This post is to bring awareness to Banned Books Week.
The United States was founded as a state where intellectual freedom for all was and is tantamount. That has not changed since the Founding Fathers built America. Unfortunately, more often than I’d like to admit, different individuals and groups attack that intellectual freedom and try to ban books they find objectionable—particularly unorthodox or unpopular content that is sexual in nature, anti-religiously charged, or culturally challenging.
The Founding Fathers knew the danger that existed in banning books. To give one segment of a population power to ban ideas and thoughts, to give that segment power over others who may not feel the same way, leads to fascism. They knew in a nation already as diverse as America that no one group should control the national collective—that way, no matter how small the instance, destroys liberty and freedom.
Unfortunately, there are several fantasy novels that have either been banned or discussion of banning them has been raised.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones is the death story—that’s right, not the life story but death story—of Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old girl who is raped and murdered in the novel’s opening chapter. The rest of the novel is Susie in heaven, watching how her parents, sister, brother, and grandmother cope with her loss while trying to bring her murderer to justice.
Different groups around the United States have tried to ban The Lovely Bones in libraries because:
“Content is too frightening for middle school students.”
To be honest, the opening chapter’s content is quite frightening. To state what Philip Pullman would likely say though, “No one has the right in life to never be frightened.” That includes middle school age children. Life is terrifying at times because of the very real atrocities that happen every day. The rape and murder of Susie Salmon hits home because it happens. It’s real. Every day. The portrayal is gritty, concrete, and in your face. I would argue it succeeds if it frightens.
We live in a deadly world at times, full of predators. And predators are difficult to stop if awareness of their existence is stripped away.
The Lovely Bones is a direct shot of adrenal awareness right into the heart.
Without reminders like this, society suffers from those predators.
The book opens thus:
“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.”
Right from the opening paragraph, Alice Sebold and Susie tell readers, “The world is not sugar-coated. It takes knowledge these dark things happen to keep them from happening.”
Banning The Lovely Bones would merely help the predators enact their sickness.
I know what some of you are thinking. “This isn’t a fantasy novel. It’s listed in contemporary fiction.” True, it is. But like many books in our current fiction section there is a blurring in the lines between the two sections and elements of The Lovely Bones have a magical realism that transcends fiction. This leads into the beauty of the novel. The heaven Sebold has constructed for Susie is beautiful and while there the dead girl witnesses a first kiss, love, and other wonderful things through her sister’s experiences. Us, as the reader and inside Susie’s point of view, have the opportunity to revel in some of the purest moments we have forgotten as we’ve grown up. The rest of the book is also a reminder that there is goodness in the world too, no matter the darkness, and in that goodness lies the very reason we must combat the darkness.
Others are probably thinking, “I don’t want to discuss rape with my middle schooler and I don’t want them reading the book.” That is fine. Then do your job as a parent—and parent. Banning a book won’t keep your child from it. Only you can do that. No matter what though, ignoring the very real reality of Susie Salmon is to ignore the possibility of her tale happening to your family. That way lies pain.
And keeping the book away from others who do genuinely want to read the book is unfair for the reasons listed above.
If you have not read The Lovely Bones and you wish to discover for yourself what the controversy is about—or if you are looking for a beautifully written novel with one of the most unique point of view characters ever—click HERE to read Chapter One.
Happy reading! For all books!