Our September topic for Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2016 Reading Challenge was a book that has been banned. We had slightly more success with this book than we had in August, and this post will certainly be longer, mainly because brother Andrew decided to join in the fun! This is good, as Susan and Stephanie didn't even attempt a book this month, and Becky only got 1/3 of the way through hers. (You can see are thoughts on all of the books we've read for the challenge here.)
Becky says: My approach to this topic was, as you'll soon see, very different than Andrew's. I didn't care where or why the book had been banned—I just wanted to find a book that I already owned that would fit into the category! I've been meaning to read The Fault in Our Stars for several years now—I bought it around the time the movie released (no, I haven't seen the movie, either), but I just never cracked it open—so I decided to see if it had ever been banned. Sure enough, it had! In 2014, it was banned from the Riverside (California) Unified School District's middle schools. (It has since been reinstated.)
As I began reading the book, I could see why it was so popular. And if I'd followed Val's advice and knocked it out in one afternoon, I probably would have loved it. As it was, I read in bits and pieces, and I never felt fully immersed in the story. I also never finished it.
The protagonist of the book is Hazel Grace, a girl with Stage IV cancer who has survived far longer than anyone thought she would. She meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group, and they become fast friends ... and I assume more, but that's about as far into the novel as I've gotten! (I did get far enough to learn where the title comes from.)
I won't even attempt to give this a star rating—I haven't read enough of it to really judge it. But if I ever do finish it, I'll let you know!
Val says: This month, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. According to the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog post I read listing this as a frequently-banned book, it is the book’s language that often ends it up on the “banned” list. There were a few instances of the “f” word used throughout, but they were infrequent and were always used by adults.
The protagonist and narrator of the book is a 15-year-old boy with autism. This is the is the first book I’ve ever read that had a character with autism, and I SO appreciated that he was the one narrating the story because it really gave the reader such an excellent glimpse into what life is like for someone with Christopher’s particular type and severity of autism. I knew (vaguely) that sensory sensitivity can be an effect of autism, but the book really showed what the world is like through Christopher’s eyes and how he deals with his particular triggers. (There’s one very memorable scene where Christopher is in the train station by himself, and there’s a picture of what all the signs really say, and then there’s a picture of what Christopher sees as his senses are overloaded.)
As much as I’ve made this sound like it’s just a completely educational book, it’s actually a story with an interesting plot and believable characters. The book opens with Christopher setting out to solve the mystery of what happened to his neighbor’s dog, and he ends up solving some bigger mysteries along the way. I would highly recommend this book, especially to someone who wants to learn more about autism or just to glimpse what life can be like for individuals with autism. 4.5 stars
Andrew says: I went looking for a list of banned books, and quickly found that basically every book of any value has been banned or “challenged” in one place or another. I decided to use the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Classics list. I wanted to use a US-based list because we have a largely robust anti-censorship legal system and this is the culture that I inhabit. It felt a little like cheating to pick a book that has only been banned/challenged in some much more restrictive culture or political climate. I chose to go off the classics list because it seemed more interesting. As I looked at the lists of most challenged books for the 1990s and 2000s, it became clear that people will challenge books that involve any of the following: 1) nonwhite people, 2) non cis-gendered people, 3) ”Magic” outside a fantasy setting, or 4) puberty and the female body.
I chose to read Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, and you should too. I had heard very good things about Baldwin’s writing from people whose opinion I trust, and I was not at all disappointed. Baldwin’s prose is incredible, and his insight into the human condition is precise. Go Tell It On The Mountain tracks the salvation experience of 14-year-old John in Harlem. In the process, it jumps back in time to visit his father as a young man and his mother as a young woman. We see both how they relate to each other in the present and formational experiences of John’s parents affect the family dynamic and are shaping John in his spiritual journey. Baldwin is incisive in his critique of the shame of sin and the human tendency to secrecy as an effort to avoid shame both public and private. Baldwin’s characters and narrative are real in a way that everyone who reads him will identify truth that resonates with them. For me, one of the most moving themes was John’s experience with a strictly legalistic religious tradition and the perfectionist tendencies that engenders, along with the self-doubt and feelings of secret shame that come with a failure to live up to those standards. Growing up in a fundamentalist tradition, I felt a resonance with Baldwin’s description of these phenomena that transcend the distance between Harlem in the 1930s and Nebraska in the 1990s.
Go read Go Tell It On The Mountain. It will challenge you. You won’t regret it. 5 stars
If you've read any of these books, we'd love to know your thoughts! (Also, Becky would love to know if The Fault in Our Stars is worth finishing.) Be sure to join us again next month, when we'll be talking about books we should have read in school.