Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week: What My Mother Doesn't Know

It's that week I get most excited for, Banned Books Week!  I know, I'm such a library geek.  But I put the most planning into decorating for it, more than for any other "holiday."  I research it, and why books are banned, and what's trending in promoting the freedom to read.  And I do enjoy reading banned books.

As part of Banned Books Week, I always like to review a book that's stirred up particular controversy.  Here are my thoughts on What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones.  It impressively made the Top Ten Banned/Challenges Books List for four nonconsecutive years.

Checkouts: 10 checkouts from my public library (the one I run)
Typical reader: teen and tween girls
Source: My public library

Synopsis: Sophie is a boy-crazy high school freshman.  This is a free-verse account of a few of her romantic flings.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Banned/challenged for (in alphabetical order): nudity, offensive language, sexism, sexual content, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

This book has quite the curriculum vitae when it comes to controversy.  In 2004, it debuted on the Top Ten Banned/Challenged Books List at #6 for offensive language, being sexually explicit, and being unsuited to age group.  In 2005, it was at #7, for sexual content, and being unsuited to age group.  After a few years off, it came back in 2010 to regain #7, for sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group.  In 2011, it was #8, for nudity, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.  Wow.

Between the repeat infamy and the title ("Ooo, it sounds scandalous!"), I was expecting something pretty salacious.

... It isn't.

Really, it's one of the sweetest books about teenage romance that I've read.  Granted, I don't read many.  (And when I do, they tend to be angst-filled coming-out GLBT novels with plenty of heartbreak.)  Sophie is boy-crazy and knows it.  But she's a romantic, a serial-monogamist, with some sense in her hormone-addled head, giving her the ability to move on when a relationship is ending and defy peer pressure in certain instances.  No spoilers, but the hints leading to, and the actual, third romance are pretty "aw"-inspiring.

What could be wrong with this book?  (Beware of sass.)

Nudity.  There's a scene where Sophie and her girlfriends go out for a bite to eat in trenchcoats and smiles.  No one sees that they're not wearing anything underneath.  It's their little secret.  A goofy bit of fun.  (And really, unless it's illustrated, how the heck does one criticize a book for having nudity?)

Offensive language.  Sophie is Jewish, and in one instance, a rude man refers to her and her mother using a derogatory word beginning with a K.  Certainly, that's something to get a reader upset over, because they'll otherwise never hear derogatory racial/ethnic slurs.

Sexism.  I don't know.  Maybe when Sophie gets groped by a random boy after a dance, and he comments to his friends that her breasts are real?  Speaking of that scene, Sophie handled it excellently, defending herself and chasing the boys away.

Sexual content.  Sophie discusses getting her period, and tries to buy feminine products.  It's as bad as Are You There, God?  It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.  Oh.  Right.  That's been banned and challenged over the years, too.  We certainly can't have girls reading about other girls dealing with menstruation.  They might have been as in-the-dark as Sophie was, without instruction from her mother, and they might learn something from a book like this or the one by Judy Blume.

Sexually explicit.  Certainly, there must have been some eye-widening scenes in this book, for it to be challenged so often for this offense.  But what I found was mostly kissing.  Oh, no, the horror.  How dare teens kiss.  They're supposed to wait until after their Sweet Sixteen.

In sum, this book with the eyebrow-raising title has gotten a lot of undue criticism, in my opinion.  It's a mostly harmless book about a boy-crazy high school girl.  This novel is just a lightning rod that attracts storms from people who are overly protective of girls, and don't want them knowing about anything that can and does impact their lives during puberty.  Get over it.

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