You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review Lookback: Montana 1948

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

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YCRT! News

Wisconsin man banned from libraries. All libraries, that is. On the earth. “Carter was out in the open, not trying to conceal his act.” I wish I could report that his act involved a banned book, but alas, it did not.

The Committee of Enquiry on Evil Literature considers the case of the 13-year-old caught reading Game of Thrones in study hall.

Community college student newspaper puts out a sex issue, with predictable results.

Do Facebook censorship policies rub you the wrong way? Anonymous is planning a protest on April 6th. Hey, that’s today! I was on earlier this morning and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

Chicago Public Schools denies it banned the graphic novel Persopolis, saying it “only removed copies from the classrooms.” Isn’t that what they said in Tucson last year, when they yanked all the Mexican-American Studies textbooks? Look, school administrators, if you remove the book, you’ve banned it. Doesn’t matter if the kids can get copies from Amazon or elsewhere … you meant to keep them from reading the book in the first place, and that’s banning.

Before reading my review of Montana 1948, a book that has been challenged by parents and actually removed from some schools, you might want to read this article from the San Jose Mercury News. It highlights Persopolis but applies equally to Montana 1948 and other YA novels addressing subjects parents don’t want their kids thinking about.

By the way, I can’t adequately review books without saying something about the stories they tell. If you’re the kind of “reader” who’ll give up on a book the minute someone tells you anything about it, consider yourself warned. But keep those SPOILER! comments coming, okay?

YCRT! Banned Book Review

montana 1948Montana 1948
Larry Watson


This is a short novel about growing up in northeastern Montana. I’m not sure it’s technically classified “young adult” (like To Kill a Mockingbird, which it somewhat resembles, it can be read by all ages from the early teens up), but it’s often assigned to high school students. Parents have challenged Montana 1948, attempting to have it banned from school libraries and reading lists, claiming it is too adult for young readers. By “adult” they mean there’s sex in it, which is certainly true: sex is at the heart of the family scandal the narrator describes.

The narrator, an older man recalling events that happened when he was 12, tells us about growing up in a small town where his father is sheriff, his uncle the town doctor, and his grandfather a prominent and powerful rancher. His family employs a live-in Indian housekeeper from the nearby reservation, Marie Little Soldier. Marie falls ill with pneumonia and the family wants to call in the doctor, the boy’s uncle. Marie is almost hysterical in her opposition to seeing the doctor, and when the mother insists on calling the doctor anyway Marie is forced to tell her that the uncle takes sexual liberties with female Indian patients, and that he’s been doing it for years. The boy’s father, as sheriff, is put into a situation where there are no good answers, no easy choices.

The story, of course, is about what happens next, but the core of the story is the rapid growing up a 12-year-old boy has to do in a situation like that. Before the crisis, he worshiped his uncle. He has doubts that his father will be strong enough to face up to the popular (with the white people of the town, that is) uncle and his fearsome, politically-connected grandfather. He sees the strain the situation puts on his parents’ marriage. He witnesses some shocking confrontations between various actors in the story. And he does grow up.

Well, you ask, what’s the problem with that? Sounds like a great story, and very much like To Kill a Mockingbird. And as far a sex scandals go, this one’s nothing to the one Scout’s father, the unforgettable Atticus Finch, has to deal with (of course people still challenge and try to ban To Kill a Mockingbird too). There are many parents … and unfortunately some school district superintendents and even librarians … who don’t think 15- and 16-year-old kids are ready to deal with adult situations, especially ones where sex is involved.

So how’s the book? Very, very good. It’s simply and directly told, and there’s more than enough detail to tell you the author knows what he’s talking about when he describes rural Montana life: the twitchy relationships between whites and native Americans, small-town politics, and the pleasures and hardships of life in that hard land. I was very impressed, and I don’t compare Montana 1948 with To Kill a Mockingbird lightly … Larry Watson’s novel earns the comparison.

© 2013 – 2022, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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