In Honor of This Year’s Banned Books Week…Speaking Loudly for Speak

Cover of "Speak"

Cover of Speak


I’m not here to decry Censorship, even though I am vehemently against it.  It’s such a huge and multi-faceted debate, and even now, my mind is too unsettled (and maybe too inferior) to put into words all the random thoughts that are pinging around in there involving the big and abstract concept of Censorship.

So, instead of talking about Censorship, or even about the much-celebrated “Banned Books Week,” I will just react to the Twitter and Blogging buzz that surrounded Laurie Halse Anderson’s book, Speak this past week.  Basically, Dr. Wesley Scroggins wrote to the School Board of Republic, MO (and also an opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO), equating two (delicately handled) rape scenes to soft-core pornography; for these scenes, and for the irreverent tone of the novel (I don’t think he understands irony or wit), he believes the book ought to be banned from being taught in schools.

Of course, there’s a lot to respond to, especially since Dr. Scroggins says a lot of provocative statements.  But, I don’t want to talk about Him, and His Illogical Conclusions. Nor, do I want to talk about Parental Supervision and Parents’ Rights in Raising Their Child.  These are Important Issues, sure, but are quite frankly, superficial.

The issues of Censorship and Parental Rights and even School Board Responsibilities are so BIG, that they detract (and distract) people about the worth and beauty found in the singularity and uniqueness of a specific book, like Speak.  I believe that the best way to handle Censorship is to take abstract and general words (Sex or Disrespectful Behavior or Uncomfortableness) away from a Group of Books, and instead take the time to handle each book individually.

There are other important books that were banned from school, or threatened with banning, too, and should have their moment in the spotlight (I was saddened to hear that Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian was banned from several school districts this year).  I chose to champion Speak, because of the heart-breaking feedback, discussions, whispered statements that I have read/heard resulting from this one specific book.


…saved my life.

…helped me say the word “rape.”

…gave words to my anguish.

…helped me feel that I am not alone.

All these beautiful words…and that’s only a casual glance at readers’ remarks.  A tenth anniversary poem which is basically a compilation from letters to Anderson can be found here.

We read to know that we are not alone. (CS Lewis)

I read a passing tweet that said, “keeping Speak in schools won’t stop rape from happening.”  Of course that’s true.  But again, not the point.

Speak is for the rape survivors.  Speak gives the survivors words for their pain.  Speak gives the survivor’s loved ones words of comfort to share.  Speak provides a community for a survivor who might otherwise feel ostracized.

Speak makes specific and personal that which can easily become General, Vague, and Meaningless.

Final Words

Please never forget that this world is so large, and we can oftentimes feel so distant and disconnected, even among our own peers.  But, This Book…This Specific Book, Speak, can help bridge that distance, and I am so proud to know and be a part of a (writing) community that would support something as beautiful as Speak.


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