Saturday, 25 September 2010
Can't You Hear Me? Then I'll Speak Louder! - Banned Books Week 2010
First, though, I want to talk about Speak the book. You may have heard of it. It's been all over Twitter (with its own #SpeakLoudly hashtag) and the internet this week. This is because one Wesley Scroggins, Associate Professor of Management at Missouri State University would like it to be banned from the Republic School District on the grounds that he thinks it is 'soft porn'. Let me quote some of what he says about it.
"This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time."
Now I have just finished Speak, and let me tell you that this man has a very different idea of what this book is about than I do. The particular (small) part of the book he is focussing on in the last part of the sentence is not even a major plot element, but a brief and ironic flash of thought from the teenage protagonist, Melinda. What the book is actually about is the effect of rape on one young girl. I will also quote what the author, Laurie Halse Anderson, said about Scroggins' interpretation, because I can't put it better than she does.
"To call rape "pornography" (as Scroggins did in his editorial) thus considering it as a sexually exciting act, is horrifying." Yep. Correct. Halse Anderson also says, "If you use Scroggins' technique of cherry-picking lines from books, you can falsely accuse any story of just about anything you want. That is a destructive and shameful practice." Once again, yep. Correct.
The poet Louis Macneice once said that "the writer today should be not so much the mouthpiece of a community...as its conscience, its critical faculty, its generous instinct." What Halse Anderson does in her book is brave, extraordinary, marvellous, sensitively handled and it fits right in with Macneice's criteria. She shines a light on something uncomfortable, yes. But the rape and abuse of schoolgirls by schoolboys is something which undeniably happens, and which, because of raw shame and paralysing fear, is almost never talked about in public by the victims and exposed to the sunlight. It is because of this book that I have taken a very deep breath and decided to go public with my own story. As a writer and someone who is lucky enough to have a voice and words to use as tools, I have written over 25 books for children. My YA novel has as one of its themes bullying--a thing which I abhor. I use fiction to make my points mostly (although I have written several times on this blog about my fight with depression--another uncomfortable subject for many people). What you are about to read is not fiction, and it has taken me over 40 years to let it out from the drawer in my head where it was locked up tight.
It was a hot August afternoon and I was about 8 years old. I was flattered that the two older boys wanted to play Doctors with me. They usually took no notice of me (and I wish that they had gone on doing so). They laid me on a straw bale in the shed and took off my knickers and top. I can still feel the prickliness of the straw on my back, and see the algae-stained transparent corrugated plastic roof with the jagged bit broken off the left-hand corner. The sun shone and shone, and I could hear the voices of the strawberry pickers in the distance. The boys examined me thoroughly in their doctor roles. It hurt a bit, but I was suddenly too scared to say anything. They were a lot bigger than me. Then they went outside to discuss the 'diagnosis'. I can remember exactly what they said, and I shan't repeat it here. In effect, they were arguing about whether to go 'all the way'. One wanted to, one was less sure. I should say here that at that age, I had no idea about the 'facts of life'. It was the '60's. You weren't told things like that at 8, then. The one who was less sure won, thank God (who had taken her eye off me for a moment). But I was told by both boys that if I ever said anything about what they had done, then they would tell everyone that I was 'a dirty little slut'. I didn't know what that was, but it sounded bad, and I felt ashamed and filthy. I didn't tell. I never have. Till now.
Banning books like Halse Anderson's is wrong-headed, ignorant madness. She herself says that it has helped many victims of rape and abuse to come forward and begin the process of healing. So please join me, Speak Loudly and spread the word further about this fine and splendid novel. And if my own story helps just one person who has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of another child, it will have been worth telling.
More about Banned Books Week and Speak HERE and HERE