Sunday, April 16, 2006

UPSTATE Under Fire

Here's a classic example of the subjective, and evolving, nature of contemporary literature: a high school student's grandmother wanted to read the book he was reading in class, Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon. But when she did, she was "shocked" by the profanity and sexual situations, and she now wants the book banned.
"That was like a slap in the face to me," Harris, 65, said. "There are loads of good books out there. Our kids don't need more raw language. Give them something that will nurture their spirit."
The problem? Many people say that the book does nurture the soul:
National reviews have called it "a moving and uplifting story of love and hope in the face of adversity" and a rare work that brings "dignity and integrity to urban fiction."

The novel offers opportunities to explore areas such as thematic and character development, said Cocchicola, who also noted that it has references to other literary works - such as "Catcher in the Rye" and "The Outsiders" - that become a jumping-off point to other research and projects....

"It's a balancing act, a difficult call," Principal Craig Jordan said of the decision to use books that include controversial elements. He said that students are always given the option of reading an alternative book in such situations.
Speaking from experience, I am the author of a teen novel, The Last Chance Texaco, in which I felt profanity was very important to the characters and situation I was writing about (teens in a group home). I know the book has been challenged in some circles for that language, but I also know that this particular book has spoken to some teenagers, especially foster kids, in a way that the same book without the edge would not. I didn't write the book to shock or offend; I wrote the book to tell what I saw as the truth. And I have literally heard from a number of readers, "I'm so glad you made it so the kids talk the way these kids really talk!"

I think this goes back to the point of literature: is it to instruct and inform, to tell a moral "parable," or is it to tell the truth? Every writer I know says that it might sometimes be partly the former, but it's mostly the latter.

Incidentally, and completely off-topic, buried in the article is this:
Earlier this month, a Hartford magnet school pulled books from students when objections were raised about the content of a self-published work written by the school principal.
The school was studying the principal's self-published book? Hmmmm, something tells me that the students probably weren't very honest when writing book reports on that particular book!


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