Controversial/Banned Books

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Our next book theme is controversial/banned books! You’ll find several below from which to choose. Be aware that the nature of this theme means that there is likely to be difficult content to read. I’ve tried to select reviews of each book that highlight what you might encounter, but proceed with caution and the understanding that you do not need to read and participate if you are not comfortable doing so. This was a very difficult theme to find books for, because a lot of books have been banned for reasons that wouldn’t create much of a conversation with us now. I broadened it to include purely controversial books to make it a little easier. The results upon asking around were wildly variable and both fascinating and disturbing. 

The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle

A young widow raising two boys, Sarah Laden is struggling to keep her family together. But when a shocking revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another troubled young boy into her already tumultuous life.

Jordan, a quiet, reclusive elementary school classmate of Sarah’s son Danny, has survived a terrible ordeal. By agreeing to become Jordan’s foster mother, Sarah will be forced to question the things she has long believed. And as the delicate threads that bind their family begin to unravel, all the Ladens will have to face difficult truths about themselves and one another—and discover the power of love necessary to forgive and to heal.

Review by Crum

Jordan, aged beyond his mere eleven years, cannot understand why this is happening to him. He is a child, unwilling and unable to comprehend his situation. For him, there is no escape.

Sarah Laden knows grief. She feels it everyday her husband doesn’t come home. She feels it deep within her bones. If her husband was still living, perhaps he would never have come into their lives. There may never have been that gaping hole. That cavernous void.

This book was torturous in moments, yet ultimately heartwarming. There is no question that this world is full of evil. We see it in the shootings that seem to be happening on an alarmingly regular basis. We see it in the face of pedophiles. We see it in the face of mothers who kill their children. However, there is also tremendous good. I’ve never been so taken with a character, than I had with Sarah. Her nurturing and kind spirit toward Jordan ignited my soul.

While this was a difficult book to read at times, I’m not at all sorry that I did. Sometimes the best stories make us uncomfortable, but ultimately enable us to grow as readers and as humans. This was one of the special ones.

Courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty. Courage to do the right thing when the right thing is not always clear. Courage to do the one thing that no one else would do.

A novel filled to the brim with hope..

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse toward minors

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.

Review by Roxane

With exacting, exquisite prose, Carmen Maria Machado writes about the complexities of abuse in queer relationships in her absolutely remarkable memoir In The Dream House. She deftly chronicles the wildness of succumbing to desire, the entrancing tenderness of loving and being loved, the fragility of hope, and the unspeakable horror when the woman you love is a monster beneath and on the surface of her skin. What makes this book truly exceptional is how Machado creates an archive where, shamefully, there is none. She demands that we face the truths we are all too often reluctant to confront about the kinds of suffering we are willing to tolerate and the suffering we willfully ignore. Machado has already dazzled us with her brilliant fiction writing and she exceeds all expectations as she breaks new ground in what memoir can do.

Also, fuck that trash ass bitch. She ain’t shit. At all.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

2000: Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017: Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Review by Cindy

Tragic, dark, repulsive, and infuriating, this book dives deep into the complexities of abusive relationships, grooming, and trauma. There are complicated layers that I think the author does well in putting together: the timely pop culture references to show how pervasive the culture of sexualizing young girls is; the side characters that add to the complicity of fostering that culture; the way the #MeToo movement gets co-opted by journalism and clickbait; how victimhood is encouraged and hailed automatically for women; the way we minimize trauma in order to cope with it; etc… So many of the elements in this story come from a real place, and its character study is handled realistically. What encouraged me to bump my rating to 5 stars, ultimately, is the ending and its realism in quietly and slowly learning how to piece yourself back together.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

También de este lado hay sueños.
On this side, too, there are dreams.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

(Note: There appears to be extreme controversy regarding this book and its author. I had to read down dozens of reviews to find a review not remarking upon it. I haven’t looked much into it, but feel free to do so before voting, since I opted to find a review that left out their personal feelings on the matter.)

Review by Cheri

Beginning at the end, or perhaps more accurately – after the end of the story, for a change. In the Author’s Note at the end of the story, Cummins writes:

”As I traveled and researched, even the notion of the American dream began to feel proprietary. There’s a wonderful piece of graffiti on the border wall in Tijuana that became, for me, the engine of this whole endeavor. I photographed it and made it my computer wallpaper. Anytime I faltered or felt discouraged, I clicked back to my desktop and looked at it: ‘También de este lado hay sueños.’
“On this side, too, there are dreams.”

While there is much about this that seems painfully current, a story I would not be shocked to hear about through some Breaking News report which seem to occur much more often lately, it would be easy to forget the news is most often comprised of facts and figures and – especially lately – to be slanted to one side, politically, or the other. But this story is filled with a truth that needs, deserved to be shared, one that fuels the heart and soul of this book. It is a story about people enduring the worst, people who are so desperate for a life that doesn’t involve having to worry every day, every minute about the next minute, that they leave their home, friends and family for a dream. A dream that may, in reality, become their worst nightmare.

The opening chapter grabbed me and pulled me in, an event occurs as this begins that prompts a mother and her young son to leave their home in Acapulco to escape the men who killed the other members of their family. Desperately anxious to make their way to a place of safety they need to head to the United States, but there are few people that she feels that she can turn to for help. They’re on their own.

There’s an edge to this story that kept me reading, I cared about these people and wanted to see their dream come true, a dream for a life free of the sort of dangers that they’d fled. I wanted to see them reach a place of peace, and to see the possibility that their dreams might come true.

A very timely read that moved me, shook me to the core, this is filled with heartache, as well as humanity, the kindness of strangers. While there is a struggle for their survival, and heartache, it is the fierce determination of a mother determined to give her child the best life she can, along with some exceptional, inspired writing, that moves this story along at an almost unputdownable pace.

This is already in the works for a film, which will be brought to you by Imperative Entertainment, and yet, this book hasn’t even been published, yet. Do yourself a favour and read it first.

Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore.

His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.

Review by Roman Clodia

Bold. Subversive. Punchy. Nauseating. Provocative. Challenging. Excessive. Polemical. Gruesome.

In 1729, Jonathan Swift published a sustained Juvenalian satire called A Modest Proposal in which he solved in one move the economic and social woes of the starving poor, especially in Ireland: all they had to do was sell their children to be eaten by the rich, and not just would they become wealthy, but the population over-crowding would be eased as well. One line that has always stayed with me is this: ‘A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.’ It’s a line that might well serve as a fitting epigraph for this book.

Bazterrica offers to us a world in which cannibalism rules, now called the Transition and covered over by linguistic euphemisms to make it, er, palatable. The thing is this isn’t really a dystopia as I’ve seen it described: it reflects all kinds of realities, albeit pushed to extremes. The conveyor line killing sounds like the process that animals go through, stunned, slaughtered, turned into leather, fertilizer, as well as prime cuts of meat. The mass transits that bring ‘heads’ to the killing centres remind us of the Nazi death-trains, complete with the occasional ‘head’ trying desperately to escape before being shot. The laboratory doing medical experiments on live specimens reflect our own pharmaceutical and medical protocols. The Scavengers are the have-nots, socially ostracised and kept outside of social structures like the homeless on our streets. And the ‘game-hunting’ and people-trafficking are just a step away from what we read about every day. Bazterrica’s vision may be excessive, and shockingly so, but only just: and the book asks provocative, uneasy questions about what exactly it is which separates the human from animal.

This is no 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale: it doesn’t have the extensive, convincing world-building and is shorter, more polemical – but for a short read-it-in-a-few-hours book it’s punchy and oh so provocative. (And yes, that’ll be veggie burgers for me, thanks).

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

Review by Sean Barrs

Every so often you read a book, a book that takes everything you thought created an excellent novel and tears it to pieces; it then sets it on fire and throws it out the window in a display of pure individual brilliance. That is how I felt when I read this jumbled and absurd, yet fantastic, novel.

The book has no structure or at the very least a perceivable one: it’s all over the place. But, it works so well. It cements the book’s message and purpose underlining its meaning. Indeed, this book is an anti-war novel, which is asserted (in part) through its random and confusing organisation. The story is “jumbled and jangled” such as the meaning of war. It appears pointless to the reader, again alluding to the meaning of war. It also suggests that after the war a soldier’s life is in ruins and has no clear direction, which can be seen with the sad case of Billy Pilgrim. So it goes.

Billy Pilgrim is a poor tortured soul who after the fire-bombing of Dresden is in a state of flux. His mind cannot remain in the present and darts back and forth in time like the narrative. He was never the most assertive of men, and after the war became a shadow of his already meek self. The war has left him delusional, which is manifested by his abduction by aliens. This may or may not have happened. Vonnegut leaves it up to the reader to decide. What decision they make effects what genre the novel belongs to.

Is it science fiction?

If Billy was abducted by aliens then this is sci-fi, but if it is a figment of his imagination then this becomes something much deeper. It’s up to the reader how they interpret it, but I personally believe that he wasn’t abducted. I think he made it up, unconsciously, as a coping strategy for the effects of war, and that the author has used it as a tool to raise questions of the futility of free will, but more importantly to further establish the anti-war theme.

Vonnegut draws on a multitude of sources to establish this further, such as the presidential address of Truman. He ironically suggests that the A-bomb, whilst devastating, is no worse than ordinary war; he points out the fact that the fire-bombing of Dresden killed more than the nuking of Hiroshima. Through this he uses Billy Pilgrim’s life as a metaphor for what war for the effects of war on the human state.

So it goes.

Vonnegut himself is a character within the narrative as the life of Billy Pilgrim is, in part, an autobiographical statement. The narrator addresses the reader and informs them of this. He tells them that this all happened more or less. This establishes the black humour towards war and the inconsequential deaths of those that are in it. Hence the motif “so it goes” at each, and every, mention of death whether large or small. He ends the book on the line “poo-te-weet.” He even tells the reader he is going to do this, but at the same time demonstrates that there is nothing intelligible to be said about war.

I warn you, if you’ve not read this, it is one of the most bizarre books you will ever read. The main character time travels, in his mind, and has no real present state. The narrative initially appears random and completely confusing. But, once you reach the end you’ll see this book for what it is: the most individual, and unique, statement against war that will ever be written.

Vote Here (Choose 2)

Which Books Would You Like to Read Next?

  • The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle (38%, 9 Votes)
  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (38%, 9 Votes)
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (17%, 4 Votes)
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 12

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