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The Year They Burned The Books

The Year They Burned The BooksUnknown

by: Nancy Garden

Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York, NY  1999

ISBN: 0-374-38667-6

I found this to be a surprisingly emotional novel.  It’s a high school drama seeped in political discourse.  The main characters are the student staff of the school paper.  These are kids who believe what they’ve been taught about journalism and freedom of the press. When local conservative Christians rise up to moderate the content of the school paper these students fight for their journalistic integrity.

I suspect this novel was written specifically because Nancy Garden had a previous book banned from school libraries.  The town meeting scene where they debate maintaining morality for the children could have been taken directly from a transcript.  This story manages to touch just about every imaginable red button topic that has caused books to be banned.

Having said that, I was impressed (and marginally disappointed) with where Garden drew her lines.  There is no explicit teen sex.  However, the sex education curriculum and the availability of free condoms in the high school nurses office make the issue of teen sex a large theme.  Several of the main characters are gay, and in various stages of acceptance.  Teen suicide is touched on, but we do not lose any of the characters in the book.  Book burning happens, but the people having the bonfire used books they’d purchased, not the library books they represented.

One of the issues is that an opinion piece in the paper should not have to present both sides of the conflict.  It’s an opinion, not the news.  The students actually work very hard to find contradictory opinions and even their articles nod at some validity in their oppositions viewpoints.  This book as a whole tries to do the same.

All of the characters, even the self righteous ones, are drawn with some depth.  Everyone is portrayed as trying to do the best they can for what they believe to be right.  The gay characters are harassed and struggle internally with their identities.  They are not “out loud and proud” and they are very aware of the risks of simply allowing themselves to be who they are.

This really is a teen driven story.  The adult characters have weight and impact, but it is the teens who are affected.  I would highly recommend this book as support for kids questioning their own identities.  I would also recommend this book to people who are friends and parents of those kids.

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Speechless

Unknown

The back cover reads “Saying she’s sorry isn’t enough”

Speechless

by: Hannah Harrington

Harlequin Enterprises Limited  Don Mills, Ontario Canada   2012

ISBN:978-0-373-21052-7

Although there were points in this book where the parent in me cringed, this is teen fiction at its best.  The story is told from the point of view of the teens, and it reads true.  There aren’t lectures and the moral message remains an honest gray.  There are rewards for “bad” behavior and consequences for “good” that any high school student would recognize.

Chelsea, the main character, is very talented at maintaining her status as BFF of the Queen Bee of the High School, Kristen.  She has a knack for finding “dirt” on her fellow students and she can’t keep a secret.  Then at Kristen’s unsupervised New Year’s party a very drunk Chelsea walks in on a classmate (Noah) in bed – with another boy.

Chelsea’s inability to keep a secret, compounded by her drunkenness, has her thoughtlessly outing the boys.  When Kristen’s boyfriend’s promise to “talk to him” becomes the beating that sends Noah to the hospital in a coma, Chelsea has to accept her responsibility.  She chooses to tell her parents, and the police, what happened and also chooses to stop speaking.  Her mouth gets her into too much trouble.

The bulk of the novel addresses Chelsea’s struggles when school starts back up.  She predictably looses her status and can’t or won’t speak in her own defense.  She is bullied very much the same way she used to bully her classmates.  It’s eye-opening.

The “odd” students who are willing to give Chelsea a chance believe she did the right thing going to the police. But it’s not an easy acceptance.  These are also the students who are Noah’s best friends.

The story covers mean girls, privileged jocks, closeted students and the fantasy and reality of finding love as a teen.  Surprisingly it manages to stay focused, always coming back to Chelsea and her choices.  The characters may fall into classic social groups but they are not stereotypes.

The adults do not play a large role in the narrative, but they are present.  They miss a lot because they are distracted not because they are uncaring or inept. Chelsea’s parents protect her as best they can from the legal implications of coming forward.  Chelsea’s teachers may have agenda’s at cross purposes from Chelsea’s but they are fathomable and reasonable.

It really is a surprisingly good book.  Chances are any parent will find something that the kids do that they don’t approve of.  Chances are any teen will recognize all the characters in their own school setting.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Teen Fiction

 

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