You Can’t Read That!

32740918_2135111856772840_4688908619876401152_nYou Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

YCRT! News

Another in a long line of dead white male writers whose work would make today’s college students squirm (if anyone still read him): “And where science has not reached, men stared and feared, telling one another of the wars and pestilences that are foreshadowed by these fiery signs in the Heavens. Sturdy Boers, dusky Hottentots, Gold Coast Negroes, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, stood in the warmth of the sunrise watching the setting of this strange new star.” —H.G. Wells, “The Star” (1897)

Is anyone worried Facebook will cave to right-wing media pressure, as they did two years ago when they quit curating their news feed and allowed the MAGAs to fill it with propaganda? I am. Of particular concern: conservative members of Congress are beginning to pile on.

Federal prisons have abruptly canceled a policy that made it harder and costlier for inmates to get books.

A bill working its way through the California legislature would ban the advertising of anti-gay therapy. The religious right claims it’s an attempt to ban the Bible.

I don’t suppose it’ll come as a surprise that student newspapers at Christian colleges are heavily censored. Some student journalists are beginning to fight back.

A senior editor, along with two colleagues, resigned after his employer, the Denver Post, spiked his editorial about censorship at that newspaper.

I think this long and convoluted American Library Association position paper against librarians “purposefully omitting certain books and content from library collections due to personal bias opposed to professional judgment” is mostly about pulling books by authors at the center of #MeToo sexual harassment and abuse complaints. Is this actually a thing? Apparently it is.

“I feel like someone is pushing an agenda on these little kids … I love Battle of the Books; I’m a huge advocate. That’s why when ‘George’ came on the list I was like, ‘Why? Why did they do this?’” In Oregon, school districts are pulling out of a statewide school reading challenge because one of the books on the list is about a transgender child.

From a NYT essay titled Why “Fahrenheit 451” Is the Book for Our Social Media Age: “As the virtual world becomes more dominant, owning books becomes an act of rebellion. When a printed book is in your possession, no one can track, alter or hack it. The characters in my film have never seen a book. When they first encounter a library, the books are like water in a vast digital desert. Seeing, touching and smelling a book is as alien to the firemen as milking a cow by hand would be for most of us. The firemen are transfixed by the books — but they still have to burn them.”

Lori, a fan of YCRT! on Daily Kos, writes to ask a favor: would I mention her dKos Readers & Book Lovers group book club, and its upcoming read “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco? I would.

A young adult book titled “The Hate U Give” has been the target of recent challenges and bans, and has featured in several recent YCRT! columns. I decided I’d better read and review it:

YCRT! Banned Book Review

hate u giveThe Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
3_5

First of all, what’s “The Hate U Give” about? Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Now for my review.

I’m not going to try to say anything profound about the racism that permeates our society. Angie Thomas does a fine job laying it out. Nor will I say much about the plot, since it’s well covered by the blurb.

This is a book young people need to read—young people of all races and economic status. I tend to assume young people are as up on current events and history as I am, and that’s a mistake. How many young people followed the story of Trayvon Martin, or the protests in Ferguson after the police killing of Michael Brown? How many young people have ever heard of Emmett Till? How many middle class white kids really understand there is a separate justice system for people of color?

“The Hate U Give” brings it home in a relatable way, because teenaged students are the primary characters of the novel, and they’re the ones who tell it, through the voice of 16-year-old Starr Carter.

Why am I, an admitted elder, reading YA? Because this YA novel has been challenged and banned, and I think we’re only seeing the beginning of organized attempts to keep young people from reading it. The first ban went down in early 2017 at a high school in Katy, Texas, where an administrator pulled the book after parental complaints (it was later put back on the shelves, but students now need their parents’ permission to check it out). The book was pulled again at a middle school in Springfield, Missouri, early this year, and as far as I know has not been returned to the shelves.

In keeping with the long-established pattern of attempts to keep social issue YA literature out of classrooms and school libraries, opponents of “The Hate U Give” cite sex, bad language, and use of racial epithets. As with other banned YA books I’ve studied, though, the real reason is uncomfortable subject matter, always. YA books with LGBT themes or characters, for example, are almost universally challenged and often banned. So are YA books that challenge authority, especially if those books have a racial theme.

You don’t have to look any farther than reader questions and reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to see the proof of that. Here are actual questions Goodreads users have asked about “The Hate U Give”:

  • Does this book teach something new or is it worth reading? I’m hoping it doesn’t capitalize on social/political/racial issues just for attention.
  • Is this a good book? I feel like many African Americans are more inclined to follow popular trends today than ever. Clearly this book came out when all the race polarization stuff is happening, and I just want to make sure this book has actual factual sense in it, or just another book capitalizing off current events.
  • Is this book something that inspires people to hate police officers? I have a police officer (someone who is a good person) in the family. I try and keep my middle school child away from the news that talks about all the awful things being done to police offers. I don’t want him reading something that is going to make him think his family member is awful just because of his profession.
  • Is this book essentially a fictional story advocating the Black Lives Matter narrative where police are the villians? Would you say this book is biased in favor of the BLM narrative?
  • Is this a good book? I feel like many African Americans are more inclined to follow popular trends today than ever. Clearly this book came out when all the race polarization stuff is happening, and I just want to make sure this book has actual factual sense in it, or just another book capitalizing off current events.

Their questions make it clear they have no intention of reading the book. Most people who have read it love it, but not all. Here are some selections from negative reviews on Goodreads:

  • BLM [Black Lives Matter] is still cancer and if this book shows your brain on BLM, you’re going to get arrested and be miserable for the rest of your life for thinking rioting and burning shit solves anything. If anything, this showed me even more how ridiculous BLM is ?. BLM has done more harm than good in terms of racial relations and police relations, and has even caused an increase in crime in places like Chicago because police patrol less for fear of being called racist if they arrest a black person.
  • A lot of people have been saying that they do not see the police hate in the book that I saw. And I do understand that. It was not a specific “scene” or sentence, I just felt that it was very one sided. Yes, her Uncle was an officer, but besides that there wasn’t really many positive things about police.
    Also, for a book against racism, it had a lot of racism in it.
  • The title ‘The Hate U Give’ is supposed to indicate the hatred that white people direct at blacks, but throughout the entire novel Starr and her friends are making hateful and racist comments against white people and specifically white cops.
  • Another thing that really bothered me was the obvious hate towards police. Officer Cruise was doing his job. Khalil didn’t follow directions and opened the car door, the police officer mistook a hairbrush for a gun, and he shot. It wouldn’t have happened if Khalil had listened to the police officer. Here’s a question for you: Did you know that this has happens to white people too? The book acts as if this only happens to black people. And when he doesn’t get indicted for doing his job, they have a riot in the street and start burning buildings and blowing up police cars. This is unacceptable.
  • Another thing: Jesus isn’t black. If you’re Christian, you’d know that he is from Jewish descent, and therefore he is not black. Historically, he may have been tan skinned, but not black.
  • I HATED the way that all of the white characters were portrayed. I HATED how criminals, YES I said criminals, were portrayed as victims.

It’s not bad language. It’s not sex. Complaints about the use of racial epithets come closer to the truth: discomfort with talking about race; opposition to change; anger over negative portrayals of white people; the authoritarian mindset that police are never wrong and the oppressed should mind their place and learn to get along.

These are the same reasons books like “Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” are challenged and banned.

The young are our only hope for change. That’s why the young need to read this book.

Finally, a few words about my rating. One feels obliged to give any social issue YA novel as high a rating as possible, but I can’t honestly put Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” on the same level of excellence as YA fiction like Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Ship Breaker” or M.T. Anderson’s “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation” series. From me, 3.5 stars is a very good rating. This, too: I’m an adult (actually a senior) reading a book targeted at middle and high school teens. If I were the target, I’d give it all the stars.

© 2018, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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