.")
What age-inappropriate (or maybe just inappropriate-inappropriate) books did you read as a kid? And am I wrong, were you left scarred for life? (I'm picturing someone who read Lord of the Flies being unable to enjoy barbecue pork. That would be a tragedy worth investigating.)
* FYI, the objection to Twenty Boy Summer is that (spoiler alert!) a teenage girl has sex with a teenage boy (with a condom) and doesn't feel like a chewed up piece of gum, cake with poop baked inside, or stomped on rose petals afterwards. The horror.