So, speaking of books that we love, the book I'm talking about today is my favorite young adult novel. I don't say that lightly- I put a lot of thought into this. I'm not even a fan of the idea of "favorite" books. But after reading it a few times, it's just indisputable to me. It resonated with me just out of high school, and resonates with me as a slightly older young adult, and I don't think I'll stop loving it in five or ten or twenty years. I still qualify its' favorite status as favorite YA, not favorite book of all time, but the title stands. I think it's the best.
I'm talking about Speak. Laurie Halse Anderson's debut novel is a total masterpiece. A girl enters ninth grade completely stripped of any sense of community and recovering from a trauma, and spends the book observing high school from a distance. She almost never speaks (which made the movie adaptation, which was very good, a tricky proposition). When I first read it, my reaction was almost to look over my shoulder- was this woman sitting behind me in high school? Did we attend the same school freshman year or something?
Recently, I caught a blog post on popular feminist blog Jezebel talking about Speak. "Yay!" was my first reaction, thinking they were just chatting about or reviewing the novel. Turns out the author of the post was Anderson herself, trying to get the word out about a fellow in Missouri who had written an op-ed in his local newspaper, saying that certain books in their local school's curriculum, including Speak, were offensive and ought to be removed. She was clearly upset and hoping to get some support from folks online.
Now, the ALA has a clear definition for what it means for a book to be "challenged" or "banned," and this doesn't meet it. But because I love the book, and because the author asked for people to blog about it, I'm doing that here.
Two things about this are particularly important to me: first, I said yesterday that all you need to be convinced of the value of young adult fiction (especially when it is about difficult, controversial, or scary things) is to hear from its readers. Well, Anderson has a video at the end of her post, of her reading a poem she put together out of lines from her fan letters. It's potent stuff, and brings me to my second point: that trying to protect teens from the dangers of fiction only stops them from reading about the real-life dangers they may have already suffered. Making sure no teen ever reads about rape (which is at the center of Speak) does not mean no teen ever experiences (or encounters the concept of) rape. Just ask your local middle or high school librarian what it feels like to offer a student a book about a subject they've asked for in a whisper. It's worth whatever fight it takes to keep good books available to young people.
-Anna, Kids Books