Monday, September 30, 2013

Banned Books Week, Belated

Last week was Banned Books Week, and though I was down with a head cold which rendered me mostly incapable of rational thought, I did read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. 

Persepolis was challenged then banned from the middle school curriculum in Chicago Public School system earlier this year. From everything I read, high school teachers were still allowed to teach it. Last Sunday, as the book lay on my kitchen counter, with crisp corners and an uncracked spine, I thought, I can understand parents of seventh graders wanting to reassurance about the contents of a heavy book before their kids read it, but by high school, kids need to know this stuff. Whatever "this stuff" was, I didn't precisely know. I hadn't read the book yet. 

Now that I have, I can say the thing that struck me most, is that Satrapi is about my age. What does that mean, exactly? 

It means that Satrapi begins her story with the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when she was ten years old. My daughters are ten years old.

It means that in 1984, when I was swooning over the members of Duran Duran, Satrapi was fending for herself in an Austrian Catholic boarding school. And that while I was whining about having to read The Odyssey in verse and writing poetry instead of paying attention during AP American History, Satrapi was devouring essays by Freud, probably in German.

Most of all, it means that there was barely a two-page spread in Persepolis that didn't teach me something, and that in spite of the semester of Middle Eastern history I opted for in college, I know next to nothing. How does something like that happen? I'm still flipping back and forth in the book and Googling events and places to make sure I have the timeline straight for the fifteen years Satrapi chronicles.

I'm not sure if I should feel ashamed of or grateful for my sheltered upbringing. What I am sure about is that most seventh grade kids can handle the contents of Persepolis. Are violence and torture depicted? Yes. Much more than violence, though, Satrapi depicts her struggle to understand, to belong and to thrive on her own terms. What teenager can't identify with those desires?

I see no reason why our middle school students shouldn't read it, discuss it, and let it seep into their psyches. I've already decided to include Persepolis in the history curriculum for Pen and Em when we cycle back around to modern history. They'll probably be in the seventh grade.

What about you? What did you read for Banned Books Week? And what do you not know?

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