|Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories By Censored Writers
Edited by Judy Blume
Review By: Jason Hammond, Freedom to Read Week Committee
Every year since 1995, the local Freedom to Read Week Committee has chosen a book to represent the issues of freedom of expression and censorship. The local Freedom to Read Week committee was formed in 1995 as a response to an event a year earlier where Red Deer Progressive Conservative MLA Victor Doerkson rose in the Legislature to demand that John Steinbecks Of Mice and Men be banned from all high school libraries in the province.
This years choice for book of the year is an especially fitting selection. Edited by young adult author Judy Blume, who is one of the worlds most successful (and most challenged) authors, the book collects provocative original stories by a dozen writers who have seen their own works challenged. (Why dont people who challenge books seem to realize that theyre only bringing more attention to these "naughty" books by attempting to ban them?)
The stories in this collection cover a range of sensitive topics, from racial politics to drug addiction to teenagers losing their virginity. As with any collection of short stories, some of the works are more successful than others. "Going Sentimental" by Rachel Vail does an admirable job of capturing the confusion and absurdity that often comes with young peoples first sexual experiences. "Love and Centipedes" by Paul Zindel, author of the popular young adult novel Pigman, is another memorable story in which an overweight and outcast young woman gains a unique revenge on her tormentors.
Each story is followed by a short essay by the author, discussing their experiences with censorship. In many ways, these essays are more effective at illustrating the issue than the stories writers talk of the doubt and the shame that occurs when their books are challenged, and how, once attacked, they have to fight the urge to censor themselves in their subsequent writing. Especially poignant is Blumes recollection of how a longtime editor (and friend) circles a passage about a young boy masturbating in her Tiger Eyes manuscript and notes, "we want this book to reach as many readers as possible, dont we?" The implication was clear. Without cutting those lines, the book would be challenged. Schools and libraries wouldnt order it. Book clubs wouldnt make it their "Selection of the Month." Theres no happy ending to the story Blume admits that she caved in and took out the lines. "I still remember how alone I felt at that moment."
Freedom of Expression is an especially sensitive issue when young readers are the audience. This book does a great job of illustrating many of the topics as well as the thought processes of the people writing these stories. A recurring comment from the contributors can be summed up with one suggestion: "instead of challenging books you find objectionable, why not discuss these issues with your children and try to explain why you have a problem. Youll both be better for it in the end."
Perhaps Robertson Davies said it best: "I never heard of anyone who was really literate or who ever really loved books who wanted to suppress any of them."