Through teens' eyes BookShelf: We need more, not fewer, books like one that some parents found offensive
One of the protesting parents in Anoka County called the book "pornography." What does this say about the young people in our communities whose lives are like Eleanor's? -- Kit Hadley
by Kit Hadley
It's been a while since a book made me cry, but there I was in the middle seat of an airplane with tears in my eyes as I finished "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell.
I read the book because Rowell was visiting St. Paul the following week for two appearances. The St. Paul Public Library and Metropolitan State University had reached out to her after an offer to deliver an author talk in Anoka County was withdrawn because a few parents objected to language in the book they considered offensive and inappropriate.
"Eleanor and Park" is a beautifully written young adult (YA, in library-speak) novel. Eleanor has a very grim life - poverty, violence and fear at home; bullying on the school bus and at school. Park's white American father and South Korean mother create a nurturing home life, but even these most loving parents cannot keep Park from feeling like an outsider.
Eleanor and Park each confront issues around body image and racial and gender stereotypes. The gritty language in the book is used by some adults and teens in order to hurt Eleanor and Park. Yet this novel is first and foremost a moving story of first love, in which Eleanor and Park draw from each other hope, joy, and the strength to endure and thrive.
One of the protesting parents in Anoka County called the book "pornography." What does this say about the young people in our communities whose lives are like Eleanor's? That they should be invisible, their stories untold? That no one cares because their lives are too bleak and frightful for us to examine? We need more stories like "Eleanor and Park," not fewer.
Thanks to friends and my women's book club, I have added YA literature to my reading life. YA fiction is another window for seeing my world differently. Reading some of the very fine YA fiction available is one way to explore through the eyes of someone different than me, just like reading stories and authors of different ethnic backgrounds, races, religions and culture.
A study published in "Science" magazine last fall by psychologists at the New School for Social Research confirms what those of us who love reading literature know: that a great gift of reading literature is that it grows empathy.
Unless you have teenagers at home, you're probably like me: I need to hear a range of youth voices, hear how they experience the world and understand how they see the future. This is the message I hope we send to the young people in our communities.
Kit Hadley is the director of the St. Paul Public Library.
BookShelf: Kit Hadley, with help from the staff on the Teen Team at the St. Paul Public Library, recommends these YA titles: Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King
Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
Split by Swati Avashti
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Though technically an adult graphic novel, it is an autobiography with many teen themes.
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