Homework Assignment

In celebration of banned books week, I decided to give myself a little homework assignment. I picked two books from the frequently challenged books list, which I had never gotten around to reading before and read them. I chose The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (current #1 most challenged author, current #2 most challenged book) and The Color Purple by Alice Walker (current #6 most challenged book).

I recognize that these are both acknowledged classics, that they aren’t very likely to be in real danger of disappearing from bookshelves, and that I am probably preaching to the choir, but regardless, here it goes.

The Chocolate War is cited for being ‘Sexually Explicit, Violent, and Offensive Language’. The author theorizes in the afterword that people used these reasons as an excuse because they were uncomfortable with the downbeat ending, especially in a book aimed at kids/young adults. In some cases this may be true, or perhaps people just got used to seeing it being challenged and assumed that all the negative claims about it were true. The book is violent, but not gratuitously so. The “offensive” language used is pretty much limited to ‘crap’ and ‘bullshit’ and again, neither is used gratuitously, or even all that frequently. The charge of being sexually explicit, I really don’t get. Girls are mentioned in passing in the book, boys ogle them and fantasize about them, but no actual sex occurs. Masturbation takes place, but it is euphemized in each instance, so it might be more accurate to say that the book is ‘sexually inexplicit’, or ‘sexually implicit’. Regardless, it is a good book – it feels real and honest, it deals with important themes, and it doesn’t tie everything up in a nice, neat ending just for the sake of a happily ever after, which would have been untrue to the story and highly unsatisfying.

The Color Purple is cited for ‘Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, and Offensive Language’. And it contains all these things. And it deals with difficult subject matter. And it is painful. But is also beautiful. It is heartwarming even as it is heartbreaking, and it makes me sad to think that anyone would try to ban something so powerful and lovely. Despite being a slim book, it is epic. It does what every character-based story should – it shows growth. The characters at the beginning of the book are not the characters at the end. Every single person in the story is transformed, and the reader is transformed too – because as uncomfortable as it might be at times, you are along for the ride. Even if you find yourself emotionally drained when you arrive, the journey is worth it in the end.

If you haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I would recommend books in general – reading them, talking about them, and sharing them. If you love a book, tell somebody about it (heck tell me about it right here). If you hate a book, talk about that too. And if you’re a parent of a child concered about what your kid is reading, sitting down with them and discuss it – present your point of view and listen to theirs. Books are worth the effort.

2 Comments

Filed under Random Rambling, Recommended Reading

2 Responses to Homework Assignment

  1. amy

    I haven’t read either of those books, but I’ll try to remember to pick them up next time I’m at the book store. Because what I need is more books.

    I think you know that I share your high opinion of books. Preach it, sister.

  2. We’re such a bad (or possibly good) influence on each other’s book-buying habits!

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