Bad things happen everyday. Hiding books that deal with the tough issues won't make the problems go away; it just gives those who have experienced them one less place to go to feel like they're less alone. Books allow us a safe place to see people who survived the unspeakable.
If you're a writer and you've been online today, you've probably seen the outrage over Professor Wesley Scroggins' opinion piece in his Springield, Missouri newspaper about the "soft porn" high school students are exposed to in their English classrooms. He gave Laurie Halse Anderson's National Book Award-winning novel SPEAK as an example.
In case you're unfamiliar with the book, here's a description from the jacket:
"Speak up for yourself - we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows that this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In this powerful novel, an utterly believeable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.
I won't ask how familiar our readers are with pornography, soft or otherwise, but I hope we'd all agree that rape isn't porn. I find it disturbing that Dr. Scroggins thinks it is.
On one hand it would be nice if everyone ignored Dr. Scroggins so he'd quietly go away without an audience, but then what? No one says anything, and any book he doesn't like will quietly go away too, removed from the library shelves--like Slaughterhouse Five--to avoid any unpleasantness. I don't want Dr. Scroggins deciding what goes in my library or anyone else's. The thought of bare shelves saddens me.
I'm going to venture a guess that Dr. Scroggins hasn't read the books he objects to so vehemently. Maybe he heard about them from someone else, or at best he flipped through them to find sentences he could hold up as offensive. It's hard to imagine how he thinks we're protecting high school students by removing this book. If students don't read about a girl who was assaulted at a party, I suppose that will prevent it from ever happening to them.
People have been posting about this all day, more eloquently than I ever could, so I knew that much of my post here would include "Here are some awesome people and what they said." Laurie Halse Anderson wrote her own response on her website. It's so inspiring to see the support for her in blog posts and the flood of responses on Twitter (tagged #SpeakLoudly) from writers and readers.
Most inspiring of all, though, are the writers who wrote about their own abusive pasts, their own trauma, and said "This book helped me" or "I wish I had this book when I was a teen." I can't imagine how hard it was for them to write about their experiences, and I'm amazed they've found the strength to do it. Here are just a couple of them:
Author Cheryl Rainfield, who has survived things I can't even bear to think about.
Author C.J. Redwine, who says, "I'm a Christian too, and a rape survivor, and I want SPEAK on the shelves."
I think the most powerful message was from the student who commented on Dr. Scroggins' post to say, "
Laurie Halse Anderson has heard from thousands of kids like her about how SPEAK has impacted them. Here's her poem about those letters:
That's who we should be listening to.
Want to win one of the books from Wesley Scroggins' article? Leave a comment and I'll pick a winner next Sunday. Winner gets a choice of Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, or Slaughterhouse Five.
Also visit Sarah Ockler's blog (author of Twenty Boy Summer) for a chance to win all three books, plus chocolate!