Posted by: Lizzie Ross | September 20, 2010

A rant, interrupted by a confession

Courtesy of

Big virtual-world uproar, in these few days before Banned Books Week, over Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, about a ninth-grade girl who had been raped the previous year and is unable to tell anyone about it. A powerful, honest, shattering book, but well within the abilities of teen girls (and probably most teen boys) to handle.

It’s been on banned books lists since it was published, but Reclusive Bibliophile has found a post that describes Halse’s book as “soft pornography”. (I’ve read the post — its author also calls for the banning of Slaughterhouse Five, for its profanity, and Twenty Boy Summer, for its frank depiction of teen sexuality, and encourages parents to become more active in school curricular policies.)

Other bloggers have said what I’m going to say here, but it can never be said too often: anyone who perceives rape (or sexual assault of any kind) as “pornographic” is not someone I would trust as gate-keeper for libraries and school reading lists. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, about hard-core pornography, that it’s hard to define, but “I know it when I see it”. The only way to know if something is pornographic, is by how it affects you, the viewer. I won’t go any further with this line of reasoning — I trust my readers to be able to take that path on their own.

But now for my confession: when my daughter, L,  was in 5th grade, her teacher sent home a note, and a copy of Speak, asking me to review the book and decide whether I was willing to allow my child to read it. To this day, I don’t know how other parents responded — I never asked — but I remember feeling torn. I didn’t want my 10-year-old daughter to read something so horrifying, yet I hated the idea of denying L the right to read. In the end, though, I wrote back, asking that L be assigned a different book.

It may be that L borrowed a friend’s copy and read the book on her own, or waited a year or so; I do know she had read it sometime before she was 13, the age of the book’s heroine when she was assaulted.

But two things to note about this: the teacher kindly asked for my input about my own child (she knew the book was “dangerous”), and my input did not affect what was available for other children (I would never vote for removing such a book from any school library).

The offending post shows extreme disrespect not just for writers and readers, but also for parents and teachers. I agree that parents should have a say in what their own children read, but absolutely not in what other people’s children read. And, as a teacher, I take umbrage at anyone suggesting that my curricular choices are reckless and a danger to my students’ minds. The only thing that endangers minds is ignorance.



  1. “Speak” is a banned book, too? Interesting to know…

  2. […] The Ineluctable Bookshelf […]

  3. Marketing wise, the best thing that can happen to a book is to get banned. Banning is big business. Doesn’t matter what it is: books, movies, clothes, people, religions, ideas. Ban it and everyone will want it.

  4. That’s certainly one way to look at it, and, no doubt, the same thing happens with movies, songs, websites, and virtual games–“there’s no such thing as bad press.” But I’d certainly find it insulting (and disturbing) if the rape scene in a book I’d written were termed “pornographic”.

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