Monday, July 5, 2021

Suggested Reading by David Connis

 

SUGGESTED READING is a book about book-banning. Clara, a scholarship student at a private Tennessee school, defines her life by books. For every year of her high school experience, she has a defining work of literature (and, for the record, I hate all of her picks except SPEAK, but these are her faves, not mine). She runs a book club with her friend at a Mexican restaurant and does book-related charities. Which is why it cuts so deeply when she finds out that her school has started surreptitiously banning books.

Calling it by the euphemism "prohibited media," the school has devised a sneaky, roundabout way of getting rid of books to please the rich and conservative parents who fund it. And since it's private, it's not technically illegal the way it would be if it were a public school. But Clara doesn't think this is fair and decides to start an underground library from her locker to fight against the man.

 **MILD SPOILERS TO FOLLOW**

There were many things I really liked about this book and some things I didn't. As for the things I liked, I think this is one of the few books about a book lover I read that convincingly sells the passion of someone who truly loves literature. A lot of the things that Clara does and feels are things that I do and feel myself. I have an (online) reading group, I do book swaps with my friends, I pimp out books to my friends and community because I want to share the things that bring me so much joy with others.

I also thought it had a pretty good plot and pace, and the side characters were all mostly likable.

As for the things I didn't like, well. Clara at one point talks about how she realizes, wow! You mean it ISN'T WRONG when people don't think the same way about a book that I do? Which I wish was touched upon more, because one of the rules of her book club is that people are only allowed to say positive things about the book, even if they don't like that. That, in and of itself, is a form of censorship and even though her group is a private group and it's not censorship in the legal sense, Clara discourages speech she doesn't like about the books she enjoys and I don't believe the author ever really circled back to that sort of mindset and how toxic it can be.

There is also an attempted suicide in this book and while I don't feel like the author was disrespectful, I do feel like it was a little clumsily handled. It felt like a 180 to be honest, because the whole book is "wow, books are so great" and then suddenly it veers into "wow, maybe books ARE dangerous." I felt like that could have been a great point in the narrative to talk about trigger/content warnings, and how even though books SHOULDN'T be banned or cancelled, having content warnings can be beneficial to people who maybe aren't in the right mental state to read a certain book at a certain time. I was surprised the author didn't take that opportunity to discuss it.

Overall, I feel like this book took a relevant topic and did some pretty good things with it but it does come across as somewhat simplified and also, I hated most of the books that were being lauded as great literature in here-- ELEANOR AND PARK, CATCHER IN THE RYE, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. I can't stand any of these, so hearing them lauded to such extremes was like sandpaper to the brain. I know they're popular among high school students though, so I'm sure that the audience this book is being targeted at would appreciate those references more than me.

So, bottom line is, I liked it but didn't love it.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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