Friday, September 30, 2016

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Montana native Emily M. Danforth's Miseducation of Cameron Post was a YA blockbuster after its release in 2012, and was a critical hit as well. The book won both the High Plains Book Award and the Montana Book Award. It was a finalist for the Morris Award for a YA debut novel. It was named to best book of the year lists by Amazon, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.

Cameron Post is a young girl living in Miles City, Montana. Her parents have been killed in a car wreck, just as she is dealing with confusion and guilt because she just kissed her best friend. Like any adolescent with a secret, her greatest fear is that somehow, somebody will know. And maybe this caused the wreck. At least her parents will never know. Now Cameron is under the guardianship of her grandmother and her very strong-willed aunt. Her Aunt Ruth was always a religious woman, but is becoming increasingly rigid with the teachings of her new church. When she inevitably discovers Cameron's secret, the girl is sent off to a special ultraconservative religious camp, one that will show her the error of her ways.

Cameron's story is one of coming of age. She may like girls, but ultimately her story is similar to any teen's. She is desperate for acceptance and love from her family and her community, and needs to find a way to discover the woman she is going to be.

The book was most prominently banned by a school district in Delaware, citing objections to profanity in the book and removing it from a summer reading list for high school students. When protesters noted that many of the other books on the list also contained profanity and had raised no objections, the board indicated that the book would be reinstated to the list, but instead it chose to eliminate the list altogether.

This is a wonderfully well-written book, and though a hefty one, it's a quick read.  Danforth shows sympathy for the points of view of all the characters, without denying them their worldviews. I recommend this book for anyone who has longed for acceptance.  -DeeAnn

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel written by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, it is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.  The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other rings of power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-Earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-Earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, not only the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, but also the hobbits' chief allies and traveling companions: Aragorn, a Ranger of the North; Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; along with Gimli, a Dwarven warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard. (Summary modified from

My review: I adore this trilogy.  All three books, Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, are fabulous, both both really great reads and impressive recountings of fables. I tend to fall into the trilogy on a regular basis – I can’t start reading one without going back to the beginning and reading the whole thing over again, including the appendices at the end of Return of the King that give a lot of the backstory and additional details about the time of the quest itself.     Tolkien’s characters come alive from the first page, setting the stage with the great birthday party (I always wanted a birthday party like Bilbo’s, only I don’t have that many relatives, and I really don’t want any relatives like the Sackville-Bagginses!), to the last page, when Sam comes home to settle down contentedly with his wife and children. Everything needed for a good story is here someplace – engaging characters, evil to be overcome, hardships, parties, a cool horse, truly nasty bad guys, kings lost and found, princesses, elves, catharsis, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

These are such good stories...I keep gushing without saying anything about the plot, but who doesn’t know the plot already? Tolkien basically invented epic high fantasy, with LOTR and The Hobbit being the archetypes of the genre.  Frodo and his companions are on a classic quest, and it’s this trilogy that MADE this sort of quest a classic in the first place.  No one who reads modern fantasy can escape Tolkien’s influence, whether they know it or not.  Someone wanted LOTR banned because it was satanic – all I can think is that they didn’t really read the books, because that’s just nuts.  -Lynne

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison. (Taken from 

Exploring themes of humanity, love, and despair in raw images and language that will stay with the reader long after the final page, Beloved is a nightmarish ride through the depravities of slavery. A stirring work of art that remains prescient today as our Nation struggles with race relations, cultural identity, and forgiveness. In a way, Beloved could easily be given the moniker: Greatest American Horror Novel for its perfect exemplification of one of the most profoundly devastating periods of American history. –Gavin 

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Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles was my accidental introduction into literature when I was 14.  Cruising through my school's spinner rack of paperbacks, it caught my eye and my love of literary tragedies was born.  Little did I realize that this book had been and would again become banned from both England and the United States.  The year I discovered it was 1970, and I'm pretty sure Tess was in many high schools through out the States at that time.   The incredible story of this English girl's life still remains on my list of top-ten favorite books forty-five years later.  I owned six copies, but felt I should share, so gave two away this year.

This is a story of a girl who is a pawn of every man she meets, from her father to men of great wealth and distinction.  In the 1890's, when Hardy was working on the novel, women were often used as maids, slaves, and objects of lust, passed on if any form of indiscretion was made known to neighbors.  Tess is seen as a seductress and murderess when she was actually raped and thrown out as so much dirty water.

I encourage everyone to read this book and learn more about another amazing banned book.  -Karen

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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale has been one of my favorite novels since my high school librarian first recommended it to me.  Often mis-categorized as science fiction (it's actually speculative fiction), this first-person narration takes place in a future where many women have become infertile and breeding programs are in place to ensure that certain privileged people will have offspring.  It is, as the title suggests, narrated first-person from the viewpoint of a Handmaid, a woman chosen for breeding due to her fertility.

I knew this book had been frequently banned and challenged over the years, but I actually had to look up the reasons why.  According to 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature (I'm paraphrasing here) a minister in 1990 wanted it banned from a 12th grade English class because boys wouldn't be able to relate to a female narrator.  And it involved sex.  In 1992 some parents challenged it as optional reading material for another 12th grade English class because of profanity, the use of sex, and "themes of despair".  The entries continue for several years, mostly listing instances of the book being challenged for reasons of sexual content and language.

Hmm.  Interesting.  Now I believe that 12th grade boys have a difficult time relating to female characters, all the more reason for them to read a novel about one, because (the men in my family will agree with me here) they're going to have problems relating to females for the rest of their lives.  As to all the other issues, I'm not even going to sink to the debacle of a debate – instead I challenge you to stop by the library banned book display and pick out a banned book that looks interesting.  Think about it.  What's your reaction?  Tell your mom or your friend or your dog how it made you feel.  Enjoy that you have the freedom to read whatever you want, whenever you want, and when you're done reading that book you can lawfully, gleefully, and freely run through the streets (or get on Facebook) and share with the world how you felt and thought about that awesome book.  Because we live in America, man.  And we don't let other people dictate to us what we're allowed to read or not read, think or not think, because if we do that, then we're creating the very world depicted in The Handmaid's Tale.

Now I'm going to go home, re-read my copy, get my mom to watch the Sci-Fi channel movie version with me, and then I'm going to tell my friends on Facebook what a compelling story it is – and how glad I am that I don't share the Handmaid's world.  -Jennifer W.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

To celebrate Banned Books Week, I read Bechdel’s graphic novel memorializing her dad. This very literary autobiography in pictures was banned… why? If we focus on reasons to be negative, we lose the chance to experience the wonder and joy that come from honest insights.

Like Art Spiegelman, author of the great graphic novel Maus, Bechdel shows how she dealt with a shame-filled parent, who suffered rather than be fully honest with himself or his family. For his lifetime, her dad subverted his attraction to men; partly in response, she championed her own gay sexuality. And although they were brainy people, they could not talk as they needed to.

Her fascination with psychoanalytic insights shines through here.  Bechdel attempts to illustrate how every family’s secrets poison generations when they are not articulated.  Almost every lovingly drawn image holds symbol, archetype, or intelligence to confront her family’s denial of uncomfortable facts.

Not a children's book, but certainly not to be kept from older children. Sharing information makes us free, even when it’s grim stuff. Often, the insights of confronting our unique reality are worth our transgressing the self-protection we call being proper. As a genre, graphic novels often toe past some line of acceptability, maybe because generations ago, they were just comic books. The book was likely challenged for one pageful of line drawings of sex.  I have no patience for fiction that uses violence or stunning misbehavior for readers' catharsis. But this writing and art illuminates the barely-functional relationships of families, and the joy that comes from respectful truth-telling.  -Jon

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Wikipedia summary:  The Call of the Wild is a short adventure novel by Jack London published in 1903 and set in Yukon, Canada during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The central character of the novel is a dog named Buck. The story opens at a ranch in Santa Clara Valley, California, when Buck is stolen from his home and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska. He becomes progressively feral in the harsh environment, where he is forced to fight to survive and dominate other dogs. By the end, he sheds the veneer of civilization, and relies on primordial instinct and learned experience to emerge as a leader in the wild.

My review:  I liked Buck quite a lot.  He’s a survivor, and a hero.  The book is told from his viewpoint, and London is very good at anthropomorphizing – you can actually believe these are the thoughts and actions of a real dog in a series of bad spots. I was glad when Buck finally escaped from humankind altogether and became a leader amongst his peers, the wild wolves.  He is way better off going his own way in the wilderness than when subjected to the hands of men.

London also captures the feel of a gold rush boom town with great clarity, and conveys it to his readers.  This was contemporary fiction when he wrote it, and he actually spent time in Dawson in 1903 to get “local color” for his writings.  There’s also a lot of interesting background details about sled dogs, gold rushes, and wilderness living and travel in the early 1900s.  If this book is any indication, however, London did not have a very high opinion of his fellow man, with a few exceptions.

That said, I have no idea why anyone would want to ban this book – it’s a great adventure story, and deserves its status as a classic of literature. -Lynne

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