Title: Banned Books
Author: R J Astruc
Cover artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Amazon buy link: Buy Link Banned Books
Genre: Young adult
Length: Approximately 70 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guest review by Orion
Review summary: An intriguing and relevant coming of age story.
Blurb: At St. Peter’s, an exclusive British boarding school for boys, a teacher’s word is law—and Anthony Parker is leading a rebellion. When he is found reading a book containing “questionable content,” he receives a reprimand from the headmaster. Parker responds by secretly lending questionable materials to other students, aided by his best friend and long-time crush, Rafe.
The situation escalates when their draconic literature teacher discovers their subterfuge and compiles a banned books list. Parker and Rafe fall in with Peter Fritz, a broody outcast who’s turning the ban in his favor by buying and lending banned books to students—for a price. As the banned books library grows and hidden feelings threaten the boys’ burgeoning partnership, they discover that the challenges of growing up might outweigh the rewards of bucking the system.
Review: The idea of censorship riles me in ways few other things can. As thinking, supposedly rational beings, we struggle to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. We do this through our own private musings, and sometimes we open our thoughts to others in debates, movies, and the written word. To me, there is no subject that should be off limits. When it comes to children, we should approach certain ideas in an age-appropriate manner. But it is a grave disservice, to the child and to society as a whole, when we give the impression that some topics are too shameful or dirty for reading. One of the most censored subjects is homosexuality.
Of course, censorship rises out of fear, and that fear is both rational and irrational. On the one hand, there is the quite reasonable fear that allowing kids to read about homosexuality might help them to realize that gays are just people who deserve to live their lives freely like everyone else in the world. That would lead to tolerance, and homophobes want no such tolerance. On the other hand, homophobes fear that reading about homosexuality will tempt “normal” kids to switch over and start playing on the gay team.
When I read the blurb for R J Astruc’s Banned Books, it immediately caught my attention. Reading it proved to be just at pleasurable and thought-provoking as I thought it would be. The main character, Anthony Parker, is a student at a boarding school. He is shy, just a bit nerdy, and gay. Like any devoted bookworm, he escapes into the pages of a book whenever he gets the chance and one day, perhaps trying to get a better understanding of his own sexuality, he dives into a book about lesbians. Ms. Lowry, who is ironically the school’s literature teacher, becomes so disturbed at what Anthony is reading that she bans the book, along with several others, from the school. Anthony works together with his friends, Rafe and Fritz, to establish a secret library of the very books Ms. Lowry has banned.
I loved the way Anthony responded to the teacher’s censorship. The author does a great job in establishing his character. He is somewhat naïve and, on occasion, allows himself to be overly influenced by those around him, but he is comfortable with his sexuality and stands up for his beliefs. Through this story, the author delivers very solidly the message that we should not allow those who fear the open dissemination of ideas to control what we read.
There are other aspects to this story. Being teenagers, Anthony and his friends are struggling with raging hormones. It was refreshing to read a young adult novel that wasn’t rampant with kids having sex, shooting drugs and guzzling alcohol on every other page. I realize kids do such things, and I’m certainly not suggesting that these topics should not be explored. It’s just that, with many of the young adult books I’ve read lately, the sex and drug use was so dominant it felt as if I was being slapped in the face. This novella doesn’t do that. Anthony and his friends have their secret crushes, which play sweetly and realistically into the major events of the story.
As with some other novellas, it seemed to me that the author didn’t give herself enough room to really do justice to the ideas she raises here. The ending feels a bit incomplete. Still, Banned Books is well worth reading.