The summer before starting high school, my son and two of his friends, let’s call them Theo, Grace and Maggie, got a little self-conscious about sitting in on their library’s adult book group, trying to talk with adults, in an adult way, about adult books. They decided to start a reading group of their own, for kids their age. So they met at the local Borders and wandered the aisles of young adult fiction, finally choosing The Catcher in the Rye, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Of Mice and Men for their first summer’s book line-up.
They made a flier and distributed it at school and at swim team. Theo and I researched the authors and came up with questions for each meeting. Grace and her mother, Carey, handled meeting logistics, communication and food. That first summer, 6-10 kids joined them every month to discuss a book. At the end of the summer, it occurred to them that they had chosen only books that had been challenged or banned in school districts or libraries.
There had to be a reason for that coincidental choice. There was. These books were all interesting, edgy and a little bit intellectually dangerous. Just like the group. Theo and Grace decided to make themselves over into the Banned Book Club.
For the next three summers, Theo and Grace and a good corps of reading friends (Curt, Kayla, Alycia, Donny, Allie and Rudi were the regulars) and their mom-members (Carey and me) read a banned book every month, talking about the authors, the books’ literary merits, their connection to real life and to other banned books, why the group thought each book had been banned or challenged, and to what degree they agreed or disagreed with the challengers’ complaints.
Some of the challenges they laughed at; had The Scarlet Letter been banned just to make it more appealing to teenagers who would never choose it otherwise? Other challenges they debated seriously; really, would any of them allow their future children to read Lolita?
After their fourth summer of the Banned Books Club, together they had read twelve great books, twelve banned books, twelve books that made a difference in their thinking. Not only did they all get pretty good SAT scores, but they also got a lot more of the inside jokes on The Simpsons.
I think a Banned Books Club is a good idea for intelligent, thoughtful, rigorous teenagers. In this blog, I will share the author background, pop culture connections and discussion questions this group of high school readers found most interesting.