After seeing Joann's review of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I decided to review another banned memoir, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The Glass Castle was challenged at the William S. Hart Union High School District in Saugus, Calif. (2009) as required summer reading for the honors English program citing profanity, criticisms of Christianity, and accounts of sexual abuse and prostitution. The decision was that students would have the option of alternative assignments. As Joann says, how can a true account of someone's life be banned??? That's like pretending it never happened, and honestly, I just don't understand it. How is that high school kids, HONORS high school kids, are not old enough or mature enough to read about abuse and neglect? Are these parents living under a rock? The US poverty rate last year was 14.3%. According to a CNN report, 1 in 50 children is homeless in the United States every year. This is something that could be happening to the person sitting next to these students in homeroom. Granted most homeless children don't face the things that Walls chronicles in her memoir, but to a certain extent I think that many children could relate to the things Walls talks about. I know that I did.
My sister gave me this book 3 years ago, saying that Wall's father reminded her a lot of my dad. I thought, oh, that sounds like a good read. Then I read it and thought, 'um, Alecia, are you kidding me?' The father in this book is an alcoholic, a bum. He neglects his children and at one point, yes, he even pimps his daughter (she doesn't actually go through with it, so you can relax on that one). Reading this book I thought to myself, how exactly is this person like my father? My dad never drank, though his own father was an alcoholic so there was certainly precedent. He always tried to get work, and he always tried his best to provide for us kids. But then I thought about it some more. Despite his short (SHORT) comings, Wall's father was a highly intelligent man, teaching his kids to read and leaving them with dreams of a "Glass Castle". And in that sense, he was very much like my father. My dad has a sixth grade education, and yet he always encouraged us kids to work hard in school. College wasn't an option, it was a necessity. And brilliant? My dad loves to invent things. He holds about 10 patents on various carpentry tools he's made throughout the years. Nothing has ever come of them, but I greatly admire his creativity and ability to dream and never give up. So even though my father is a better man than Wall's in many respects, my sister was right. I did relate to Walls. I could see how much she loved her father despite the hardships she endured and more importantly, I understood that.
At the same time, I thought to myself, ye gads! If I had a life like Walls had growing up, I'd be full of resentment and hatred for my parents. I don't think I'd have it in me to forgive. But Walls does. Not only that but she's able to look back on it AND WRITE ABOUT IT. Let me tell you, memoirs are probably the hardest type of writing there is. It's facts. It's facts about you, your life. And if it's full of self-pity, hatred and loathing, then no one is going to enjoy it. If it's told in a ho-hum, boring voice, then it's not going to resonate with readers. A memoir has to be written with a certain amount of separation, but at the same time it must adhere to the standard of being entertaining. Talk about pressure! Even with vampires, fairies, angels and genies in my hands, I have a hard enough time. But to talk about something that personal and still be able to entertain an audience? I give anyone who is able to do that a lot of credit.
Which brings me to my final point about book banning. A lot of people might think that book challenges aren't valid if they don't result in some sort of action, but let me tell you, they are. Censure takes many forms and when books like The Glass Castle are challenged, somewhere out there, it silences a story. It takes guts to write and put yourself out there to people. It takes guts of steel to put out a memoir. Many don't do it for the reason of not knowing how to handle those who might criticize them. Hearing these stories of how books and memoirs in particular are banned can hammer that final nail into the memoir's coffin. I am so glad that Walls had the courage to write The Glass Castle. It enriched my life and gave me a new appreciation of my childhood that I may have had, but didn't necessarily break apart piece by piece. I loved reading it as an adult, but if someone had given me this book as a teen, I would have thanked them over and over again.
Final word - I've been laying in the murky waters of revisions again, but I promise to do more reviews of banned books over the next few days. And remember to leave me links to your reviews and blog posts about Banned Books Week in order to enter my contest!!
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Posted by Angie