Amy speaks: Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored (a guest post by Lisa Burstein)
Once upon a time I read and reviewed a book called Pretty Amy. I liked it and made it the TLT Rec of the Week. I thought, you know, this really speaks to the heart of what teenage girls feel. I also thought, I wish I had known to get a bird and teach it to say Pretty Karen. Alas, I was not that smart of a teenager. So I’m following Lisa Burstein on Twitter and she Tweets that a magazine decided not to review her book because of drug use. There is some drug use in Pretty Amy, that part is true. And I sputter here, because the fact that drug use is all they got of this book astounds me. Also, you should know, some teens do drugs. So I started writing this rant in my head and, as often is this case when this happens, I finally had to sit down and just post it because it wouldn’t leave me alone. Then, someone challenged my rant, which prompted another rant about how really and truly, libraries are unsafe places and that is a good thing. I already knew we were going to be doing a lot week of Banned Books Week posts so I said: Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, won’t you please type a post for my blog for me so I have less work to do? I mean, I said: can you please share with us your experience of what it was like to experience a form of censorship. Yes, THAT’s what I said. And she said yes, and even better, she let AMY TELL US what it’s like to be censored. As Libba Bray says, “teens, our audience, keep us honest. Because they can smell bullshit a mile away, and they will call you on it.” (from an interview on The Oeditrix)
This story starts when a national teen magazine (the kind in grocery stores) that was supposed to write a review for my debut novel PRETTY AMY decided after reading three chapters to pass on their review because “the book contained drug use and they didn’t want to promote it to their readers.”
censorship (from Google.com)
I was shocked; “drug use” encompasses about two pages of the book. It does not glorify it, or promote it. PRETTY AMY is not about drug use, it is about a confused teenage girl who struggles to find herself after a prom night arrest. Attempts to fit in and be loved for who she really was, while navigating parents, friends, boys and the law.
Books are banned in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it is a school denying a book to their students. Sometimes it is a library refusing to shelve it. Sometimes it is a media outlet refusing to review a book because of content.
The latter is what happened to my book.
It’s one thing for me to tell the story; it’s another for the girl who fights to find her voice for the whole 304 pages of PRETTY AMY to tell it. Here exclusively for Teen Librarian Toolbox are Amy’s feelings on being censored.
After I got arrested all people (adults) kept telling me was to talk about my feelings and tell the truth. Not like I ever wanted to–especially when pushed, but now I am being punished for telling the truth. For my voice being too truthful.
Now, other girls like me are being punished because they won’t get to read the truth. At least not in that prissy magazine. Lisa Burstein might have written the book, but I’m as real a character as you’ve ever seen. As I say in the book, “I am one of the legions of middle-class white girls who search malls for jeans that make them look thinner, who search drugstores for makeup to wear as a second skin, who are as sexy and exotic as blueberry muffins.”
Guess what? Girls like us sometimes try drugs. We sometimes see nothing good in our lives so we cling to our friends and do whatever they do. We fall as low as we can fall and it takes falling that low to come out victorious on the other side.
Girls like me exist. Not publishing a review isn’t going to change that. If anything it makes girls like me feel even more misunderstood.
Lisa Burstein was a girl like me in high school. She used drugs, she smoked, and she had psychological issues. She had no one who understood her. She felt alone. What if she would have come upon a review of PRETTY AMY back then in a magazine? Been able to read about the book and see that there was something out there that might help her understand the way she was feeling when her parents and therapists and psychotropic drugs were not. Might her life have been different? Might it have been better?
Would she possibly have avoided the four-years of hell that were high school for her?
I believe there is a chance.
When you censor what is real, you take away that chance. You take away the ability for readers to have an opinion, a voice. You control what they see. Even at seventeen I know that’s bullshit.
This magazine can say whatever it wants about what it thinks its readers can handle, but that doesn’t change what teenagers are “handling” every day. Drugs, worse than the pot I smoked. Boys, going after more than most girls know how to give. Identity and how it feels like it changes daily, but never into what you want it to be. And of course the doom that falls over you late at night when you are alone in your room and you wonder if life will ever get better.
By controlling what girls like me see you are not changing any of this. And, being a girl like me, I know change is the only the thing that can help.
To help get my book and other banned books into the hands of teens and well everyone, I am running a contest for $175 worth of book buying gift cards and Manuscript Critiques for participating in donation drive for High School and public libraries.
Participate in the Pretty Amy Banned Books Week Donation Drive
Add PRETTY AMY on Goodreads
Filed under: Banned Books Week, Censorship, Lisa Burstein, Pretty Amy
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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