I have been a reader all my life, but it wasn't until last year that I truly discovered what an important part of my life reading has been. I also realized around the same time that while I enjoy books of nearly every genre, I am most passionate about young adult fiction. Be it contemporary or fantasy, YA speaks to my heart like no other genre can. In fact, it is only in YA that I truly lose myself and carry that story with me forever.
One such story is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, which was actually the first book I read this year and the first review I posted on this blog. To say that Speak has become one of my favorites is an understatement, and I can't think of a single YA book blogger or author who won't list Anderson as a favorite or as an inspiration.
Speak is about a high school girl named Melinda who is raped. Although she calls the cops which ends the party, no one knows why or what happened. Melinda is then treated as a leper; everyone in school knows her as the loser who ruined their night. Throughout the story, Melinda struggles with keeping her secret and having to face her rapist every day. In the end she rises above and finds the courage to SPEAK LOUDLY of her rape.
Now, I have no personal connection to this story. I have not and I know no one who has been raped. However, this does not make Melinda's story irrelevant to me. While sad and disgusting, Melinda's story actually empowered me. Here is this teenage girl without a friend in the world who gets up every day and faces her rapist. And then she finds the courage to speak up and tell the world! If she can do this incredibly scary and brave thing, then I can do anything.
Each September there is a week dedicated to the freedom to read. This week is called Banned Books Week, and it was created in response to a huge increase in the number of books being challenged in schools, bookstores, and libraries. During this week every year, people all across the nation fight against those who challenge books. This of course spawns more challenges, which is always very disheartening to me. If you are uncomfortable with violence, profanity, or sex in a book, then don't read it. That is your choice. I do not believe, however, that it is your choice to make for others.
While I am always disappointed when books are challenged, I have never been more personally offended than I was today when a man compared Speak to soft porn. To call this man ignorant is an understatement and too nice of a description in my opinion. I wish I had some earth-shatteringly poignant thing to say to this man, but I'm afraid anything I could come up with would be lost on someone who obviously has no understanding of the written word.
Instead, I am joining my fellow book lovers by SPEAKing LOUDLY. I am so proud to be a part of such an embracing community that is so quick to stand up and fight against the challenging and banning of our beloved books. I ask you to do the same. Blog, tweet, spread the word online, but also SPEAK LOUDLY in schools, libraries, and bookstores. Spread the word wherever you can whenever you can, not just today but any day someone tries to take away our freedom to read.