Book Review: What Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Book Review: What Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

What Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be / Some Girls AreWhat Goes Around: Cracked Up to Be / Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Man, being a teenager is hard. Reading these brings back so many memories. Luckily I didn’t experience some of the things these girls experienced. Flailing, feeling like what your peers think is the most important thing in the world, feeling like no one understands you, not having anywhere to turn… those are universal teenager experiences that this book, really these two books, address.

In Cracked Up To Be, Parker Fadley was once one of the golden children of her high school. Popular and feared, she was captain of the cheerleading team and part of a power couple with Josh. But the pressure to keep it up, to be perfect and meet expectations, gets to her. When she has an experience that shakes her perfect world, she doesn’t respond very well. She shuns everyone and is destructive to herself. Cracked Up is all about her coming to terms with what has happened and finding a new ground where she can be herself and be happy.

In Some Girls Are, Regina Afton also goes from top to bottom when her big-girl-on-campus “best” friend Anna’s boyfriend Donnie tries to rape Regina at a party. Regina turns to a girl she bullied for being overweight who tells Anna that Regina slept with Donnie and they proceed to destroy her. They create YourSpace pages for hating on Regina and spread vicious rumors. Regina responds the only way she knows, by fighting back. When she again turns to some old friends who she destroyed to get win Anna’s approval, she realizes how it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of “fun”.

I picked up this title because of the recent book challenge to Some Girls Are at a high school in South Carolina. Here is a BookRiot article about the challenge:…

The response by the Internet was fantastic! Over 800 copies of the book were donated and sent to the local public library who gave out copies to the teens in the community:…

Summers lays out a no-sugar-coating of how tough it can be in high school. It continued to amaze me how clueless these girls’ parents seem to be. They had to face these battles completely alone. Luckily, through all of the horrible times they faced, they both seemed to have a beacon of hope in a friend. These are not easy books to read but provide an honest look at bullying and pressure as a teen.

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Banned Books Week: All Controversy All The Time

Banned Books Week: All Controversy All The Time

First it was the poster debacle. Now come all of the complaints about the point of celebrating Banned Books Week. I just finished reading an article on Slate called Banned Books Week Is A Crock and I had some thoughts I wanted to share.

I do cringe a little bit as this week approaches. There are some things about librarianship that do that to me. The whole librarian superhero thing, wearing a cape and fighting for your freedom to read, etc. It looks good and it feels good. But now it seems like a bunch of patting-ourselves-on-the-back show. Absolutely, we play a role in all that and we are actually one of the last few institutions strictly about service to the public and not profit in any way. Coming from a background in fundraising, business, and politics, this never ceases to be refreshing to me.

Librarians tend to fall into two, possibly three I guess, camps about Banned Book Week. The first is the cape-wearing superhero camp. The second is the “doesn’t anyone know the definition of censorship?!” camp (see The Annoyed Librarian). The possible third one might be the I-don’t-really-care camp. I suppose I am mostly in the second camp, although this Slate article had me saying, “Ya, but wait a minute…”

The article by Ruth Graham is asking if we really need to publicize Banned Books Week anymore because the good guys won. She closes with the statement,

This Banned Books Week, instead of hand-wringing about a nonexistent wave of censorship, let’s celebrate the obvious: The books won.

I agree that it may not really be “necessary” anymore, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with calling attention to the reasons why it exists. Is anyone really claiming that BBW is doing anything other than reminding us that we don’t really have to worry about this anymore? I don’t know that anyone is really “hand-wringing”…

To be fair, Graham does point to the historical need:

Once upon a time, book bans were a serious issue in the United States. The Comstock Law, passed by Congress in 1873, made it illegal to circulate “obscene literature.” Even classics like The Canterbury Tales fell under that description in the eyes of Victorian moralists, and in the middle of the last century, publishers and booksellers of forbidden novels including Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill were actually prosecuted in court. But in the years since, social and legal tolerance for censorship plummeted. A 1982 Supreme Court decision, Island Trees School District v. Pico, ruled that local school boards can’t remove books from their libraries simply because they’re offended by them.

 Once upon a time, if your local library and bookstores didn’t carry a book, it would have been very difficult to procure it elsewhere. But of course we’re now living in an era of unprecedented access to reading material.

I completely understand that the terms “censorship” and “banned” are used inappropriately when talking about what is actually happening. There are, unfortunately, plenty of challenges today. For instance, over the summer at a high school in Charleston, South Carolina a parent challenged Courtney Summers’ book Some Girls Are which appeared only on a suggested summer reading list from the local school. Suggested, people! Instead of suggesting her child pick a different book on the list, the mother wanted it removed all together, calling it “smut”. A librarian blogger worked with the public library in Charleston and put out a call for donations of the book that they could distribute to the teens. They purchased or got donations of over 800 copies of the book!

Here is a picture of their efforts:

So thankfully a true book banning is extremely rare in the United States today. But these are disagreements with how BBW is publicized, not the need for it. To me this is almost like asking if we don’t need to talk about suffrage because so many oppressed people now have the right to vote.

Bottom line is this: Every year during BBW I try to pick up a title that has been controversial either that year or historically, read it, and become acquainted with the challenges it faced. Perhaps others will do the same. Anything that could provide reason for someone picking up a book is worthwhile, in my mind. And if along the way the reader spends some time thinking about the reasons behind the reason for the challenge (religion, “protecting” kids from something, oppression, racism, etc.), then so much the better?

The ALA Banned Books Poster Debacle

The ALA Banned Books Poster Debacle

Via the American Library Association store

There it is. The poster that sparked some major outrage. Library Juice has called it Islamaphobic stating,

Clearly, the image links suppression of information with the religion of Islam, depicting a woman whose eyes are showing through her niqab. No one denies that there is suppression of information in a number of countries where Islam is the national religion, but this image implies an identity between the religion and the practice of censorship. I think most of us can think of some American muslims who would take offense at that. Perhaps they are even members of the American Library Association.

There is also a petition to have it removed from the ALA store that states,

This poster uses undeniably Islamophobic imagery of a woman in  traditional Muslim clothing.  It should be removed immediately from the ALA Graphics store, and the ALA Graphics Store and Office of Intellectual Freedom should apologize and explain how they will prevent using unethical imagery in the future.

Let the ALA leadership and Graphics Store know that this poster violates the ALA Code of Ethics, represents libraries and librarians as discriminatory and non-inclusive, and must be removed immediately.

I have seen so many widely varying ideas about this image. Some people see a woman wearing a niqab. Some see a woman looking through a Do Not Enter sign.

Unfortunately, I did not see the poster outside of the debate so I cannot say what I would have thought of it on its own. What I can say is that I don’t care for the term “Readstricted” as it trips my eyes up. I had to say it aloud a couple of times to make it work for my eyes. And I would have chosen a different color for the cover of the book. But those are design issues.

As Agnostic, Maybe points out, the ALA store is also selling a downloadable poster that you can edit to put yourself in the image. Seeing it this way certainly does change the image for me quite a bit. It is more obviously a Do Not Enter sign.

Overall, the big issue seems to be intent. What were they trying to do here? If the intent was as speculated, then many are wondering how many saw this in production and how no one thought this might be a bad idea. Perhaps it was just a design blunder?

And if the intent was as speculated, then the statement is that having access to books information can transform and enlighten. I suppose it is a question of what you feel it means to be enlightened. That is a much bigger discussion for another time. I am not a member of the community in question so I don’t feel I have the right to be offended for them.

Since I began writing this (also trying to get ready for #txla15), the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom has released a statement on the matter. Here it is:

We are aware of the comments about this year’s poster for Banned Books Week. We appreciate and respect the concern expressed by the commenters on behalf of the individuals and communities served by their libraries, as well as the concern expressed for the association’s work on behalf of diversity and intellectual freedom.

We take to heart any distress we may have inadvertently caused anyone. The poster was never intended to offend or shock, nor was there any intent to include any ethnic or cultural stereotypes. The aim of the campaign is to employ the universal signage for “Do Not Enter” – a red circle with a bar across it – as a visual proxy for book censorship. It is not a head covering.

We attempted to embrace diversity by including a person of color – which, combined with the graphic elements of the design, appears to have contributed to the multiple perceptions of the poster. It is especially unfortunate that a poster meant to embrace diversity has raised concerns about possible stereotyping and offense.

Commenters have shared how the image evokes a burqa or a niqab. This simply did not occur to us as the design for the poster developed. Our design team included a Muslim woman who wears traditional dress. She was enthusiastic about the campaign and the poster design and we were pleased to work with her on it. We have shared the comments with her and she is surprised that the poster has been interpreted as traditional Muslim dress.

We have read and carefully considered all the feedback. We will be exploring alternatives and our future course of action in the coming week with the goal of reaching a resolution that responds to members’ concerns and upholds the values of our association and the profession. We will continue to engage in the robust exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of our values.

As always, our goal for Banned Books Week is to highlight the harms of censorship and to promote the freedom to read for all.

So they do plan to take some action. But, again, Agnostic, Maybe asks a very important question… if they do respond to the petition and the outcry, how does this look for our national figurehead’s response to censorship?

What do you see? What do you think? I will update when their action has been announced over the next few days.