There's a reason John Green is one of the most famous young adult authors in the game: he creates unforgettable characters, pens unbelievably touching, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching tales, and he's not afraid to speak his mind about problems in the lit world. In a vlog posted to his YouTube channel last week, John Green discusses book banning in response to some recent challenges against his novels.
Earlier this month, the American Library Association (ALA) released its annual list of the most challenged books of the year. Looking For Alaska, John Green's debut novel and the winner of the 2006 Printz Award, won the dubious honor as most challenged book of 2015.
Green begins the video by addressing the most frequently challenged passage of the novel, a scene in which the two main characters attempt (and fail) to have oral sex. As Green explains, the passage is written clinically, and only one adjective is used: nervous. After this scene, the two characters share an emotionally intimate, non-sexual moment, which ends with the following passage:
"We didn't have sex. We never got naked. I never touched her bare breasts, and her hands never got lower than my hips. It didn't matter. As she slept, I whispered, 'I love you, Alaska Young.'"
"In context, [Looking for Alaska] is arguing — really, in a rather pointed way — that emotionally intimate kissing can be a whole lot more fulfilling than emotionally empty oral sex," Green says. "Teenagers are critically engaged and thoughtful readers. They do not read Looking For Alaska, and think, 'I should go have some aggressively unerotic oral sex.'"
"They also don't read The Outsiders and think, 'I should join a gang!' Or read Divergent and think, 'I should jump off of trains,'" he continues. "So far as I can tell, that sort of narrow, prescriptive reading seems only to happen within the offices of school superintendents."
Green says that he doesn't find Looking for Alaska to be pornographic, but adds that he doesn't believe the decision to ban a book from school libraries should be made by him, by parents, or by superintendents. He says that teachers and librarians should be allowed to do their jobs. More importantly, teenagers should be allowed to read whatever they want — because books, even the ones we don't like, always have something important to offer.
"I don't believe that books — even bad books — corrupt us," he says. "Instead, I believe books challenge and interrogate. They give us windows into the lives of others and give us mirrors so that we can better see ourselves."
"Ultimately, if you have a worldview that can undone with a novel," Green says at the end of the video. "Let me submit that the problem is not with the novel." Food for thought.