Tuesday, November 22, 2005

AS IF! Member's Book is Banned

This week, AS IF! member Brent Hartinger, author of GEOGRAPHY CLUB, had his book banned in a Washington State school district.

Here is his response, which appeared in the local daily newspaper:


By Brent Hartinger

It’s hard not to take it personally when a school district bans your book.

The University Place School District recently pulled my gay teen novel, Geography Club, from the shelves of its libraries after some parents complained. Superintendent Patti Banks disregarded all the parents’ concerns except one: the fact that two characters come together as a result of an internet chat room. Because of that, the book encourages “extremely high risk behavior,” Banks wrote.

In fact, my character is clearly fully aware of the dangers of internet chat rooms and sexual predators. He only agrees to meet the other character after exchanging specific information that confirms that he is, in fact, another student at his high school. Later, after the two agree to meet, my character spies him from afar and sees with his own eyes that yes, he is another teenager, who he turns out to know well.

My book has been out for almost three years, sold tens of thousands of copies, received almost unanimously good reviews, won many honors, and is currently being adapted for the movies -- and this is the first time I’ve ever heard this particular concern.

But I’ll concede that the superintendent may be sincere in objecting to this element of my book. And sure, not every school can or should stock every single book.

That said, I don’t think that internet scene is the real reason my book was banned. According to the Marge Ceccarelli, president of the Curtis PTA, the parents who complained were initially upset with the book because it would “turn straight kids into homosexuals.” Those parents compiled a long list of objections, only one of which the superintendent agreed with. But surely it was the book’s gay theme that led to this intense level of scrutiny.

You’re thinking: well, maybe every book in our schools should receive this level of scrutiny. But trust me, there is something in almost every book that will offend someone, somewhere. And if you exclude all the books where the main character does something that someone thinks is “questionable,” or even outright dumb, you’ve got library shelves that are effectively bare.

And the fact is, this level of scrutiny won’t be given to all books, just books like mine, ones that deal with hot button cultural issues like homosexuality. When minorities complain about discrimination, this is sometimes what they mean: not that the rules are different for them, but that the rules are enforced differently -- to the very letter of the law in cases where they usually are not.

Why does this matter when it comes to gay teen books? Because gay teen books really matter.

I wish everyone who thinks my books are not “appropriate” for teenagers could read my mail for one single week -- the avalanche of touching emails I receive from lonely or harassed gay and lesbian teens and their friends, so grateful to see gay characters portrayed accurately and with dignity, not merely stereotypes or the punchline of jokes. One of the many ironies about this whole situation is the fact that the only reason my character is in that chat room in the first place is because he feels he can’t be open at his school -- attitudes which are being reinforced in University Place by the banning of my book.

I admit to getting frustrated by the fact that people complain about my books because, in the interest of verisimilitude, I sometimes include teen characters who chew tobacco, or swear, or wrestle with issues of sex or sexuality, just like teenagers do on every school campus in America. And it’s just a fact that gay and lesbian teens do often turn to the internet for the support they’re not getting from their friends, families, and communities.

So I think my critics really miss the point.

In every teen book I’ve ever written, gay-themed or not, there is a moment when the main character has to choose between moving beyond his or her own little bubble --doing what would make him or her momentarily happy or comfortable -- and putting those selfish prejudices and concerns aside, and committing to a larger cause, a greater good. In my mind, that’s the choice every teen confronts, again and again, because it’s the difference between a child and an adult.

Do books with that message have a place in school libraries and in the hands of teenagers?

Absolutely. In fact, there might be a few adults in Tacoma who could benefit from reading books like that too.

Read more about this book banning at "Cynsations", Cynthia Leitich Smith's terrific book blog.

Brent’s Hartinger’s latest book is The Order of the Poison Oak, a sequel to Geography Club. Visit him online at "Brent's Brain".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Supreme court ruled that censorship of books in schools cannot occur just because someone disagrees with the ideas in the book. Clearly, the superintendent needs to read that ruling.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! I was scared for a while that i was the only kid who would actually stand up for a book any more. No one seems to care about books any more with all the computer and video game stuff now. This was a very good article and i hope that the author doesn't mind if i use it as a refrence for a research report i'm doing.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just tragic! I love Geography Club, and I'm straight.

And why do people assume that 'gay" books are going to turn their children gay? If you follow that logic, any books with heterosexual characters should be turning gay kids straight as well.

2:02 AM  

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