It's So Important To Have the Freedom To Read
I believe everyone should be able to read the books they need to, the books that speak to them, that help them feel less alone or less ugly or less like a freak. The books that help them escape or dream or hope. But some people, when they find a book that talks about something they don't like or accept, or that they're scared of or have prejudice about, try to prevent others from reading that book. They may try to get the book removed from their library or child's school, or try to ban the book in the area they live, or even their country. And that, to me, is a great sadness. They are preventing some child or teen or adult from finding a book that may help them when no one else can. That may help save them. And books do save people.
Books sure saved me. If I hadn't been able to escape into books in my child and teenhood, in the years I was being horrifically abused and tortured, I might not have been able to survive. Fantasy books were a needed escape from my life, and realistic books were an important way of finding small bits of validation and knowing that I wasn't crazy, even if my abusers told me I was. I never found books that talked enough about the exact things I'd been through, but I found enough in them to relate, especially on an emotional level. I also found loving people in books, people who were kind and generous and sweet--something I didn't experience in real life. That helped me hope and believe in the good in people, even when what I experienced was the opposite. And when character after character was able to overcome challenges and find happiness, it helped me believe that I could find happiness and safety, too. Books helped me escape the abuse and the pain for hours, and helped me dream of better places and people. Books helped me live and hope and dream.
And now that I've had my own books published, I hear from other readers how my books have saved them. I hear from teens how Scars helped them stop cutting, get help or talk to someone, know that they're not alone (often for the first time), or even keep from killing themselves. It is moving and wonderful to me that one of my books can do that--can offer safety and validation and hope. Can help save them.
But there are people who've tried to ban Scars, or have it removed from libraries or schools. People who object to the "darkness" in Scars--the reality that so many teens go through--and ignore the hope and healing that is a huge part of the story. Because Scars is about a teen girl who was sexually abused, who cut to cope--just like I went through. (It's my own scarred arm on the cover of Scars.) And I'm sure there will be people who object to the queer characters in the book and their loving relationships. But what the people who try to ban Scars don't realize is that it might save the life of a teen they know--and that by removing it, they're taking away potential safety and hope and validation that that teen might desperately need.
And there are so many books that do that--that offer a lifeline for teens, whether it's an edgy realistic book that speaks truth that the teen knows, or a fantasy book that offers a necessary escape. Books are, I believe, one of the most powerful ways to encourage greater compassion in people, to help them truly understand what it is like to go through specific experiences. It can help decrease or even eliminate prejudice, and open minds. To try to prevent anyone from having access to any book they might need is oppressive. Open minds are important. Access to books are important. Books help open minds.
I'm so grateful for all the books so many of us have access to, and all the many people who help get them out there--the librarians and teachers and reading advocates, the publishers and editors, and the writers. I hope that one day everyone will be able to find and read any book that they might need.
Cheryl Rainfield is the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; and the forthcoming STAINED (out November 2013), about a teen with a port-wine stain who is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself. Cheryl Rainfield is an incest and ritual abuse survivor, a feminist, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.
Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine) SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”