Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Book Reviews

The Perks of Being an Intern by Suite 500 Intern Mackenzie

I have a magic lamp. Not a gold one with Robin Williams tucked away inside, but a cracked, ceramic white one handed down to me free-of-charge by grad students moving out in a hurry. And every night, when I flick the switch - POW! Tiny black words appear out of the dark, zipping in circles around the body of the lamp - quotes from my favorite books that I lovingly inked with a sharpie marker.

"I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist."

Those words spiraling around the neck of my lamp - the first bit of magic I ever added - almost werent there at all. Because they are from page one of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky - one of the 10 most challenged books of all time. As it is Banned Books Week, I wanted to take a moment and personally thank everyone who fought for this book. By recognizing it's power, not to corrupt or spoil, but to engage and enlighten, you have proved that those people, who listen and understand without ulterior motive, do exist - in print and in life. I am proud to work alongside you, the magic makers.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, #3 on the Top Ten Most Banned Books List
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

Standing on the fringes of life...
offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.


This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.


This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.


Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.


That One Night in the Bathroom... ~ by Suzie

I read a lot of books.  Sometimes the circumstances in which I read a book or bought a book end up sort of fuzzy in my mind.  But I remember exactly when I walked into Warwick's my second year of teaching when I had just moved from Miami to San Diego.  It was the bookstore closet to my apartment - within walking distance.

In front, laid out on a table was a copy of book with a blue background and two girls on the cover.  They wore tank tops or something that looked like a ballet leotard.  One girl's face wasn't visible, the other's  was slightly obscured by shadow and just looked...sad.  Shamelessly attracted by covers and shamelessly influenced by in-store recommendations, I bought the book - along with about nine other books as I have been known to do every time I wander into a bookstore.


That book was My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

I read it a few months later.  I was spending the Christmas holidays with two friends and their family.  Around 10 when everyone was going to bed, I retreated to the room I was sharing with one of my friends and we each picked up a book.  An hour or so later, she announced she was going to sleep.  I decided to turn off the light and finish my chapter in the bathroom.  And then go to bed.

FOUR HOURS LATER I was curled up in a corner of the bathroom, sitting on the floor, and sobbing.  Yes, sobbing.  As in crying so hard, I had to stop, put the book down, and pull myself together, just in order to keep reading.  (oh yes, there were some tear stains on those pages)

Christmas day, after presents, food, and a nap, I insisted My Sister's Keeper was a must read for everyone in the house.  The day after Christmas, I took my shiny new B&N giftcard to the store and bought every other Jodi Picoult novel available.  Then I read them.  All.

When school started again and students asked me about my vacation, I confessed I'd read a lot of Jodi Picoult books and shared the story.  (As a teacher, there's a point when laughing at yourself is inevitable and what's more laughable that reading on the bathroom floor of someone else's parents' house on Christmas Eve until 3 am?)  Most of my students laughed - at me.  But a few asked to borrow the book. Then a few more.

Until I had teachers at faculty meetings started telling stories.  They'd see a kid with their head down, looking into their lap and not paying attention.  The teacher would approach, expect to take away a cell phone only to discover it was a copy of a Jodi Picoult novel (The Pact was another student favorite), and said student was reading.  To excuse themselves, the student would look up and say "Townsend gave it to me!" (because obviously I meant, "Go read this in math class" every time I handed out a book).

On the surface My Sister's Keeper is a story about Anna, a thirteen year old girl suing her parents for medical emancipation when she's expected to give up her kidney to her sister Kate, who's dying of leukemia.  But underneath that, it's so much more.  It's the tortured story of a family on the verge of breaking from the stresses of Kate's illness.

Jesse, the older brother, would have given anything to Kate, but he's not a match.  He's also sort of gotten lost in the family dynamic because he doesn't have a medical procedure demanding attention.  His way out becomes getting involved with setting fires and doing drugs.

Their father Brian is just trying to hold them all together. Anna is thirteen and confused.  And Kate has secrets of her own.

Their mother Sara is determined not to let one of her children die, and she's going to do whatever it takes to beat leukemia, even if it means conceiving a child - Anna - specifically to be a match and donor for Kate.

And this is one of the moments where Jodi Picoult is brilliant.  Told from multiple perspectives, every character has a believable and unique voice, and they all manage to be beautifully flawed yet sympathetic.  I thought I just hated Sara in those first couple chapters.  Then I got to her perspective and I just got her and why she made the decisions she did.

Cancer. Illness. Death. Family. Growing up. Choices. Respect.  There were so many aspects of this novel that took residence in my heart when I read, and when cancer reared it's head in my own family, there were a lot of times, I thought back to this book.

Christmas day, despite how tired I was, I woke up after finishing My Sister's Keeper, my eyes were open just a little wider.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, #7 on the Top Ten Banned Books List
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate - a life and a role that she has never questioned… until now. 


Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister - and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable… a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves. 


My Sister's Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child's life… even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less?

6 comments:

Lindsay said...

I loved both of these books! I started the circulation of "Perks" around my high school in tenth grade. I think about twenty of us read it. And I read My Sister's Keeper on a road trip to Boston with some friends. I ended up a watery heap in the back of a van. LOVE. Both the books and the attention you're calling to banned books.

readingkidsbooks said...

I always know I'm going to need a box of kleenix when I read a Jodi Piccoult novel. She takes on big issues, but her books are so character true that they resonate with you for years. My Sister's Keeper still haunts me. She's one of those author's that's always on my recommend list. Great post Suzie.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

"By recognizing it's power, not to corrupt or spoil, but to engage and enlighten, you have proved that those people, who listen and understand without ulterior motive, do exist - in print and in life."
Well said!

Both of these books are amazing.

Shallee said...

I loved My Sister's Keeper. And I love that you got your students reading in other classes. :)

I haven't read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I've heard a lot of good things about it. On my reading list it goes!

Theresa Milstein said...

Banned books - it just shouldn't happen period.

Thank your for the reviews. I wrote one on my blog through Tahereh's challenge.

memomuse said...

Looks like education lost a great teacher, but the publishing world gained a great agent! I loved the freedom I had teaching at a residential treatment center. As the Language Arts teacher, I was able to order the books I wanted and we had a great library. We even marked the banned books and suggested those to students. My favorite, "Cut." Written from the second POV and "Go Ask Alice" was always a favorite of the students.
It was nice to meet you at the conference in South Carolina. I was the one with the brilliant journal idea! :)But I just wasn't your "type." ha ha.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?