The Banned Book Next Door

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Sometime in my teenage years, I found a list of frequently banned books.  I eagerly went off in search of those.  I made my way through Huckleberry Finn, Slaughterhouse Five, and whatever others I could find in my local library.  The one book I couldn't find was The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum.

When it was assigned for this class, I checked our local library, then the county library system.  Still no luck.  So I ordered it online, my curiosity piqued to see why this book was so much worse than, say, Misery by Stephen King.  I was also looking forward to reading it, because it's one of those horror novels everyone talks about.

I got the book.  I read it.  I couldn't stop reading, even though I wanted to.  It made me feel all those feelings that horror implies--and they're not good feelings.  This was the first book in years to literally give me nightmares.

I think that's a sign that this book, uncomfortable as it is, despite the taboo topics of child rape and torture it covers, still teaches us a valuable lesson about ourselves and the world around us.  And yet, when I think about whether it should be banned from libraries, I find myself vacillating.

On the one hand, the library has other books that cover similar material--for example, Night by Elie Wiesel.  That's also not comfortable reading.  Does the fact that it's nonfiction make it ok?  Is it worse to have a novel (even if it's based on real events) covering the same topics?  Does the ending make it somehow inappropriate?

At the same time, since I currently teach high school students, I think about them reading this book.  What would I say if they asked me if I recommended it to them?  I'm not sure that I could.  If this book had such a powerful impact on me, what might it do to a ninth grader?  I don't really think it would influence them to emulate the actions in the book (although I suppose that might be a concern to some people), but rather that they might not be emotionally equipped to deal with the emotions the book evokes.

It's interesting that this book addresses the issues associated with power, and how we use that power, since banning the book is an act of power.  Ultimately, I would say the book shouldn't be banned.  I think it raises important questions about horror, art, and personal responsibility in the face of evil.  These are all questions that we should equip ourselves and others to answer.



Mike Arnzen said:

Hey, I was even skittish about assigning it to >graduate

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