Sunday, February 23, 2014

Freedom to Read Week Day 1

Teens Need More Access To Books, Not Less

Books saved me; I don’t think I could have survived my child- and teenhood without them. I certainly couldn’t have survived with my soul intact, with goodness and hope still in me. Novels gave me escape from the abuse and torture I was living, and they also helped me know that I wasn’t alone (in some ways), that there were good and kind people in the world (even though I didn’t experience much of that in my own life), that I could fight evil and cruelty and have a chance of overcoming it, and that I could hope for love even if I was unloved. If I hadn’t had books, my life would have been without hope, relief, or goodness; I really don’t think I could have survived. As it was, I wanted to die almost all the time.

When you feel like you’re the only one who’s been through something horrible or who feels a certain way, it can be incredibly painful. I was always looking for books that would tell me I wasn’t the only one who was living through horrific experiences such as incest, rape, torture, mind control, cults, self-harm, being held captive, bullying, attempted suicide, and being queer in a homophobic world. I was always looking for books that talked about the things that no one ever talked about. Books that would let me know on a much deeper level that I wasn’t alone, that there was hope, that I could get through. I didn’t find that as a teen, and that’s a big part of why I write what I do. I write the books that I needed as a teen and couldn’t find. I write for the teens who desperately need those books now, the way I did. And I write for the readers who may not have been through those things, but who may become less judgemental and gain greater compassion by reading about those experiences from an inside view. Because that’s what books give us—a glimpse inside someone else’s life and soul for a little while—in a way that I don’t think we get in any other medium. Books are powerful, safe ways to learn about the world, or to discover that you’re not alone, that you’re really okay as you are.

So I’m always distressed when people try to ban or challenge my books or those of any other author’s. It’s happened a few times that I know of with SCARS (and probably a lot more that I don’t know of, where the book has just been quietly removed from the shelves),
and I worry that it will happen with STAINED, too, since it also deals with painful issues (abduction, imprisonment, rape, psychological abuse, bullying). What I think about when people try to ban my books are the letters I still receive—every week—from readers telling me that after reading SCARS they stopped cutting, got help, talked to someone for the first time about their self-harm or sexual abuse or being queer, or that they didn’t kill themselves because of my book. And the letters I'm now getting about STAINED, from readers telling me that it helped them feel stronger, like they can face the abuse or trauma they have in their own lives.  Those teens are living through hell right now, and they need to know that they’re not alone, that someone else has been through it and survived and so they, too, can get through it and be okay.

To prevent a teen who *needs* a book—who might not have any other way of knowing that they’re not alone, not crazy, not to blame for abuse or trauma that’s happened, who may need that book to heal, to stay alive, or to gain greater compassion and understanding for themselves or for someone else—to keep them from reading a book that may be their only lifeline or hand through the darkness seems cruel to me. Maybe not intentionally cruel, but I think it does harm to keep someone from something that can bring them healing and relief, that can help them be kinder to themselves or to someone they know. I think book banning and challenging probably comes from fear, misinformation, and ignorance—but I wish people would be more compassionate, thoughtful, and aware of others’ needs, and know that if they don’t like a book or are afraid of it, they can put it down; they don’t have to try to keep others from it.

I am so thankful for the many librarians, teachers, and book bloggers who help get books into the hands of teens who need them, and for readers who help get the word out about those books. What you do matters.

About the Author:
Cheryl Rainfield is the author of the award-winning SCARS, about a queer teen sexual-abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; STAINED, about a teen with a port-wine stain who is abducted and must rescue herself; and the award-winning HUNTED, about a teen telepath living in a world where any paranormal power is illegal. Cheryl Rainfield is an incest and torture 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.”

Find the Author:
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