Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why I Speak Loudly (And You Should Too)

Much like every genre, YA has books which thousands of readers read and respond to, books whose praise are sung from the rooftops, while other books sit alone on bookshelves, read by a small number of readers. I believe that anyone who wants to read should have access to whatever book they choose, and that all books should be accessible to the public and have their opportunity to be read, discussed, loved, criticized, and debated. While I realize most books receive a variety of treatment in their lifetime, let me set the record straight now: I am anti-censorship and firmly against book banning.

A man named Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece for the News Leader of Springfield, Missouri entitled “Scroggins: Filthy books demeaning to Republic education.” In this article, he writes about books containing “softcore pornography.” Two of the books he write about, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, I have not read, though I have every intention of doing so. Yet when I discovered that he counted Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a which deals with rape in the context of a high school setting, as book containing “softcore pornography,” I was livid.

I’m so angry right now that I’m not even entirely sure where I should start. Honestly, I am shaking in my seat and trying not to spew out thousands of swear words as I write. The fact that Scroggins compares rape to “softcore pornography” honestly disgusts me. Rape is not pleasurable. It is an act of sexual violence that should never be tolerated, accepted or dismissed as unimportant. In his article, Scroggins talks about how many of the school board members and parents claim to be Christians, and wonders, “How can Christian men and women expose their children to such immorality?” If I could say anything to Scroggins, it would probably be this: rape happens, along with many other unfortunate things. I think an author who writes a book which reaches out to rape victims, especially teenage girls who may not have a lot of power or sway, is anything but immoral. Speak has been on shelves since 2001, and it has clearly had an impact on readers and the world of young adult literature. In the video below, Anderson reads a poem, part of which is composed by her, part of which is composed by readers who wrote letters to her after the publication of Speak.

Discussing Speak as pornographic is about so much more than eliminating sexual content from a classroom setting. To me, Scroggins’ article might as well say, Rape victims are at fault for what happens to them, and their struggles with the aftermath are unimportant. Writing or any other media that educates about rape, or helps a victim cope with what has happened to them is pornographic, regardless of whether its ultimate impact is positive or negative. It implies that rape is something that shouldn’t be taken seriously, but to me it also says something very negative to and about rape victims, namely that they are at fault for what has happened to them, that they have done something wrong. The rapist is always the person who has acted in the wrong and done something horrible, never the victim.

Not only do I dislike Scroggins’s ideas about what constitutes “softcore pornography,” I entirely disagree with the notion that he, or anyone else, should have control over what other people are reading. I think it is always wrong to stop others from reading a book because something in it doesn’t coincide with your personal beliefs. Do you think sex in YA books is wrong? Fine. Do you want to abolish a particular book from your household? Fine. You’re entitled to your beliefs just as much as anyone else. But telling others what their children can and cannot read because of what your personal beliefs takes away their freedom, which is unacceptable. I know Speak isn’t the first book to impact lots of young readers, and it definitely won’t be the last. No one should have the right to stop any reader from feeling empowered or having any other reaction to a book. Furthermore, if you’re going to tell your children that they can’t read a book because it has content which you consider adult, please make an effort to understand this content in the context of the story.


Speak focuses on the aftermath of Melinda’s rape and her new status as a social outcast. Throughout the novel, Melinda finds herself coping all alone with what has happened to her, until she eventually finds the strength to discuss what has happened to her. While this book provides wonderful gateways for discussing rape and the pressure to fit in high school, empowerment is perhaps the most important issue of the book.

Banning Speak will only put rape on the back burner, and this happens to other important issues such as sex, self harm, drinking and drugs, to name a few, when books are banned. I disagree with some people’s tendencies to stuff such issues into the closet. I know I had questions on such matters when I was a teenager, and a little inkling tells me that today’s teens might as well. I think it’s important to let teenagers honestly and openly have the tools, such as literature, to contemplate and discuss such subjects, instead of leaving them to puzzle at the answers, or whether or not such thoughts are even normal. Anderson’s video shows that literature has an impact, that it can help individuals feel less isolated or alone. Neither you, I, nor the people who aren’t reading this or any other blog posts about Speak are entitled to take that right away from anyone. Period.

If you don’t agree with what I have to say here, that is fine with me. Just don’t tell me, or anyone else, what we can and cannot read. If you want to stop Speak from being banned, check out Anderson’s post on what we can do to prevent this from happening. If you also disagree with book banning, be sure to check out some banned and challenged books during Banned Book Weeks, which will be from September 25th from Oct 2nd this year. I would like to note that the next few links were tweeted by Kristi of The Story Siren. Thanks, Kristi! For some general info on Banned Book Weeks and what it’s all about, click here and here. This page contains a list of banned and challenged books for 2009-2010.

I have felt a lot of emotions on this subject today, and am starting to feel drained. Banning books infuriates me, but seeing everyone’s blog posts on this subject matter has made me feel proud to be a part of such a strong community. I hope everyone continues to Speak Loudly, and stand up for what they believe in.


  1. Mr. Scroggins is the epitome of ignorance and what it does to our nation. By condemning Speak, he is telling victims of rape that they should shut up and not mention it - lest it be called softcore porn. By condemning Twenty Boy Summer - he is telling teens, don't listen to that dirty "condom" word. Here's the truth - rape happens. Teens are going to have sex and make mistakes.

    Wouldn't you rather future generations read a safe and discreet account of real-life situations they may one day face, rather than be thrust headlong into them later in life with no idea of how to deal? I've been livid all day about this.

  2. Amazing post. I have tears in my eyes right now. It galls me that anyone could think that Anderson (or any author) would write about this subject matter to titillate.

  3. Fabulous post. It's great to see so many people speaking out on the subject. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and for linking your post on my blog!

  4. Amazing post. Thank you for speaking up on this subject and sharing your thoughts. It's awesome to see the amount of people who are doing the same.



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