Cephalopod Coffeehouse Sept 2016–Banned books galore!!

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

stand-up_facebook2This week marks the annual BANNED BOOKS WEEK “celebration” highlighting books that are the most challenged within the ALA, American Librarian’s Association. As many may remember, I’ve been on a mission to read banned books in 2016. I think I’ve done rather well! I cried reading PERSEPOLIS. I smiled reading AND TANGO MAKES THREE with my sons. I’ve looked at the 2015 Top Ten banned books and saw John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA (read this years ago, before I got into Goodreads or blogging!) is in the top spot again, followed by EL James’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (read the book, own the movie), and David Levithan’s TWO BOYS KISSING rounded off the list. Food for the thought, the Bible is on the list again this year…

part-time-indianAnyhoo, I decided to pick up THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, which was the top of the 2014 banned list-and required reading for my son in 2011, I’ll add. I read half the book with him, and liked it. He still remarks that it’s the only English book he finished in high school. (Jane Eyre, he claims, broke his soul, but I digress…)

Sherman Alexie’s unflinching story of Junior, a dirt-poor Spokane native teen growing up on the rez is really a fantastic look into a world most Americans forget exists. It discusses poverty, and opportunity, and hope, and despair. Showcases parents who try hard, but still fail. Highlights the stark differences between kids who dwell in a world with no expectations–versus those who have a lot going for them, and dreams that might actually come true. It’s practically a treatise on institutional racism, and how it keeps some classes of people down…forever.

Are there problems? Yes. Junior’s attended forty-two funerals in his fourteen years. His parents are alcoholics. Close friends and family die for insensible reasons, usually related to alcohol abuse. White people think he’s trash. That’s a reality of life on the rez. It’s as inescapable as his dark skin and black hair. But. Junior seeks a way out–leaving the rez to go to the nearby white high school, and he’s labeled a traitor as a result.

Honestly, this was an eye-opener. I hate using the term “Indian” for Native Americans/First Nations persons, but it’s how Junior sees/calls himself. He stands up for himself when he can, and recognizes that the white world of his white school is a very different place. There, kids have so much more, and they don’t fight, and some of them really will make something of themselves. It’s almost a foreign country compared with his rez-life 22 miles away. And yet, this community also lacks closeness and camaraderie. Junior, walking between his two worlds, remarks that he’s Half-Indian in the white world and half-white on the rez–despite being a full-blood Spokane. These subtle cultural distinctions underlie the deep prejudices in his life. He’s brave, though, and succeeds in building friendships in both places.

Why is this book on the banned list? Cited reasons include: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.” Well, I that “sex education/sexually explicit” complaint is pretty weak, considering Junior makes a couple references to masturbation. And anti-family? Junior loves his family, despite their dysfunction. I saw fantastic bonding moments, in all their tragedy. Regarding cultural insensitivity: There are some gay slurs, and I’m not super thrilled about that–though there are other moments when Junior talks honestly about homosexuality in the Native community. Also, it was others calling Junior “gay” as a slur, and he rolled with it; bigots were always painted as such. There’s violence, and bullying, none of which seemed extreme. Junior was a target, and he endured some rotten moments, sure. Offensive language falls out of my 14 y/o son’s mouth on the regular–if you hang around boys you’re not gonna be shocked by the few F-bombs on the page.

Ultimately, this book opens a window on contemporary life in Native reservations, and the view isn’t good. I think it’s honest, and troubling, and it makes me want better for all these folks. My great-grandfather escaped reservation life in the 20s. He lived to be 36, dying after several bouts of pneumonia and leaving behind his widow and my grandmother–aged 8 at the time–at the outset of the Great Depression. The stories I’ve heard from family painted a bleak picture, but Junior’s world is even more despairing. Though his experience isn’t the same as that on all reservations, because his sister finds another rez that’s better off. That said, the whole book is an emotional rollercoaster that I rode for the span of a day. The story is completely accessible, with evocative language and fearless art, and I’m glad it was required reading for my eldest. I expect my other boys to pick it up in their turn, and have a copy on my shelf awaiting them.

Interested? You can find THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and libraries everywhere. It’s a National Book Award winner, a best-seller, and a banned book.

I hope you’ll tell me if you’ve read a banned bookrecently–or if you’re inspired to do so, now! Be sure to check out the best books from my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers below. Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Off the Banned Book List: PERSEPOLIS–A Review

Hi there! As part of my Reading Resolutions for 2016, I made a vow to read books that continue to make the ALA Banned Book List. I’ve picked up a couple already, and had a chance to complete the graphic biography (which is a biography that is illustrated like a comic, or graphic novel) PERSEPOLIS: Story of a Childhood from Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1-2)About the book:
A New York Times Notable Book
A Time Magazine “Best Comix of the Year”
A San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Best-seller

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

My Review:

I”m going to start this review with the end. I read the last page, closed the book, and burst into tears. There’s a reason I don’t read non-fiction or biography very often, and that’s because I read as an escape from the usual and difficult bits of life that often catch me raw. PERSEPOLIS is a biography, told in graphic “novel” format, illustrating roughly 6 years in the life of an Iranian girl from 1978-1984. This was a time of incredible upheaval in the populace and government of Iran, and marked by revolution, war and religious strife.

As it’s a biography, it tells Marjane’s particular story, growing up with socially active and successful parents, who had some direct ancestry to the shah who’d been deposed in the 1950s. Also, her grandfather served high in the government, before being exiled.

Marjane’s perspective is of a forthright and questioning child who doesn’t understand why her school is now for girls only. Why she must, suddenly due to the Islamic revolution, now wear a veil. Why she cannot possess Western clothing. Why her parents protest their government, and she cannot. Marjane is an only child, and she’s a bit precocious, but she’s also just plain curious and mystified about her world. She wants it to makes sense, and latches on to “heroes” of her environment, like her uncle who survived years as a political prisoner.

Thing is, is seems life didn’t make much sense for the adults in the period, as Satrapi continually relates. Her parents and their neighbors are often performing a public display of allegiance, and privately live as they would choose–even taping their curtains closed so spying eyes cannot bear witness to parties and card playing and alcohol consumption. Revolutionaries believed they would install a democratic government and instead they got a theologic-based government of religious leaders. The hypocrisy of which was made quite clear, when all that was required was for disgruntled men to grow a beard and claim power, in the eyes of Marjane’s grandmother.

I believe some of the most poignant passages illustrated Marjane and her peers talking about the revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and the human tollof all this upheaval. Young, primarily poor, boys being recruited to serve as cannon fodder–in exchange for the “key” to Heaven. The ban on travel for boys aged 13 and over so they could be assured of having soldiers in a war that could have ended, except it served the government’s purpose. The danger of having an outspoken girl in a repressive society. Marjane watches as more and more of her friends disappear, and experiences the terror of becoming a target of the morality police.

I do not know much of the internal politics of this region, and found the brief and tidy snippets of history from young Marjane to be relevant, if not entirely explanatory. Without question, the book is a fantastic look into a world, and history, that should be more widely known. Further, it’s unflinching in its presentation, and accessible to a wide range of readers because of the perspective and voice.

Regarding the “banned” label, the reasons cited for banning the book are as follows: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”.

I’ll be honest, none of those parts of the book bothered me. If American citizens are outraged that a foreign-born person is citing use of CIA-trained torture tactics, including whipping, mutilation, urinating on a prisoner, burning alive, and dismemberment, they ought to complain to the government for allowing such practices to become part of their “arsenal,” not the school for having the book on the shelf.

This book was on the reading list of my son in seventh grade. I live in a town that is ethnically and racially mixed, with a high percentage of college-educated residents, and some of the highest-graded schools in my state. It’s “liberal” and I’m proud to be a part of that vibrant community. Having read Persepolis for myself, I’m glad my son read it. I hope that it sparks the same skepticism that Marjane and her parents demonstrated regarding his own government. I think it’s an important book to read, especially now as we see more and more problems within the Middle East region. It humanizes the many thousands of people that live under a regime they perhaps do not agree with, and against which they resist in whatever manner is possible for them. I think it applies farther than Iran’s borders, in many respects.

For myself, living in the nation with the largest free-standing military int he world, I can only voice my pacifism through demonstration and political will. I’m proud to have that right, and will exercise it, even as my fellows shout out my voice for cries to war. Thanks Marjane, for sharing your struggle. It’s a chilling story, and should be distributed far and wide, IMHO.

Interested? You can find PERSEPOLIS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local library system…perhaps. Remember this is a “banned” book, so you may have to request it. I find it interesting that the cover was censored in my library, and have it in my mind to ask why upon returning the book.

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi (Persian: مرجان ساتراپی) is an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist, illustrator, animated film director, and children’s book author. Apart from her native tongue Persian, she speaks English, Swedish, German, French and Italian.

Satrapi grew up in Tehran in a family which was involved with communist and socialist movements in Iran prior to the Iranian Revolution. She attended the Lycée Français there and witnessed, as a child, the growing suppression of civil liberties and the everyday-life consequences of Iranian politics, including the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ruhollah Khomeini, and the first years of the Iran-Iraq War. She experienced an Iraqi air raid and Scud missile attacks on Tehran. According to Persepolis, one Scud hit the house next to hers, killing her friend and entire family.

Satrapi’s family are of distant Iranian Azeri ancestry and are descendants of Nasser al-Din Shah, Shah of Persia from 1848 until 1896. Satrapi said that “But you have to know the kings of the Qajar dynasty, they had hundreds of wives. They made thousands of kids. If you multiply these kids by generation you have, I don’t know, 10-15,000 princes [and princesses]. There’s nothing extremely special about that.” She added that due to this detail, most Iranian families would be, in the words of Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, “blue blooded.”

She currently lives in France.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Controversial YA in FIRSTS–A Review

Hi there! It’s 2016 and as a resolution, I’m on a quest to read books that have been challenged or banned. Despite all the reading I do, it’s not the easiest for me, as I generally read books that are newly published, or soon to be published. Books that make the Banned or Challenged list with the American Librarian’s Association are generally books that have been out in circulation for a while. So there will be some throw-back books, for sure, but I’m also going to highlight books that are controversial enough that I think they might one day make the list.

Today, I’m sharing a review for FIRSTS by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is a contemporary YA novel with romantic elements. I think you’ll understand why the book has what I call a ‘trainwreck’ plot–in that we can all see the horrific turns and expect a figurative blood bath for the protagonist. The story/content are explicit enough that I would be shocked if there are no objections to this book in the offing. (Not that I condone censorship!!! Just sayin’!)

FirstsAbout the book:
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

My Review:
FIRSTS features a supremely unlikeable MC, Mercedes, a high school senior who is spending her un-chaperoned nights sexually-educating the clueless virgins of her high school.

Yep. Guys nervous about your first time with your girlfriend? Call Mercedes. On the super-down-low, though, as you wouldn’t want your actual girlfriend to find out you had a one-nighter with another girl.

Okay–so THIS BOOK has a trainwreck plot. Mercedes is a smart girl, awaiting her MIT acceptance, with a wealthy father she hasn’t seen in three years and a Cali socialite mother whose longest relationship has been with her plastic surgeon. Kim, as Mercedes calls her mom, is despicably clueless and emotionally abusive. Mercedes has been wholly shamed into strict diets and couture life, with little to no parental affection. I know, I know…poor little rich girl. Still, the absence of parenting leaves Mercedes vulnerable to predation when she’s young–and her own first time was little more than acquaintance rape by a manipulative older boy when she was thirteen.

And, Mercedes doesn’t want the fumbling firsts for other girls. She’s sure her “good deeds” will be of benefit, but she’s rapidly sucked into some rotten scenarios under the misapprehension of control. Mercedes thinks basically anonymous sex will protect her from the hurt/pain of connection with another human. Also, she thinks setting the mood and being in her own sanctuary–her boudoir–will provide control to a situation that is fraught with intimate danger. All of these fallacies become plain to Mercedes as the story goes on. (As the train builds steam going around that blind curve…)

Boys talk. They do. They find a way to use her “service” to their own end, and Mercedes falls into a shame spiral. That’s nothing compared to the shock and EEW of finding herself on the bad end of a one-sided fascination from her best-friend Angela’s virgin boyfriend, Charlie.

Mercedes has few friends. She admits to being bad with people. Really bad. She has excluded herself from the regular company of god-bothering Angela, because Angela’s all about “saving herself” and Mercedes has (essentially) been “ruined” since 8th grade. And, the virgin thing started at the beginning of senior year–so their friendship has become more strained. As more and more boys fill up Mercedes’ log book, Mercedes finds herself more estranged, and seeking further validation. She sets up a regular sex date with her lab partner, Zach, who is a remarkably open-minded guy.

Zach is a great guy, really, and only wants to date Mercedes. He loves her, and is thwarted from telling her, well, by Mercedes who doesn’t want that closeness. New girl Faye also turns Mercedes’ head. There’s an open flirtation there, and it looks like Faye and Mercedes might hit it off, but Charlie’s lurking in the background and doing really REALLY nasty (and illegal) things to ensure his place in Mercedes’ bed–all without Angela finding out.

Expect there to be video fall out. Expect there to be slut-shaming and fighting and angry girlfriends and electronic humiliation and public airing of a pseudo-sex tape. All while NOT ONE ADULT is the wiser. (That sound you heard? That was a a big huh? from me.)

What I liked about this book:
1. The “Life Goes On” message. Mercedes is called to account and harassed, assaulted and nearly raped a second time. Her closest friends stick by her side. They go above and beyond the pale to help cast Mercedes’ deeds into Yesterday’s News.
2. Mercedes learns that her value exists in herself, and that friendship is a valuable endeavor. Mercedes doesn’t believe herself worthy of love or affection–and finds it hard to accept those overtures, from anyone. At first.
3. There are no easy resolutions in life. When you upset people, you have to bear the results of that–not regarding the episodes of assault on school property, however. That shoulda been nipped in the bud by administration. And the Sharpie attacks on her locker would have been painted over by my kids’ schools toot-sweet–not left to languish in all their slur-ry glory…
4. Realistic, if crappy, response to Mercedes’ shenanigans. I’m not a fan of slut-shaming, but this book is actually designed to take on slut-shaming, by being sorta sex positive. So one must endure the firestorm of hate to “endure” it, in Mercedes’ life.

Stuff that made me set the book down for a bit:
1. Trainwreck plot. As a mature woman, I have perspective that Mercedes lacks. I knew her little enterprise would become public knowledge from the outset. When it all got to be TOO much–especially Charlie’s overtures–I needed to take a break. It’s no fun turning every page and wanting to smack the narrator twice.
2. Lack of punishment for Mercedes’ attackers, be they physical or sexual. I had a hard time believing that Charlie’s “punishment” was being outed as a jackass who spilled the beans. What he actually did was criminal, and should have resulted in some legal repercussions. The hallway tormentors also got off with no notice. In what world, I wondered.
3. The double-standard of girl versus boy “promiscuity” was only barely scratched at.

No one is going to find Mercedes or her actions likable. She doesn’t particularly like herself very much, for reasons other than her sexual activity. I believe, however, that some readers will find her sympathetic. Back in my younger days, we had the “Jerry Springer” standard for decency. If your actions didn’t get you called in as a “guest star” on the seedy Jerry Springer Show, then you were still “decent.” Mercedes has a distinct “Jerry Springer” vibe, which makes sense.

All the best trainwrecks appeared on that show.

That said, the book is interesting as a study in moral contrasts and contemporary puritinism. FIRSTS is clearly going to a challenged book for the very fact that kids haz sex, and not just a little bit, in this book. Don’t hope for fade-to-black, everything plays out in cringe-worthy living color.

Interested? You can find FIRSTS on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.  I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her debut, FIRSTS, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press in 2016.

Laurie went to school for Journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her overseas to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris.

Laurie now lives in London, Ontario with her husband Steve, who is very understanding when she would rather spend time with the people in her head. Laurie can mostly be found writing happily at her desk, with the world’s most spoiled Chihuahua on her lap. Laurie drinks way too much coffee, snorts when she laughs, and times herself when she does crossword puzzles. Laurie is represented by the amazing Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

You can find Laurie on her website, Goodreads, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

New Year’s Resolutions! Reading off the Banned Book List!

Hi there! I’m not sharing a review today, just more navel-gazing from me.

See, I grew up in a time when books for kids/young adults were going through a tremendous transition. They were being written FOR young adults, with young adult issues in mind. And, sometimes, these issues freaked the heck out of their parents and Good Concerned Citizens joined marches and book bannings and even book burnings to rid the world of such “filth.”

*Ahem*

Banned books meme 2Censorship doesn’t hold with me, and I don’t hold with it.

I got into touch with this experience recently when I delved into QUILLON’S COVERT, a contemporary gay incestuous romance. It’s fully consensual, tender and considerate, and unsuitable for sale on most book sellers. That, in itself, is a form of censorship.

Banned Book MemeSo, I’ve long considered banned books and taboo books for a bit. I’ve never made a practice, per se, of engaging in reading “banned books” because I pick up stuff that appeals to me, even if it’s way out there. A lot of these books are erotic in nature, but there are plenty of non-erotic books that are part of the Banned Book list. Thing is, most of my reads are for newly released books–so they haven’t had time to become “challenged” by readers and the Establishment. As part of my 2016 resolutions, I’m going to pick up some of these from time to time and share my thoughts on the blog–reviews and criticisms. I hope you’ll join me in this little quest and it will spark some discussion.

Other choices will include books that I think might FIND their way to this list in the future.

Here’s a preview, taken from the American Libraries Association’s list:
The 2014 Top 10 Frequently Challenged Books
1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying.”

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”.

banned books meme 43. And Tango Makes Three Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleged child pornography”

6. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9. A Stolen Life Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

I hope you’ll join me in considering reading books that fall into that controversial space, and share those titles with me!

Banned books meme 3