This week has been Banned Books Week, an initiative started to celebrate those books challenged because of controversial content as well as to celebrate those authors persecuted for their works. Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of books banned by governments for their religious, political and moral content. Today more and more books, particularly YA books, are finding themselves on the banned books list and not because of questioning the deeds of government but for using the odd swear word and hinting at the possibility that teenagers might just maybe be having sex. I’m not in favour of censorship of any kind but I do acknowledge the fact that not all books are suitable for all readers, but that doesn’t mean we should ‘ban’ any books.
All week, I’ve been reading blog posts about YA books and why they’ve been challenged by parents. I’ve read arguments for and against banning books, I’ve read posts asking for some kind of rating system as they for films, others saying there’s no need for a rating system with books and so on… Considering I have a dark, edgy YA novel scheduled for release in December, this topic has had me rather concerned about the future of my book and other YA books.
YA literature is special because it tells the stories of young people caught up in a confusing, conflicting time of their lives as they learn to deal with adult issues despite still being a child. I’ve seen many good books slammed for ‘content’ because the teenagers in the books swear, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, experiment with drugs and have sex. My response to this argument is that, that is precisely what many MANY real life teenagers do. I don’t believe that these stories about real teens experiencing real life as raw, terrible and wonderful as it can be, deserve to be censored. Sure, there are limits hence the difference between YA and adult fiction. Teenagers need to know there are boundaries and that actions have consequences – a theme prevalent in all of the YA books I have read. I also believe that YA stories can deal with controversial topics like rape, violence and drug abuse without being gratuitous. It’s about how these stories are told, but no matter what, these are stories that need to be told.
I’ve read many of these so-called ‘banned books’ and loved each and every one I read. I absolutely believe that parents should have the right to decide which books are appropriate for their children and have no problem with that, in fact parental guidance like that should be encouraged. What I really don’t understand is why some feel the need to deny others the possibility of reading these same stories.
So how does this affect my novel Obscura Burning due for release in December from Etopia Press? Here’s a short list of some of the things YA books have been banned for:
1) Swearing – check
2) Sex – check
3) Under age drinking – check
4) Smoking – sort of check
5) Violence – check
6) Drug use – nope, that I don’t have
7) Anti-family – I don’t really know what this means but my main character’s opinion of his parents will probably offend some readers so check
8) Anti-ethnic – nope, my cast is multi-cultural (so I guess some will find my story racist)
9) Morality – morality is variable but considering my main character is bisexual and that that’s guaranteed to offend some I guess I can go with check here too
So given that my book is on a fast track towards that banned book list, I had a discussion with my editor about whether or not we should ‘tone down’ my story. My editor’s response? Absolutely NOT! And why? Because my 18yr old MC’s story is real. He has a pretty tough life and has to deal with many dark and difficult things that thousands of other teens experience on a daily basis. Would he swear? Hell yes. Would he see sex as a way to take his mind off his troubles? Definitely. Would he emulate his father and seek consolation in a bottle of whiskey? Yes. Would he do stupid, reckless things because he feels like he’s losing control? Didn’t we all as teenagers?
Obscura Burning is Kyle’s story as told by him. If I tried to ‘tone down’ his story, I’d be denying him his voice, denying the truth of his experience and no teenager (real or fictional) deserves to have their voice taken away from them regardless of how foul mouthed they are.
Do I expect everyone to love my book? No. But if Kyle’s story resonates with just one teenage reader, then that’s all that matters even if it means seeing my name on a banned book list.
How do you feel about book banning?