Thursday, September 20, 2007

Celebrate Banned Books Week With AS IF! Authors!

Banned Books Week, the annual celebration designed to call attention to the ongoing censorship of books, takes place this year from September 29th throughOctober 6th. And wouldn't you know? Lots of AS IF! authors will be participating in events all over the country.

Here's a little video preview of a Chicago event with two of our members, Carolyn Mackler and Chris Crutcher:

Join Carolyn and Chris in Chicago at the Pioneer Plaza (on Michigan Ave between the Tribune Tower and the Chicago River) on Saturday, September 29, 2007, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.!

Monday, September 17, 2007

GLBTQ Teen Lit Stuff

For those interested in GLBTQ teen lit, there are two terrific new blogs reviewing older and new titles, and both with great names: I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell do I Read? and Worth the Trip (a referece to I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip, the world's first gay teen novel, which came out in 1969).

Also, in other GLBTQ teen lit news, Kimberly Pauley is in the midst of LGBT Teen Lit Month over at YA Books Central. But when she posted the news on a teachers' forum, she got a very depressing reaction. Read about her experiences here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ellen Wittlinger's SANDPIPER Under Attack in Alabama

Is there something in the air? Another AS IF! member is under fire for a book she's written. This time, it's Ellen Wittlinger and her wonderful and wonderfully thought-provoking young adult novel, Sandpiper. A teenager in Alabama checked it out from her school library, and was so offended by the book's content that she decided, with the support of her grandmother, that she wasn't going to ever turn it in again.

Alas, this is a very common tactic on the part of book censors, so I hope this teenager doesn't think she's being particularly clever. These folks seem to think that by destroying public property, they're "protecting" society from some nefarious "evil"; we at AS IF! think they're depriving others of the fundamental right to decide for themselves what books they want to read and striking at the very heart of what it means to be an American--and that they're stealing to boot.

You say "potato," I say "potahto."

But why am I blathering on when we have the oh-so-eloquent Ellen Wittlinger to tell us exactly what she thinks about all of this?
I was surprised at just how chilling it was to read in the Tuscaloosa News that a fifteen-year-old girl, Lysa Harding, and her grandmother were calling my novel, Sandpiper, “offensive” and “sick.” I know that there are people in this country who, in the name of religion, feel high school students should be kept as ignorant of sex as possible, but I was shocked that the girl herself was equally afraid of knowledge.

Lysa says, “At my high school they teach abstinence and no sex before marriage, but then all the book is teaching is how to do those things.” Which tells me that she didn’t read past page two on which there is one paragraph, six lines, describing the protagonist’s take on oral sex. The last line of the paragraph is, “It’s like I’m not even there anymore.” Hardly a recommendation or a how-to guide. This is the only sex in the book except for a near-rape at the end, also not an advertisement for early promiscuity.

The reason I wrote a book on this subject to begin with was because I kept hearing about middle-school girls who were very blasé about oral sex. They didn’t think of it as “real” sex. They also didn’t enjoy it much, but it was becoming a cool thing to do. It seemed like a worthy topic to tackle in a book, but I knew if I set it in a middle-school I’d have lots of parents upset with me, so I made my protagonist a fifteen high school girl, an age at which there are probably very few students who have never heard of oral sex.

Of course, the bottom-line, as always, is that Lysa Harding didn’t have to read the book if she didn’t want to. But there are no doubt other students who do want to read it and she should not be able to decide what anyone else can or cannot read.
And if you're reading this, Lysa, please know that among the 86 members of AS IF!, there are almost certainly some of your favorite authors (definitely some of mine!). Be aware that virtually all of us, including these authors of the books that have inspired and enchanted you your whole life, are saddened by your actions.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Catholic High School Cancels Discussion of THE CONFESSIONAL

AS IF! member, J.L. Powers, recently had run-in with a sort-of censorship with her first book, The Confessional, when she was de-invited to speak at a Catholic high school in Northern California where she had previously been scheduled. The controversy resulted after a parent complained that the book did not reflect "Catholic principles."

We asked J.L. to write her thoughts on the matter:
Like any young adult writer would be, I am dismayed that THE CONFESSIONAL has been publicly described as harmful to young adults and that there would be an attempt, so soon after its release, to censor it. But I always knew that I was dealing with topics that would make some people very uncomfortable: racism, violence, homosexuality, and religion. Any one of these topics alone could make some people nervous, but I tackle all of them in one book.

Yet to silence a discussion about these issues, or to try to prevent young people from having access to materials about them, is incredibly short sighted. The former judge who pushed to have the event canceled and the book banned stated that Cathedral High School's motto is "enter to learn" and "leave to serve." If students really are entering to learn and leaving to serve, then why would the school have so little faith in their intellectual and moral capacity to discern what is true and what is right?

The school's assumption that it is building the leaders of tomorrow should certainly cultivate a certain level of trust in their students' abilities. Setting aside the fact that the characters in THE CONFESSIONAL learn to take personal responsibility for their own actions, to forgive people who hurt them, and to do the right thing no matter how much it costs--all values that it is difficult to imagine could be condemned by anyone--I would ask this former judge: Is one book truly capable of demolishing years of intellectual and moral education? As powerful as I believe the written word to be, I am not convinced that any single book has that level of power. I am flattered that he thinks my book does!

Regardless, I do hope THE CONFESSIONAL has a distinct social and moral currency: that the young people who read it will take heart as they undergo similar struggles to claim their identities and to stand up for what they believe in. That is, I think, what any young adult writer hopes that their books will achieve
Does the school have the right to cancel Powers' talk? Absolutely. In doing so, are they doing the right thing? Almost certainly not. Here at AS IF!, we believe that disputes and controversies are almost always best solved through dialogue and debate. And the idea that teenagers in a learning environment must be "protected" from certain ideas, especially when those ideas are presented in a thoughtful manner? As authors of books for teens, we find that condescending and offensive.