Censoring YA

It seems like every few months, there’s another story about a YA novel being banned or censored because of its content. A lot of the time, this happens because a parent takes offense at something they find their kid reading, and instead of saying “Hey, my kid, don’t read this,” they decide they have the right to say, “Hey, NO KID should read this.”

They can say whatever they like, but it isn’t one parent’s business to police what every single teenager in the universe gets to read. Not even every single teenager at their kid’s school. Schools put a lot of thought and work into choosing the books their students will read, or can choose to read, but they sometimes cave to that one parent who, instead of deciding the book isn’t appropriate for *their* child, decides it isn’t appropriate for anyone’s children.

Teenagers have messy lives. And YA fiction reflects that. There are books about teens who get pregnant, use drugs, are abused, abuse others, etc. There are also books about teens who do none of those things. There are books that have brought hope and encouragement to teens whose real lives contain the problems depicted in the books. There are books that have persuaded real-life teens to seek help, and have even saved readers’ lives.

Trust me. I speak from personal experience. And I’m going to leave it at that.

By telling a school that they shouldn’t assign a given book, or allow it to be read, or by seeking to have a book banned from a library, people aren’t only “protecting” their children. They might be preventing a teen from realizing they aren’t alone, or taking away a valuable resource. No one’s going to like the content of every single book out there, and parents certainly have the right to stop their own children from reading things they find inappropriate, offensive, against their religion, or whatever. But, while it “takes a village” as the saying goes, one parent doesn’t have the right to decide what someone else’s child should read.

I’ve seen books like SpeakWintergirls, more than one of Ellen Hopkins’s books, and most recently Some Girls Are taken out of the hands of teens because one or two parents decided that if they didn’t want their own kid reading it, no teenager ever anywhere should be allowed to read it.

I know a young woman who, at age 13, read Speak. It literally saved her life in the wake of a sexual assault that she didn’t dare talk about to her parents or any other adult in her life.

I taught a high school student who never read a single book all the way through until one of her teachers gave her Ellen Hopkins’s Crank.

And, although none of my own books have been banned or complained about as far as I know, when my first YA novel Connection was required summer reading at my town’s high school in 2010, a young man took the message of the book and a talk I gave at the school that fall, and went to his guidance counselor to report long-term abuse and bullying that had him on the verge of taking his own life. And he specifically said–which is why I was told about it–“I’m only saying this now because of what Jo Ramsey said.”

Take care of your children, by all means. As parents, part of our job is to guide and teach our children our moral values, and to bring them up to be the adults we want them to be.

But please don’t presume to know what all teens’ lives are like, or what’s appropriate for them, or what they need. Please don’t, in the name of “protecting” the teenagers, take away something that could potentially spur someone to find hope, get help… or even choose to live when they want to die. And that isn’t an exaggeration.