Sunday, August 21, 2011

Angry Management by Chris Crutcher, challenged in South Carolina

I just ran across a story about the most recent attempt to ban a book written by one of my favorite YA authors, Chris Crutcher.

The challenge to Angry Management comes from a parent in South Carolina, who, after reading 24 pages, decided that the book was unfit for his 14 year old son (and every child in the Kershaw County School District) because of "language." The parent, Douglas Berry, used Facebook to harangue the district's superintendent to remove the book from the summer reading list, as well as from the district's library shelves. The book seems to have been removed, perhaps pending a resolution, and then replaced once a committee was able to meet and discuss the challenge. It bothers me that that the district, at least initially, caved in so willingly and put the needs of one vocal complainer above the needs of everyone else.

As much as I do not agree with Mr. Berry, we live in a country where he has every right to not like this book, read this book, or buy this book. The school's summer reading list had at least 39 other books for his son to choose from. Surely, at least one of those would have been appropriate summer reading. He also is well within his rights to forbid his son from reading this book. Although I suspect that his son, along with many people who had never heard of Angry Management or Chris Crutcher before, has already read it, if only to find out what all of the fuss is about. It's certainly been moved to the top of my TBR pile.

The following is an excerpt from the letter that Chris Crutcher wrote to the students of Kershaw County in response to the challenge:

"Listen, if you pick up a copy of Angry Management and read the first twenty-four pages, as Douglas Berry says he did, and you don’t like it, put it down. The right to read also includes the right not to read. But remember it’s your right, not anyone else’s. If your education doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t take you out of your comfort zone and even scare you a little, you are being cheated."

So here's my suggestion. Go buy or borrow a copy of this book, read it, and start a conversation. Challenge ignorance and think for yourself.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Finally finished reading the book. Here's my review:

Although I was already a fan of Chris Crutcher's work, this book shot to the top of my TBR pile when it was challenged by a parent in South Carolina. Because of Crutcher's willingness to take on a host of societal issues, his books are often challenged--and teens love them. I'm not generally a huge fan of short stories, but I enjoyed this collection of three novellas and the chance to revisit characters from several of Crutcher's previous novels. Highly recommended.

The characters in the three stories are loosely bound together by Mr. Nak's Angry Management group.

"Kyle Maynard and the Craggy Face of the Moon" features Sarah Byrnes and Angus Bethune. Sarah bears her burn-scarred face like a shield to protect herself from becoming too involved with anyone and Angus uses his girth and his sense of humor in a similar way. The teens become closer as they embark on a road trip to find Sarah's mother, who abandoned her to her abusive father.

In "Montana Wild," Montana West writes the kind of stories for her school newspaper that never get published, thanks to conservative administrators backed up by the right-wing head of the school board who happens to be her adoptive father. When her latest story, about medical marijuana, gets shot down, she is asked to write a human interest piece on a football player. Trey Chase is not a stereotypical "dumb jock" and Montana is drawn to him right away. His grandmother, Mari, is dying of cancer and uses marijuana to ease her pain and nausea. Mari suggests that Montana not give up on her medical marijuana article. Even knowing that the school paper won't publish it, Montana decides to push the issue and get it before the school board. Mari says, "You don't have to win to win. Just keep putting it in front of them. The truth rises." The showdown between Montana and Maxwell West is inevitable.

The third story, "Meet Me at the Gates, Marcus James" was my favorite. Marcus is the only African American student at his high school, which is run by football-obsessed bigots. Not only is Marcus whip-smart and outspoken, but he is also gay. When he strolls into Mr. Simet's U.S. Government class wearing the pink noose that had been hanging on his locker, no one misses its significance. Mr. Simet is supportive, but cautions Marcus about the statement he's making by wearing the noose. When the school administrators call an assembly to "address" the bigotry, Matt Miller, a devout Christian calls them out for appearing to address the issue, while making it impossible to resolve. I love this character, who embodies the best Christian behavior, rather than the holier-than-thou brand of Christianity that permeates American culture. He stands up and tells the truth, which unleashes an unforeseen shitstorm and connects him with Marcus forever. Marcus' father is another interesting character because, even though he understands what it's like to be hated for something he can't control (his race), his initial reaction to learning that Marcus is gay is anger. He eventually accepts his son and has this to say, "You know, teacher man, bein' homosexual isn't somethin' my boy chose. He just was. Somebody's readin' the good book all wrong. You ask me, God creates it, God loves it. Simple as that." Amen.