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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Feeling all the feels - Bridge to Terabithia (book review)

Oh, the feels.

Book club selected "banned books" this month, and I thought it would be a natural fit to pick a children's book, because so many of the books that are challenged every year are for kids/YA.  This is probably because people are worried about their fragile little minds being unable to handle basic life concepts. Like swearing.  Or people having same-sex parents.  Or death.  Or other reminders of reality.

Now some of this concern is justifiable.  Some concepts are confusing for children.  My 5-year-old niece, who has experienced death in the passing of her great-grandmother, is a prime example of this.  Her understanding of death as it stands right now is that she doesn't want people to die because then there will be skeletons.  She doesn't understand it in terms of the cessation of life or that she will miss the person if they are gone, she just REALLY dislikes the idea of there being any skeletons in her vicinity.  But when children have a misunderstanding like this, it is an opportunity to teach them at their level about the concept, rather than pretend the concept does not exist.

Really, it is this whole "at their level" thing that throws people off and is usually at the source of the debate on most challenged books.  It's the same with other topics like suicide, drug use, drinking, sex, etc.

And this leads me to the banned book which I read for this month, The Bridge to Terbithia.

The main reason that this work has been banned in the past is because it features death as a predominant part of the story.  Which in my own personal (professional librarian) opinion, is a dumbass reason to ban a book.  Apparently people have also taken exception to the book because the main character Jess uses the word "lord" outside of prayer, and that the book portrays secular humanism in a potentially positive light. 

(Excuse me while I go clutch my pearls.)

Clearly, most of these objections to Bridge to Terabithia are products of the time from which it was written, in 1977.  More than forty years later our sensibilities have changed... or so we would like to think, but this book was among the most challenged in America between 1990-2000.  I couldn't find a stat on it since then, but I'm sure calls for censorship didn't stop just because they 90's did.

Now I've been referred to as a crazy-left-wing-hippie-plant-eater more than once in my life (actually), but I'm going to go ahead and say that these objections are pretty much ridiculous.  But really, most objections and challenges to books ARE ridiculous.  It always comes down to fear and misunderstanding of a different person or group (i.e.- foreign people, people of other religions, people with a different lifestyle, teenagers, etc.) 

Honestly I found Bridge to Terabithia to be pretty tame.  Yes there is a death (I'm not going to say who and ruin the book, although if you read the back cover it's pretty obvious), but I think there is more controversy to be had with the book's quiet subversiveness (a la Catcher in the Rye, only much less whiny).  Terabithia is really all about building the world you want to live in when you don't want to live in the world that authorities have built for you.  Which is also exactly what makes this a wonderful book.  If like me you somehow escaped your childhood without having read this one, I highly recommend it as a fast read with a real emotional punch.

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