This disturbs me. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by people passing judgment on something they haven’t read for themselves and instead, taking the word of someone they don’t even know. Because it fits neatly with their worldview? This is the part I really don’t understand.
In short, the Hillsborough County School Board is considering removing/restricting Sarah Dessen’s book Just Listen from its shelves because of a passage that describes a sexual assault. The objection is the passage is graphic/repulsive.
I read this book a few months back. Sarah Dessen writes incredible YA fiction. I want to be Sarah Dessen when I grow up. The passage in question comes late in the novel. Everything builds to that point. It’s a flashback, and we’ve seen the damage that incident has done to the main character Annabel.
The passage is stark, and honest, graphic but not gratuitous. There’s nothing voyeuristic about it, nothing glamorized about it, nothing excused. It’s meant to be an uncomfortable scene. Take it away or gloss over it, and the story loses all credibility. Annabel needs to confront what happened to her. It’s part of the story and character arc.
Diana Peterfreund (who went to high school in Hillsborough) has a terrific post about this book and sexual assault/date rape statistics as they apply to teens.
I want to cover a few other aspects of the book that go beyond this admittedly important issue.
Spoiler Alert–if you want to read this book and don’t want know how Annabel resolves some of her issues, this cut is for you.
A big part of the story deals with lies of commission versus lies of omission, and how both are equally damning. For a good part of the story, Annabel knows her own private world is in shambles, but believes if she holds it in, everyone else she cares for will be okay.
Except–someone she knows is assaulted by the same boy. It becomes clear that this boy has a long history of rape/attempted rape. She realizes that by not speaking out, the chain of events continues.
Isn’t this a lesson we want young people to learn? That it’s important to speak out about things that are wrong in this world? Sarah Dessen has a wonderful way of wrapping up these life lessons into a story so they come across as neither preachy nor moralistic.
And from the thanks for the irony department, one of the ways Annabel grows and changes in the story is she … you won’t believe this … finds the courage to talk to her parents about what happened. Her parents are portrayed as neither sinners nor saints in the story, but two people trying to raise three daughters and deal with other issues at hand (sub plots I’m not going into at this point).
So. People–parents–want to remove a book that portrays talking to one’s parents in a positive light. We wouldn’t want teens to talk to their parents. That would be awful. *sarcasm mode off
It’s painfully–embarrassingly–clear that people condemning this book haven’t read it.
And that is the most repulsive thing of all.