On Banned Books & Censoring Teen Fiction

I’ve always had a lot of thoughts about censoring YA and children’s literature. For me, books covering subjects which are maybe less accepted in day-to-day life are so important. I’m a big believer in not banning books, especially kid’s ones, because very often those are ones which have very important messages. (Plus: if you ban a book, it just makes kids want to read it more. So obviously not a good tactic.)

Anyway. I once read an interview with an author who I will strategically not name saying that children’s innocence should be protected… and I’m just like NO. Books are not about protecting innocence. Books are not about sheltering kids from the world around them — because yes, there are bad things happening in the world. Death exists. I think that it is so, so important to learn about the existence of suffering because if you just wait until you’re an adult then YOU WILL KNOW NOTHING. It’s going to be a big shock when you discover that, you know, sometimes pain actually exists. Sometimes you will experience pain.

I so dislike the assumption that children’s and adult’s books must be completely separate — that I can’t deal with ‘adult’ books. I’m often very frustrated by the age restrictions that appear everywhere. (I used to add, like, 3 years to my age or whatever.) One of my friends has been turned away from looking at the YA section in a bookshop because the assistant thought she looked too young. You can’t pick and choose your audience simply based on age, because…people don’t work like that? WE’RE ALL REALLY DIFFERENT. Some are more ready to read things than others, and that’s 100% okay.

We don’t want to be pushed away from books. We don’t want you to tell us that we can’t read George Orwell because the sentence structure is too simple for our reading level. Newsflash: sometimes, like, you actually can’t just judge books using a machine? Sometimes there are complex ideas behind them? All this red tape just doesn’t make sense to me. I think it is important to let people know what is inside — for instance, The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (whilst for me a fascinating book) has literally no indication of the horrors inside. And I think perhaps a little warning of that would be nice, because then people know what they’re getting into and they can make a decision for themselves about whether to read it.

But we can judge for ourselves what we are able to read. Kids & teens are sensible people! If something is making me upset then I will put the book down, or skip ahead a section. We’re good at knowing what’s appropriate for us; it isn’t just like watching a movie passively. You actively have to make the decision to keep reading.

The thing which sparked me to return to this post — which has been stewing in the back of my mind for ages — was a review marking a book with a bi MC for junior & senior high readers only. This cropped up on Twitter, and it was approximately the worst time for the magazine to publish this because HELLO BI AWARENESS WEEK. You might have already seen it going around twitter. But it is…wrong in so many ways. It’s not particular to this reviewer, though; sadly from my experience it’s a rather common theme that queer = mature. That makes me really sad. Like, according to this review I shouldn’t be reading this book. It definitely makes sense to stop bi teens from, like, actually reading about themselves for once. God forbid it give them a little hope.

I just. Queer characters are not mature content; they are not to be filtered out. LGBTQ+ people exist just as straight ones do. Queer books have honestly been my lifeline. Information is super cool and all, but — books are books. Endlessly not seeing yourself in books is sad.

I would like queer books to be recommended alongside any other book. Their stories have just as much worth. We shouldn’t be protecting kids from them — I mean, if anything, we should be writing and supporting more queer kid lit. For my 11-year old self to not think that randomly choosing a crush on a boy was the only option.

Also, as I was writing this post I came across the ALA Banned Books week, which is actually running over this week! Interestingly, they even have a section about diverse books which are frequently challenged. A good number of the top 10 challenged books feature homosexuality as a legitimate reason to ban the book. *scowls* rest assured that I’m really looking forward to all the cool Banned Books stuff happening!

Stories are so important. Don’t filter them out just because you think someone else won’t like them.

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10 thoughts on “On Banned Books & Censoring Teen Fiction

  1. A lot of good points you make there. Some of the most well-known books have been banned at certain parts. I love reading especially those of fantasy, mythology, mysteries, adventure, and comedies. Every once in a while read a classic. I never understand why some books get banned in the first place

    • Thank you! Yes, you’re right — including a lot of books that we now think of as extremely important books. Ooh I love fantasy & adventure books too! I’ve read a couple of classics and I did enjoy them, although I should probably read more. Yeah, many times it honestly just doesn’t make sense!

  2. Great points here! I honestly think the only reason a book should ever be banned is if it encourages things like racism, sexism etc. because the last thing you want if for someone, at any age, to come away thinking that’s okay. But most books aren’t even banned for that reason. And that warning only for mature readers because a character is bi is terrible. The same as just having queer characters being deemed ‘sexual content’. I hope that with the internet and stuff younger people reading will be more informed vs. having their reading control by overseeing adults.

    • Thank you! Yeah, definitely — the impressionable thing works the other way round too. It can be great & educate people, but likewise it can educate people about an utterly wrong viewpoint.
      Most books I’ve seen which are frequently challenged aren’t done so for that, though! The whole bi character warning thing really was bad. I do hope so. 🙂

  3. WELL. BLOODY. SAID. I think that children being “exposed” to themes like suffering is very important because you can’t ever shelter children forever. It will damage them in the long run. Maaing books all happy unicorn parties is not true to real life, and children ARE part of real life and so need to learn about it.

    • AAH THANK YOU ELM. I know — it just sort of assumed the kids reading those books are going to be really well-off, which is sort of weird. Suffering and death happen to so many people all the time. Exactly, that’s a great way to put it! 🙂

  4. This is such a great post, and you wrote it really well (which sounds like I’m your teacher or something, but I just wanted to let you know that I thought so!).

    I really despise the notion of banning books, too. Especially ones with queer content. It’s just like … you know you could be taking away a young person’s opportunity to see themselves? To realise that they are not different, and that they are not other? That they are not alone? That there IS no normal?

    I sometimes can’t quite believe that it’s 2016 and crap like this is still happening. That a magazine “voice of youth advocates” warned about a character’s sexuality in a review. GOD, that is just so messed up on so many levels, and in WHAT way is bisexuality something that needs to be warned about?

    Banning books because of queer themes is not only backwards, but so, so harmful to kids and young people who are then confronted with the fact that their mere existence is “inappropriate” for audiences in their own age bracket. I wish that I could tell each and every queer young person whose lives are negatively influenced by the banning of books that they are freaking valid and valued.

    (I have thoughts and emotions, so hello novel length comment!)

    • Aw thank you! Haha don’t worry — I appreciate it a lot anyways.

      YES, I agree with you so much! I also think it’s really important to libraries to stock queer books. I mean, there are so many I want to read, and my library does have a few, but sometimes I just am not able to buy a book. (And there are lots of great ones out there which I DON’t see in libraries.)

      I know, it’s crazy. I honestly can’t understand why someone would think that’d be a good idea? Like…just NO.

      Absolutely; it just disregards that there might actually be young people who are going through that experience. Aaah it just makes me so angry.

      (Eek no worries, long comments are awesome!)

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