Okay, here's the story. A few months ago I donated a school visit (complete with travel) to an auction benefiting a Phoenix bookseller who needed some help to pay for her cancer-related medical bills. The winning bidder was Karin Perry, a middle school librarian from Norman, OK. Karin is a fabulous librarian and real champion for her kids. I was thrilled to be going. The visit was scheduled for this coming Tuesday. Airline tickets/hotel were paid for. I was on my way.
Day before yesterday, a parent stormed the school, demanding Crank and Glass be pulled from the middle school shelves for review. Not sure what it was about the content that concerned her. If you've never read them (what? seriously?), the books are loosely based on my daughter's struggle with methamphetamine addiction. There is some language (not a lot, actually). Drug use? Check. Um. The books are about addiction, and they offer an honest look at that dark path. Surely, they are cautionary tales. And yes, one of the cautions is that when you live as an addict, bad things (like rape and pregnancy) can happen to you. Those scenes, while feeling very real, are most definitely written with a young adult audience in mind. They are not sensationalized nor particularly graphic.
However, I can see a parent's concern. So fine. Don't let YOUR child read them. However, NO ONE PERSON should be able to tell other people what their children can or can't read. I have received thousands of messages from readers (and yes, many are middle grade), thanking me for: turning them away from drugs; insight into their parents'/other family members' addictions; allowing them to live vicariously through my characters, so they don't actually have to experience those things; literally saving their lives. Who has the right to keep books that do these things off the shelves? And the bigger question, who has the right to keep ANY books off the shelves? Who gets to decide? One parent and a misguided school superintendent?
Because the school superintendent not only pulled the books for review, he CANCELED my author visit. Wouldn't even allow me to move to the high school. Seriously? What did that parent and he expect me to do? Go in with a live demonstration? Use the f-word? Talk about sex? I mean, you've got to be kidding. I've done hundreds of school visits. Pretty positive I've never corrupted a student. In fact, my talks inspire them. Arm them. Inform them. Yes, I tell my daughter's story. Her cautionary tale. On the middle school level, I am totally sure I have stopped kids from ever considering drug use. What are these people really afraid of? That their kids will want to read my books? That must be it. Why not instead, parents, read the books with your kids, open the lines of communication, and TALK TO THEM!
Banned Books Week is coming soon. If you haven't already heard, Simon & Schuster asked me to write a poem, which they produced as a broadside. It's called Manifesto, and while I won't put the whole thing here, I will quote the last stanza when I wrap this up. The broadside will be on Banned Books Week tables across the country. I'll be taking a fistful to OK when I go Tuesday because Karin Perry cared enough about my message to make sure I'll appear Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., at Hillsdale Baptist College in Moore OK. I hope that room is full, because I will have lots to say. There and everywhere I go from here on out. Blanket censorship has no place in this country.
In celebration of the First Amendment, here is the last stanza of my Manifesto:
Torch every book.
Burn every page.
Char every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.