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November 17, 2017

Our Reviews of Books Banned in 2017

Last month we won a package from the American Library Association that contained the top 3 books that have been banned in school libraries in 2017. We asked 3 of our employees to read them and write reviews, keeping in mind that these books were written for elementary-middle school students. All 3 books were banned because of current controversial social issues, but we still maintain the ideology that it is not okay to take away someone else’s freedom to read just because you don’t agree with the content.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Reviewed by Myra Schjelderup, UX Designer & Marketing Liaison

Banned for: Depiction of homosexuality, sexual content.

“Drama” is one girl’s experience with romance during one middle-school year. And unlike many YA or MG (…or manga) depictions of romance, Callie learns that romance is hard, and she has to get used to disappointment.

The title plays on Callie’s romantic drama and the other main focus of the book, the middle-school’s theater department and the musical they are putting on. Callie is the set designer, and she has to solve problems like making the sets she wants with their limited budget, and creating a realistic cannon when they aren’t allowed to have real explosives 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed the theater part of the book. It was fun to see them struggle to put the play together, to see how they succeeded and how they had to solve problems at the last minute.

Callie’s romantic drama is complicated for a variety of reasons. The guy she has a crush on likes a girl whom he’s always complaining about. The guy’s brother works with Callie for the theater. Then she meets two (other) brothers whom she likes and invites to join the production. Almost right of the bat one of them tells Callie quite frankly that he’s gay, but Callie’s feelings for the other brother grow. Without spoilers, I can say things don’t turn out perfectly for Callie, which is quite realistic, and I loved her positive attitude.

If I understand correctly, this book was banned because it has gay guys… ok so I don’t even know what the problem is. The most that happens is that guys talk to each other. And once, the brother looks at a guy and a little heart pops up. And once, a guy dresses in a dress for a stage part.

Honestly, the middle-schoolers (girl and boy) snogging in the costume room was far more distressing!

The YA/MG audience this is intended for either has encountered these issues before, or else it’s a very good introduction. Quite straightforward and innocent. Not a lot of explaining to do, really!

George by Alex Gino

Reviewed by Leeanna Burford, Order Fullfillment

Banned for: Depiction of a transgender child

This was an interesting book to read. It is told from the perspective of a 4th grade school boy, that feels like an imposter in a boys body. In his mind, he is a girl. It goes over his fears, friends, parents reactions and school during the class play. It is obviously written for a younger reader, so as an adult, reading it went pretty fast. I think the most interesting part of it is that many of the people surrounding him already knew that George was different. And I like that it made the distinction about him wanting to be a girl, not whether or not he was gay. George had no idea at that age if he was interested in boys or girls. He just knew he did not want to be a boy.

It was hard for his mom to accept at first, but deep down she knew something was different. His father and brother … and the class bullies had also already picked up on something different about George. They just were not sure what it was. Once clarified for his family, the pieces started to fit for them. I am glad in this book they supported him, as many times I think this is not the case. I have a hard time believing that it would all go as smoothly as the book says. I grew up in Wyoming, and had friends come out as gay in high school in the early 80s, and many did not take kindly to different. It was rough on them and myself as their non gay friend. The behavior and abandonment by friends, classmates and strangers was really unpleasant. And very frightening to experience that much hatred directed at you. I had a lot of friends abandon me as well for maintaining my friendships with my gay friends. I still struggle at the class reunions when these same people approach me smiling. That is not their face I see.

But this was about the start of his journey in finding out who he/she was. It would be interesting if the author would follow it up with a few versions of older George and give realistic examples of the additional challenges he/ she will face. Especially with all the social media and online bullying options available now. I am glad that George had a good support network, as he/she will need it going forward. Middle School and High School will bring its challenges, but the book does a good job going over some of the thoughts and stereotypes.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

Reviewed by Mia Schjelderup, President of Evelyn Manufacturing

Banned for: Depiction of LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity

I was a bit torn on this book. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but I think it was well written and the arrangement and content of the panels were quite masterful.

Rose felt like a real person. A young teenage girl, going through puberty and obsessed with sex and being cool, while under the stress of her parents’ strained relationship. She wasn’t very likable, but she was understandable and somewhat sympathetic. Her friend Windy, a whole year younger, was a completely different character, but equally realistic, awkward, and not particularly likable.

It was interesting how the story centered around Rose observing the stories around her. There are two: the problems with her parents, and a local boy who gets his girlfriend pregnant. Rose’s hormone-driven crush on this guy is a bit awkward, but it is interesting how her dislike of the girlfriend is about equal parts jealousy and resentment over how she is pregnant and unhappy, when Rose’s mom is unhappy because she isn’t pregnant.

I read some reviews that complained Rose didn’t learn anything from her experience over the summer. I disagree. I think she learned a great deal, but it was the kind of learning that isn’t revealed like some great epiphany. It is more like real life leaning —it might not have huge initial impact, but it will stay with you forever and shape what you become. Whether or not she learned the right lesson can’t be known in the constraints of the book, which I suppose is unsatisfying for some readers, but I kind of appreciated it.

I knew when I picked this book up I wasn’t the target audience, but I like to try different things every once in a while. I cringed inwardly most of the book, but upon completion I admit it did have some lasting impact on me. I would think that for the target audience this book would be pretty spot-on and enjoyable.

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