Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak is being attacked for being “filthy” and “soft porn” in an editorial in a Missouri paper, Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education. (Note: no, not Republican. Republic, it’s the name of a town.)
Here is the money quote: “In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography. One such book is called “Speak.” They also watch the movie. This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.” Because Speak is not the only book being written about, click through to read the entire essay.
To learn more, check out Anderson’s blog post about this.
Pretty much anyone who has read Speak is now twitching over the misrepresentation of the book. Not to mention reading satire and sarcasm as factual presentations and, oh, I could go on forever.
Pretty much anyone who knows that rape and sex are two different things is twitching over the fact that rape is being characterized as soft pornography. Actually, that characterization scares the hell out of me.
I have no idea whether or not the author of this essay read the books or is relying on other sources. When someone wants to remove a book from a library or school, often the first question asked is “did you read the entire book?” Objections to the book are often not their own, but ones that, at best, are based on reading a few chapters or, at worst, based on something someone else said. Example: the objections are word for word what appears in PABBIS.
Pat Scales wrote about this in Booklist (Weighing In: Three Bombs, Two Lips & A Martini Glass). She also wrote (without naming the book): “While Common Sense Media isn’t censoring anything, it is providing a tool for censors. There is already a documented case in the Midwest where a book was removed from a school library based solely on a Common Sense review.” As a quick aside, Common Sense says that Speak is “iffy” for readers 13 and up, only “on” for those 17 and up, and yes, includes “rape” in it’s “lips” (AKA Sex) category. As a second quick aside, I’ve seen Common Sense revise a review quietly, taking it down and then reposting it a while later. Keep your eye on the Speak review; I bet within six months, these two things will be changed.
If you’ve read From Cover to Cover, you may recall how Horning cautions reviewers not to turn into censors or to provide tools for censors.
Here’s my question, bloggers. Like PABBIS and Common Sense Media, our reviews are online for anyone to read — and use. It’s entirely possible that a blog review could be used as “tool” — a tool that stops a librarian or teacher or bookseller from buying a book. Or a book banner may print out that review and march into their school or library saying, “this review says xxx, so this book doesn’t belong here, get rid of it!”
Could your blog review be used as such a tool? What would you do if someone used your review as “proof” that a book shouldn’t be in a library or a classroom? How do you write your reviews to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Edited to clarify: I am not advocating self-censoring. I am advocating thinking about reviewing by “inform, not warn” (that was from Roger Sutton, stating the policy of the Horn Book.) For example, when talking about bullying in a book, is it by a “warning” to parents that this is “bad”? Or is by informing people what a book is about? Once you’ve said, “this is a moving story about a sixteen year old dealing with bullying,” why add a “warning” to the review?
And frankly, I’m curious as to what one does when a review or conversation has been taken out of context. How to stay strong to not self censor; whether it’s even possible to fix the abuse.