In case you missed it, today wraps up Banned Books Week and so I felt it was fitting to add a Book Talk on Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book has been on my “to-read” list for awhile and after I heard there was so much discussion about it recently, I grabbed it off the shelf and marked it off my list. [note: Check out this awesome map of banned books]
Wow. What a powerful story. And even more so after reading it am I bothered that it has received such criticism. The thoughts, feelings, and every day life happenings that the main character, Melinda, go through are just so real. In fact, though I know this novel has helped many victims of sexual assault, I did not find it to be a novel focused on the rape. Instead, to me, it was a more powerful testament that no matter who you are, you have a VOICE. And, more importantly, your voice matters.
I told my students about Speak (many had already read it, one was actually just finishing up and doing her book trailer on it) which in turn led into a discussion of Banned Books Week. What a discussion BBW turned into in all of my classes! I told them that this was more than just talk about “books and libraries” — this has to do with our rights as Americans, what so many people fight for each and every day. We scrolled the list of challenged classics in which every student raised his/her hand to show that he/she had in fact read one of the “bad” books. “That’s stupid! What in the world is wrong with people? Who makes these rules?” and various other angry/frustrated comments filled the room. They couldn’t grasp the idea that if one person had a problem with the book why he/she just “wouldn’t read it! Instead of trying to ruin it for everyone else!”
I was glad BBW challenged their thinking and bothered them. Because the entire point behind why books like Speak and others receive criticism deserves to be challenged. We all deserve to exercise our 1st Amendment Rights. We all read books through a different lens based on our own personal experiences.And that’s the great thing about great literature…no matter who we are or where we are from, we can connect to it (and realize that we all have some commonalities).
And if there’s one lesson I hope my students walked away with is that we all have a right to choose not to read [insert name of text], yet we also have a right to read it and to speak. Loudly.