December 12, 2010

Twenty boy Summer - Sarah Ockler

I am against book banning on principle. This probably goes back to my last year of high school when my English teacher announced that The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood had been removed from the curriculum because some parents did not think it appropriate for 18-year-olds to be reading. So I did what any curious reader would do - tracked down a copy as soon as possible, read it, and loved it. I suspect that this was Mr. Shortall's intended effect.

So when I heard over at The Broke and the Bookish about the effort to ban Twenty Boy Summer from a school board down in Missouri, I decided that it would be this week's act of subversion to track down a copy and read it. I don't think that any book should be banned - I believe, as my grandmother told me, that children (and anyone) should be allowed to read as widely as possible, and that it is only through exposure to a wide variety of authors, and genres, and qualities of books that you learn to determine for yourself what is good writing and what is not. I do think that in the case of young children that parents should play a role, and be aware of what their children are reading, and possibly to guide their choices, but every book should be made available to every person.

Ahem... stepping off my soapbox now...

On to this book. It is not a book that I would have picked up on my own. It is in the rapidly-expanding "young adult" genre - basically chick-lit for the high school set. I thought that it dealt very well with the topic of grief. At the beginning of the book, the narrator Anna falls in love with Matt, the older brother of her best friend Frankie, however Matt dies a month later leaving behind his family to mourn him publicly and Anna to mourn him in secret. The book did a good job portraying the different ways that everyone handles their grief. Anna tries to keep everything bottled up inside; Frankie enters a deep depression and then comes out of it as the Rebel Child; Matt's mother tries to cover up the emptiness in her life by re-decorating the house every week or so; and Matt's father tries to compensate by spoiling and indulging Frankie.

There is a very insightful quote about mourning towards the beginning of the book. Anna, the 16-year-old narrator reflects, "When someone you love dies, people ask you how you're doing, but they don't really want to know. They seek affirmation that you're okay, that you appreciate their concern, that life goes on and so can they. Secretly they wonder when the statute of limitations on asking expires (it's three months, by the way. Written or unwritten, that's about all the time it takes for people to forget the one thing that you never will.)"

This aspect of the book is handled very well, with the characters moving through their grief and coming out on the other end with some sort of resolution.

As to why there was an attempt to ban the book, I suspect that it has to do with the plot line of Anna's (successful) attempt to lose her virginity. And possibly the title, which has to do with Anna and Frankie's project to meet twenty boys on their 3-week vacation in California. And possibly all of the lying to the parents, sneaking out at night, underage drinking, and partying that all goes undiscovered and without repercussion.

This book deals with all the angst and anxiety and uncertainty and self-discovery that goes along with being a teen girl. But when held up to my personal "gold standard" of books dealing with transitioning through adolescence towards adulthood (A House Like a Lotus, by Madeline L'Engle), it falls short. I think because the girls in this book don't really learn anything or grow up at all through their experiences.

So do I think that this book should be banned? Obviously not. Would I recommend it as a "must read" book to anyone? Possibly if I knew a young person dealing with a loss (don't I sound old here!) since that is the issue that this book handles well. Do I think that it is a book that every girl should read? No - and I don't think that it is going to be a classic that will endure through the years and be read fifty years from now. It was a good read, but not a great book. That is what my grandmother's encouragement to read widely had taught me.

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