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Banned Books Week review of:

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA

by Katherine Patterson

Author’s Website: http://www.terabithia.com/

Once again, today’s review comes from the ranks of the Newbery Award-winners. Katherine Paterson’s wonderfully-crafted Bridge to Terabithia was (like so many YA books of late) recently made into a film version, which, rather surprisingly, was quite a faithful adaptation of the book. Nevertheless, I stand by my firm belief that, 99.9% of the time, the book is better than the movie, and this is no exception. Paterson’s story is thoughtfully and poignantly told, and the digital fantasy animation of the film just doesn’t do justice to the nuance of Leslie and Jess’s imaginations….

Summary:

Growing up in rural Virginia, Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest kid in the 5th grade. Jess’s life is not a happy one—he is mostly ignored at home, is bullied regularly at school, has few friends, and carefully conceals the fact that he loves art because of his reputation as “that crazy little kid that draws all the time”. All of this changes, however, when Leslie Burke comes to town. Leslie is unlike anybody else who has ever attended Lark Creek Elementary; she is tomboyish, talented, creative, and wise beyond her years. She is also faster than Jess, and beats him and every other boy in a playground foot-race on the first day of school. In spite of this inauspicious beginning to their relationship, the Leslie and Jess gradually become close friends, creating (with the aid of Leslie’s powerful imagination) the magical kingdom of Terabithia in the woods, where they reign as king and queen. One day, however, a terrible tragedy strikes out of the blue, and Jess must use everything he has learned from Leslie and Terabithia to come to terms with it.

I’m going to say it: this is the kind of book that can easily make you cry. This is not simply due to the aforementioned tragedy, but also because the entire story rings so true, and the ending of the book leaves you with a beautiful ringing that lingers long after you’ve closed it. I love this kind of resonance—it’s the feeling you get when you finish a book and know for sure that the author has done her job extremely well. The characters are wonderful, finely-wrought, and oh-so believable; trust me when I say that it is worth your time to read this book.

The main reasons this book has been banned so frequently are the use of “coarse language” by some characters and the devastating event that shapes the book’s ending so perfectly. Author Katherine Paterson explains the former thus:

“Jess and his father talk like the people I knew who lived in that area. I believe it is my responsibility to create characters who are real, not models of good behavior. If Jess and his dad are to be real, they must speak and act like real people. I have a lot of respect for my readers. I do not expect them to imitate my characters, [but] simply to care about them and understand them.”

Parents argued that the topic of death was inappropriate for middle-grade readers because it was not a topic kids should have to deal with. I could not disagree more—Jess’s experience, while hopefully one we would never wish on ourselves or our families, is as real as it is heart-achingly painful, and Jess’s reaction is utterly convincing (the story is actually based on the childhood of the author’s son, who, not coincidentally, wrote the screenplay). For kids who have experienced the tragedy of loss, this book is a confirmation that they are not alone in their feelings; for kids who have not, it is a window into that world. Finally, I have to emphasize that the book does have a positive ending, as the characters struggle and eventually come to terms with the event that has shaken their lives so deeply. Although Bridge to Terabithia is without doubt a sad book, it also offers the reader the gifts of courage, friendship, love, and hope.

I would recommend this book for ages 10 and up (but older readers and adults shouldn’t be put-off by the recommended age range or the age of the protagonists).

That’s it for Banned Books Week! I’ll be back soon to review some more great novels…in the meantime, happy reading!

Best wishes,

-Madeline

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

-Noam Chomsky

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Banned Books Week review of:

THE GIVER

by Lois Lowry

Author’s Website: http://www.loislowry.com/books.html

 

Winning the Newbery Award is like the YA Fiction equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize, so books that do win have to be deserving of the attention they receive. One overwhelmingly worthy book of this description is The Giver, by Lois Lowry. When I recommend this book to people in passing, I sometimes jokingly refer to it as “dystopian literature for kids”, but if I’m being honest with myself, such an epithet truly does not do it justice. Yes, it does bear some resemblance to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—but it really is a fabulous book in its own right. I’ll use the following anecdote to illustrate my point: my freshman-year roommate was a girl with whom I had almost nothing in common—she watched TV shows religiously and hated reading in general; I lived on books and was admittedly pop-culture illiterate. We were certainly an odd couple, but we ended up the best of friends by the end of the year. Our only real crossover as far as books went was The Giver, and one day when we were talking about it, she admitted that she had actually read it not once, but twice (remember, this is the girl who would probably be glad if she never had to pick up another book in her life). I’ve used this story many times to encourage people to read The Giver, and the feedback I get from these recommendations is overwhelmingly positive. I think sometimes people believe that a children’s book cannot possibly be described as “beautiful” (a word that seems reserved for classic literature and mainstream fiction in the public psyche), but I would venture to say that it is just the word to describe this novel.

Summary:

Jonas lives in a perfect world—a utopia in which pain and fear and illness have been banished and where difficult decisions are a thing of the past. Children are assigned at the age of 12 to a role in the community, and Jonas is given the position of “Receiver of Memory.” It is his job to receive the memories of the elderly “Giver”, who is the only member of the community who knows what the world was like before it was perfected; it is this knowledge that will change Jonas’s life—and the way he feels about it—forever.

My twelve-year old sister was recently required to read a Newbery Award-winning book for a school assignment, and asked me for a suggestion. The Giver was at the top of my list, but since another kid in her class was already reading it, she decided she would read something else. However, a couple days later, she came home with The Giver in hand and told me that the boy who had been reading it had picked another book and lent her his copy. She began to read and was absolutely riveted, declining to go out to dinner with the rest of the family in order to stay home and finish it, and afterwards declared it to be “really sad, but really, really good”. I concur. Of course, I don’t want to build up anyone’s expectations into thinking that this is the Holy Grail of YA literature—the book certainly has had its detractors and has been banned countless times for reasons that I would explain, but they would give away some critical plot points (but if you’re really curious, read this USA Today article). Nevertheless, it is well-worth reading.

More banned book reviews to come—for now, happy reading!

Best wishes,

-Madeline

 

“Oh Harry, don’t you see? If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”

-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

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