Thursday, September 30, 2010

Highlighting Banned Books Week

Last week I posted about Banned Books Week and Speak. I want to hit on the subject again today and take a bit more time to express why I oppose banning books.

My issues with censorship are two-fold:

First, no one has any right to tell me what I can or cannot read. What I read is a personal choice. Often times, censorship happens because we wish to abdicate that responsibility to others who "know better." Step up and take control of your life. Look at the books that are being challenged and think for yourself.

Second (and more importantly), censorship restricts knowledge. Books hold true power; new ideas can challenge even our most strongly held opinions, forcing us to grow, think, and change. That change is what most book-banners fear. 

When The Rejectionist and Taherah announced a banned books blogfest, I already had a stack of books ready to review. I finally chose one of my favorites to highlight today. You'll notice I haven't commented on why it was banned, and there's a reason for that. Books are about more than one person's narrow view of them, and when we focus so much on countering that one opinion we can miss what made them awesome in the first place.

I first read Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green during my World War II obsession. Patty's strong voice drew me quickly into her world--I felt like I actually lived in this small Arkansas town. With my youthful naïveté, I immediately decided my own small Midwestern town needed a prison. Clearly, that would be the only way to add some excitement into our lives.

The first person POV meant that I experience everything along with Patty. The loving friendship she shared with Anton became my own. I cherished those moments we were able to spend with him, and I was just as devastated as she was when he died. I remember closing the book and thinking, Maybe he didn't die... maybe he was only wounded and recaptured. Alas, that was not the case and I cried once more when Ruth visited Patty at the end of the book and confirmed his death.

Now that I'm an adult and a writer, I have new things to love about this book. Greene did a fantastic turning stereotypes on their ears. With the exception of Ruth, Anton--the Nazi--is the first person in Patty's life to appreciate who she is. In a perfect world, her parents would have loved her and affirmed her special abilities but hers instead seem to take pleasure in demeaning her. Her father in particular is both verbally and physically abusive, and it is only when she sees herself through Anton's eyes that she learns she has true worth.

Her use of first person is incredible. It keeps the narrative tight and completely focused on Patty and what she's feeling. Tweens and teens often complain to me that they can't relate to books. From this book (and others), I know that writing in first person is a powerful way to make the story real to them.

I suppose I should thank the people who've banned this book. I hadn't really thought of it for several years until I chose it to blog about, but now I have the chance to rediscover an old favorite.

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