Sometimes people ban books. I don’t claim to be able to follow the reason of why, or how anyone can think that banning a book is a good idea. I understand that parents should be able to do with their children’s media input as they please, but schools or governments or individuals banning books? It’s a world that seems so far removed from me. This happens frequently, of course, but the thing that really prompted this post was the article about how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was being removed in a school because one mother said the book was about masturbation. (The same mother also called the book “Fifty Shades of Grey for Kids”). I haven’t read the book. I don’t know what it’s about or what topics it addresses or how, but I do know that there is a huge difference between a book including something and actually being about that thing.
But this post isn’t about that, not really. It’s just what got me thinking. Books are banned for a myriad of reasons, but one big one that comes up again and again is because these books might teach these children or teenagers something. They might teach them that homosexuality exist or that there are stronger curse words or the mechanics of sex. A myriad of things a teenager could theoretically learn, all from a book.
Well, I was a teenager not too long ago(Oh dear, I’ve become one of those people!). I’m 22. I bloomed out of my teenage stage three years ago. And there might typically be a lot of differences of maturity between a 17-year-old and a 22-year-old, but I can still remember being a teenager. I remember what I cared about, what I was afraid of, what I hoped for, and the relationships I forged. I remember what I learned it school(vaguely), what I read, and the entertainment I was into.
And you know what? The adults around me really underestimated me and other teenagers. I didn’t care all about popularity or being pretty or my friendships. That was part of my teenage experience, yes, but it wasn’t the whole of it. I had a dying mother, fluctuating friendships, and deep questions about spiritual matters. I grieved and I lost and I did the dishes because someone had to, even when my world was falling apart. The adults might have under-estimated my life, but books didn’t.
Books never taught me curse words I hadn’t already heard.
Books never taught me anything about sex I didn’t already know.
Books never taught me anything about stealing or being violent.
Books never taught me that lying was okay.
Books never taught me to question authority. I was already doing that, without any help from a paperback.
I read books where all these things happened. I read high above my grade level. I was reading 12th grade level books in the 6th grade, and with that came issues of sex and morality and big, deep questions. Maybe they were “inappropriate for my age”, but they weren’t teaching or telling me anything I didn’t already know. When I finished those books, I never thought This book taught me a new curse word or This book was pro-violence. None of those things I learned from books.
Books did teach me friendship. They taught me that people will hurt you, friends will betray you, and that in turn, you will at some point, probably do something to betray them.
Books taught me that I was not alone in grief, that other teenagers suffered and were changed for it but didn’t have to grow up into stunted adults, and that I could bloom on the other side of this hell a better person.
Books taught me compromise and standing up for what’s right and the difference between those two and when you should stand and when it was okay to give in.
Books taught me loyalty.
Books taught me to find who I am, to embrace it fully, and to live it passionately all my life.
Books taught me to feel compassion to others, to think before judging someone’s story, and sometimes that can make the most beautiful relationship of all.
Books taught me companionship.
Books taught me imagination.
Books taught me to not let obstacles get in the way of my dreams, and sometimes to not even let reality get in the way of them either.
Books taught me how to ask deep questions.
Books let me know I wasn’t alone in my big questions about God, faith, and the deep things of the universe.
Books taught me it was okay to doubt.
Books taught me that sometimes grown-ups fail too. And more than that, books taught me this was okay and natural.
Books taught me to see other people for people.
Books taught me that I have a voice to use, and to use that voice for empowerment of myself and others rather than for oppression.
Books taught me to embrace my emotions, even the bad ones, and to feel deeply as if my life depended on it.
Books taught me that I didn’t have to try to be perfect.
Books taught me that being a teenager did not have to be a disease, that it wasn’t something to just endure so that I could get on with the rest of my life.
Books taught me that it was okay to like what I like and to have my own interests.
Books taught me it was okay to fail.
Books taught me I wasn’t the only one who was afraid.
Books taught me strength, of all kinds.
Books taught me the value of my life.
Books taught me life could be worth living.
Books taught me there could be another side, that worse things had happened to others, and they survived and so could I.
Books taught me these things. Are these really the things and teachings we want to limit? And yes, I learned these things in the same books in which sex might be depicted in some mild level of detail and in which language abounded on every page. I learned these things in the same books that were sometimes horror-filled and made me squirmed, but I endured reading them because of all the things I learned, not in spite of or for exploration of all those “tricky” subjects. I don’t want to be in a place where these messages are limited because of a line about sex or a lot of language. I want teenagers to be able to find the same things in books that I did. So again:
These things–these good things–are they really the things we want to ban? The things we want to say are not okay? I want others to know these things, to know that they are not alone, and that things can get better. And if those books in which those lessons might be contained have high levels of violence or sex, than so be it. It is worth it.