What’s it all about?:
“The heroine’s transformation into someone who finds her own style and speaks her own mind is believable — and worthy of applause.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex, especially when she compares herself to her slim, brilliant, picture-perfect family. But that’s before a shocking phone call — and a horrifying allegation — about her rugby-star brother changes everything. With irreverent humor and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine who speaks to every teen who struggles with family expectations, and proves that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.
Welcome to a new feature on my blog! It’s Banned Books that I’m collaborating with Chrissi Reads and Luna’s Little Library on.
Every month for the rest of 2014 ChrissiReads, Luna’s Little Library and myself will be reading one Banned/Challenged Book a month. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book.
If you’d like to join in our discussion (and please feel free!) below is a list of what we’ll be reading:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Chosen by: Beth
Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks (as “Anonymous”)
Chosen by: Chrissi
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Chosen by: Luna
Lush by Natasha Friend
Chosen by: Beth
But back to this month….
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
First published: 1st January 2003
Most recently in the Top Ten of Frequently Challenged Books in 2009 (source)
Chosen by: Luna’s Little Library
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
What did WE think?:
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged originally?
BETH: Okay, so the reasons for it being challenged originally is the offensive language, it being sexually explicit and unsuited to the age group. Some things I kind of agree with, some I don’t. I don’t really remember instances of very offensive language to be honest so I don’t agree on that level. After all, teenagers may hear more foul things in the streets or on television (or maybe in their own homes?) than what is written in this novel! And as for it being unsuited to the age group I completely disagree with this. Some teenagers read at a more mature level, others at a more immature one and you can’t really put everyone into a nice neat little box and tell them what they should be reading and at what age.
CHRISSI: I somewhat understand why it’s challenged. This isn’t necessarily to do with me agreeing that the content should be challenged. It’s a tough one. I DO think that teenagers need to be reading about this sort of thing and I completely support that. However, I think it has to be a very brave teacher that takes on this book. Not because it’s ‘bad’ but mainly because I can imagine parents would get very uptight about their children reading about these issues. I think Luna’s right, we do underestimate teenagers. They can read this material. They should! But should they in school? That’s where I begin to wonder. I think if I was about to train to be a secondary/high school teacher instead of a primary school teacher, then I’d definitely recommend this book to my class. Would I read it with my class? No. I’d be scared of the reaction from parents. That’s a wimpy way of looking at it, but I wonder if parents are part of the problem with books like these. Can we as educators, suggest books for teenagers to read in their own time to get around this problem? Perhaps.
LUNA: I have this feeling I’m going to be permanently moving into the NO Camp for the all books we read (you can read my previous rant here) but upon finishing The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things I thought: “Are you kidding me?”
1) “offensive language” – There is one scene where Virginia’s brother swears at her and yes is real swearing but it’s completely within context. Be it in 2003 or now I promise you that teens will have heard and used that word themselves. They’ll probably know a lot more.
2) “sexually explicit” – *sighs* I wasn’t sure which part of the story this was referring to but regardless it just made me roll my eyes. Either it’s the beginning of the book when Virginia and Froggy are making out and she’s talking about her ‘bra’ and shock horror the word ‘nipples’ is used or it’s to do with what her brother Bryon does.
SPOILER ALERT Virginia’s older brother is suspended from university following a date-rape allegation which is upheld. The rape happened butthis is Virginia’s story so as the reader you know of it but you never actually read about the experience. Carolyn Mackler doesn’t include a first person account from the victim.
3) “unsuited to age group” – shall we just pretend I gave you the long version of Don’t underestimate teenagers! Yes? Excellent. Moving on…
How about now?
BETH: This book has a relatively recent publication date (2009) and I don’t think things have changed much in the past few years but I think regardless of what year it was published my opinions would still be the same. I do think this book should be read by teenagers, especially those that may pick on someone slightly larger than average. (Hey, what’s average anyway?) But should it be taught in schools? Quick and easy answer to this one… I don’t think so. I think I have valid points to back this up though. Virginia shares with the reader some of her diet tips, like drinking a lot of water to feel fuller so you don’t eat so much and puts pictures of skinny girls on the fridge for “thinspiration.” Now, do we really want to be reading these kind of things to vulnerable kids that may feel they need to lose some weight?! And yes we might not give a lot of credit to how sensible teenagers can be etc but there only needs to be one that is slightly more naive or less worldly and BANG – welcome to eating disorder city.
CHRISSI: Again, like Luna… see my answer above. I really wish we could read more contemporary books in schools. I think the problem with contemporary books is that they seem much more explicit compared to the classics. The classics do deal with issues as well, but I guess in some ways they don’t seem as relevant to teenagers as contemporary reads do. I think it’s a good thing that there’s relatable literature out there for teenagers.
LUNA: *pfft* see above answer and yes I said this for Perks but we’re already teaching classic literature that deals with the same themes in schools.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is on the GCSE reading list in the UK (source) and taught in the US. It’s strongly implied that the monster rapes Frankstein’s wife on their wedding night. While not nearly as frequent as Frankstein I did still find Tess of the D’Urbervilles as recommend reading for High Schoolers and despite the fact that Thomas Hardy is ambiguous on purpose the general opinion is that Alec rapes Tess.
I’m repeating myself but if we’re already dealing with the reasons The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things was challenged in “classic” literature (that are being taught in schools) then why is this a problem for a modern book?
Romeo and Juliet has teenage sex, plenty of violence and suicide. Shakespeare is pretty graphic so why is that ok but not a book written in the last fifteen years? Somebody explain this to me because I just don’t get it.
What did you think of the book?
BETH: Despite my earlier rant I do think this is a good young adult read. Virginia is a likeable character that I think teenagers will love and I hope that they will take home all the positive messages in the novel, of which there were plenty.
CHRISSI: I thought it was a decent read! I haven’t read anything by this author before, but I felt like she dealt with the issues really well with a relatable, likeable character.
LUNA: I really liked The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things. I previously read The Future of Us and loved it.
Virginia is such a relatable character, especially for me. I thought that Carolyn Mackler handled the issue of weight/self-confidence really well. Even though her parents fail at the beginning there is character growth (be it small steps) for them and it was good that Virginia has positive adult influences, Dr Love and her teacher for example.
I went through a lot of emotions while reading this book: sympathy, heartache, joy, rage, hope, etc. but the overriding feeling was that of pride for Virginia – you girl are awesome. 🙂
Would WE recommend it?
BETH’s personal star rating (out of 5):
This was a great book for discussion, and I’m really glad I read it and as always, really enjoyed the opinions of my partners in crime Chrissi Reads and Luna’s Little Library. But what do you think? Have you read it? Should it be banned/challenged? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Join us again on the last Monday of September when we’ll be discussing my choice of banned books – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.