This week in my 8th-Grade Literature class we’ve been recognizing Banned Books Week – a celebration of children’s freedom to read and a campaign against censorship in our schools and libraries. It’s been a fun project, prompting some passionate discussions when students found some of their favorite titles on the ALA's list of banned or challenged books from the past decade. For myself, I’m always floored, and rather heartbroken, to see these lists of much-treasured books, including titles, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, There Eyes Were Watching God, Beloved, Huckleberry Finn, and, well … the list is seemingly endless.
Although the week is nearly over, I’ve spent more than a few thoughtful moments in these recent days reflecting upon how some of these books have influenced me – how I might not be the same person if not for the experiences these books gave me. And so I thought I’d wave my banned books flag one last time on this, its last day.
Via Nathan Bransford's blog: Young Adult Fiction author T.H Mafi is writing a review of her favorite banned book, The Giver, and encouraging other writers to write their own “banned book” reviews. She’s compiled a list of all the reviews, and I’ve decided to join the ranks.
Following is my review of the banned book Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Patterson.
I’ve always known that I loved Bridge to Terabithia, a children’s book about an unlikely friendship between a boy and a girl in rural Virginia. I can’t remember how old I was when my mom first read this story to me and my older sister, but I know I was too young to be capable of reading it myself. One reason I knew it was a good book is that it made my mother cry. I’d beg her to read it to me again and again. Although she indulged me often, she would also frequently steer me to other books because it was just too sad for her.
When I was finally old enough to read it myself, it became a book I returned to often, even once it was far below my reading level. The same hardcover copy still claims a space on my bookshelf – tattered cover, and sticker inside declaring “This Book Belongs to” and then my name, written carefully in an 8-year-old’s cursive.
As a kid, I probably couldn’t have told you why the story captivated me so much, but I had a few revelations about that during this week’s reflections. Looking back now, as an adult, I can only think of course this is the most treasured book from my childhood! It makes perfect sense.
Jesse Aarons is a shy 5th-grade boy who loves to run. His family is not well-off, and he spends most of his summer doing chores on their farm, and getting up early to run. He is determined to be the fastest kid in the fifth grade.
When he is beaten on the first day of school by the new kid, a girl, Jesse and Leslie soon become friends. Leslie is many of the things that Jesse is not – outgoing, enthusiastic, hopeful, and full of imagination and a longing for adventure. Together, she and Jesse create their own imaginary kingdom of Terabithia where they can rule and leave behind the troubles of school and parents.
Patterson does an incredible job of creating appealing characters with a great deal of depth. It was in thinking about the characters that I finally recognized the heartstrings that tie me to this book: Jesse and Leslie feel exactly like the two halves of my own self.
Jesse – the shy artist who craves more than his simple farm life has offered him so far, who has so much fear, who finds solace in his running and lets it fuel his dreams.
Leslie – the outgoing lover of learning who runs faster than all the boys, who has a vivid imagination and a passion for adventure.
Leslie feels like the exterior me, and Jesse more like the interior, but they’re both there. Always. Perhaps this is as much about the person I am as it is about the book, but certainly it is the sign of a talented writer when she can create characters with whom a reader so passionately identifies.
I find beauty in the innocent friendship between a boy and a girl – the kind of friendship that doesn’t often translate easily into the complexities of adulthood. I also find that the way the characters handle the tragedy that befalls them, although painful to read, is an incredible lesson about growing up and dealing with life’s deepest fears. For these reasons I think this book will continue to rise above the attempts at censorship and remain a classic love for many children and adults.