Monday, September 23, 2013

I Read Banned Books: Rainbow Rowell

I had a book review for a different title half composed before I started seeing stories about a Minnesota school district that had canceled a visit by author Rainbow Rowell, after parents complained that her YA novel, Eleanor & Park, was inappropriate for teens.
Attentive readers of the blog, and those of you whom I'm liable to offer unsolicited reading suggestions, are likely aware that I'm a bit of a fan. In fact, this isn't even the first time I've recommended Rainbow Rowell's books on the library's blog. You can read my review of her first novel, Attachments, by clicking here, and you'll see Eleanor & Park in this list of books I'd particularly enjoyed reading in the first few months of 2013.

You're probably not surprised if I say I find this school district's decision disappointing. Libraries, booksellers, and passionate readers of all stripes have been calling attention to censorship for more than 30 years with the annual celebration of Banned Books Week. That 2013's Banned Books Week is *this* week, Sept 22nd-28th, makes this story an excellent example of the ongoing challenges that books of all sorts continue to face.

You might think that book challenges and bans only happen in other place, countries with repressive dictators, or in some dim past, but they don't. Which is why we take the time every year to remind you that it's okay to say "I don't want to read this" or "I don't think my child should read this," but that is not at all the same as saying "No one should read this."

As I mentioned, I very much enjoyed Eleanor & Park, and I've strong-armed several people into reading it. It's a great story of first love and discovering your own strength in the face of (mild spoilers) bullying, abuse, poverty, racism, and all those other everyday challenges of being a teen. The idea that someone would prevent a teen from reading about these sorts of issues, the sorts of horrible things that teens face every day in the real world, in the name of protecting them, astounds me. You can't protect people from reality, but the right book can offer an individual a chance to escape their reality.
Which brings me to Rowell's most recent novel, Fangirl, which covers quite neatly the way that a reader can turn to a fictional world to help cope with the real world. Fangirl is also a YA title, though I suspect it has some appeal for readers of New Adult fiction too. It's an uplifting story of self-discovery, with quite a bit of drama, a sweet romance, and enough humor to keep the drama from overwhelming.

Cath, our protagonist, is unwillingly starting her freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her twin sister, Wren, is much more eager for a fresh start, away from their needy dad, the mother who left them as children, and their shared identity as Simon Snow super fans. Simon Snow is the star of an incredibly popular fantasy series, in the style of Harry Potter, and Cath is in the process of writing one of the most popular Simon Snow fanfics* on the net.

So if you're looking for a good book to read for Banned Books week, I can recommend Rainbow Rowell. We do have a wait list for all of her books though, so you might also want to come in and check out our display of banned and challenged books by the Recommendations Desk. We're taking mugshots again this year, if you want proof of your controversial reading taste!

~Sarah, Adult Services

*fanfic, along with fan fiction and fic, are terms used to describe fan created stories that use the characters or worlds created in their favorite works of fiction, like Star Trek, Harry Potter, or Twilight, to create something new. Fun facts! Fifty Shades of Grey began as a Twilight fic, and City of Bones grew out of Harry Potter fic.

And while I'm down here, I'm going to point out Fangirl's awesome cover art by Noelle Stevenson, creator of the excellent webcomic Nimona.

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