It is Freedom to Read Week, so it’s time to celebrate making diverse opinions and information available to our communities. Hooray. In our library system I’m a children’s and youth librarian, so I tend to focus more on challenges to YA and kids’ books in the library sphere.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, one of my favourite recent YA books, was challenged in a school library down in the U.S. last year. Happily the challenge was defeated. But one amazing thing that came out of the challenge and subsequent press was this interview with the author, where Rainbow Rowell makes this beautiful statement about obscene books:
When I told my sister that some people […] were outraged by the language in my book, she said, “They should try living through it.”
And that’s just it. Eleanor & Park isn’t some dystopian fantasy about a world where teenagers swear and are cruel to each other, and some kids have terrible parents.
Teenagers swear and are cruel to each other. Some kids have terrible parents.
Some girls have terrible stepdads who shout profanity at them and call them sluts – and some of those girls still manage to rise above it.
When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible.
That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.
For me, that is why challenged bits of fiction are so important. I mean, yes, we also need the intellectual freedom to make political comment, but fiction, well, fiction is where we build our empathy, and when we don’t get to see the beauty in ugliness, we’re lessened. We need the freedom to read all kinds of stories told by all kinds of people.