Hooray For Banned Books

Even though today officially kicks off “Banned Books Week,” I was prepared to suspend writing about it for a very important announcement.

The arrival of my first grandchild.

But with the column deadline looming and the baby showing no definitive “I’m ready to be born” signs, I decided to go ahead and write about “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” by Sonya Sones, which nabbed spot Number Eight on the American Library Association’s most recent list.

For the past thirty years, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has compiled a list of the most frequently challenged books from the previous year.  A challenge is defined as a formal written complaint filed with a public library or school requesting that material be removed because of its content or inappropriateness for a particular age group.  The list is used as a springboard to emphasize the importance of making sure that books with unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints are available for all who wish to read them.

The ten most “objectionable” books for 2011, in order, were:

  1. “ttyl” (series) by Lauren Myracle
  2. “The Color of Earth” (series) by Kim Dong Hwa
  3. “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  4. “My Mom’s Having a Baby” by Dori Hillestad Butler
  5. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
  6. “Alice” (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
  8. “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” by Sonya Sones
  9. “Gossip Girl” (series) by Cecily Von Ziegesar
  10. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“What My Mother Doesn’t Know” makes its fourth appearance on the list since its publication in 2001.  It’s a short but powerful novel-in-verse narrated by high school freshman Sophie Stein.

Sophie is insecure.  She’s hormonal.  She’s distraught because her parents’ marriage is falling apart.  She’s frustrated that her mother seems more interested in her television soap operas than in her only child.  She’s grateful for Rachel and Grace, her best friends.

And she’s totally boy-crazy.  When the book opens, Sophie’s junior high boyfriend has just dumped her.  A good thing, because it leaves her free to date Dylan.  He’s an athletic and handsome and hot.  Unfortunately, he’s also shallow, immature, and so embarrassed by the fact that Sophie is Jewish that he won’t let his parents in on the “secret.” Bored with Dylan, Sophie soon begins an Internet romance with a guy named Chaz, whom she considers her “cyber soul mate” until he reveals himself to be a pervert.  But after dancing with a masked mystery man at a Halloween party, Sophie decides that he’s the one she’s really and truly in love with.

Sounds like a lot of fifteen-year-old girls I’ve known.

So why is this book so controversial?   It’s been challenged mostly because of the chapter entitled “Ice Capades.”  The poem is too long to quote here, but you can read it (on page 46) for yourself at the Putnam County Library.  Which, I’m happy to say, has “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” and all the rest of this year’s banned books in its collection.

I’m also happy to report that the Friends of Tennessee Libraries has posted an excellent video on its Facebook page.  To watch it, you can “friend” FOTL or check out the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out at www.youtube.com.

And celebrate the freedom to read, this week and always.

(September 30, 2012)

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