September 27, 2011

Banned Books Week Made Me Bawl My Eyes Out

This week is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read, and draws attention to books that have been censored. They also publish a list of the most banned books by decade.

#28 for 2000-2009 is Bridge to Terabithia. In honor of Banned Books Week I decided to re-read the book. We read this book in my 4th grade class, so I was particularly interested as to why it's so often banned.

I was immediately re-captivated by Katherine Paterson's descriptive writing style. Not for nothing did this book win a Newbery Medal. The story opens with Jess Aarons, who is determined to be the fastest boy in the 5th grade this fall. He has to work hard on the small family farm because his dad is gone at work in Washington all day, his mom is harassed and tired with housework, and his two older sisters always manage to get out of the work.

Then a new family moves in down the road -- a family with a daughter named Leslie who is just Jess's age. At first Jess is skeptical of her (she is a girl after all) and his skepticism grows when he finds out that Leslie's family doesn't own a t.v., her parents are writers, and she's been scuba diving. But eventually Jess warms up to Leslie, and she opens a whole new world of imagination, literature, and art for him. They create an imaginary kingdom in the woods between their houses and there they rule as King and Queen of Terabithia.

The other students, and Jess's own stolid family, are suspicious of Leslie and the deep friendship between the two of them, but Jess and Leslie don't care. They rejoice in Terabithia, until the day everything goes tragically wrong.

Paterson beautifully details life in a close-minded small town where hippies are regarded with suspicion and yogurt is an unknown entity. Jess longs for positive attention from his parents, but they are almost heartbreakingly distant from him. And the sad cycle repeats itself as his little sister May Belle longs for Jess's attention in return. These nuances were lost on me as a 4th grader, but I appreciated them this time around. And, remembering how the book ended, I caught several references where Paterson foreshadows the tragedy, most notably in the scene when the Aarons family goes to church at Easter.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone. I think that the reason it gets banned must just be its sadness. (There is a reference to child abuse, a few prayers offered to wood spirits, and one or two damns, but I hope none of those are enough to ban a book).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Absolutely! Just make sure she has a box of tissues handy.

How many of the frequently banned books have you read?

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