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A Bad Review 16 July 2007

Posted by Jason Bowman in Book Reviews, Reading, Teacher Book Reviews.
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I hesitate to post a negative review of an author’s work. Generally, if I do not enjoy a novel, I just put it down and find another. However, from time to time, it’s helpful to identify the characteristics of novels which I do not like and will not recommend to students. Publishers, please, pay attention! I am reading, not only for personal enjoyment and development, but also because students often need guidance in choosing their own reading materials. I won’t recommend a work to students if I find it offensive or inappropriate.

Now, I know the arguments against censorship, but there are certain standards I expect. To use cursing, for example, is often unnecessary and risky — why offend the audience needlessly? This what I asked on page 2 (!) of Mary Hershey’s The One Where the Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California, published this year by Penguin. I love the title and the excerpts on the cover were very interesting. It looked to be a good read, neatly displayed in the young adult section of the Leon County Library. So, I was quite shocked and very disappointed to find an unnecessary curse word on the second page. The author could have omitted the word or she could have chosen a different word altogether to convey the speaker’s thoughts.

Instead, I am left with a book I refuse to read and to recommend to the young readers who expect their teacher to suggest really good books they can trust. Why did the book’s editor let the author use that word? To needlessly offend a whole segment of your target audience is crazy! I can’t recommend that book to my students because of that one word on page two – and I have not even continued reading it for that reason.

Don’t argue “realism.”  Tough “street” kids can be portrayed without offensive cursing.  It doesn’t take a verbatim report of the dialogue  to convey the roughness of a character.  You can convince me of a character’s frustration or tough exterior in more subtle ways!  Besides, there’s a difference between realism and shock.  Mark Twain could use words we find offensive today, because those words were far less shocking to his audience and (sadly) more commonly used across the whole of society. There was a compelling reason behind Twain’s word choices.  The same does not apply to the word used in this case.

Come on, authors and publishers, think about the classroom!  There needs to be a compelling motive behind cursing in a book for me to gloss over it my reviews.  Remember that teachers answer to parents and ultimately to God for their choices.  If you want a recommendation from teachers, the book needs positive qualities and the absence of negative distractions.  And there are some negatives (in this case, needless cursing) which can not ever be overcome by any amount of positive qualities.  No matter how good the characterizations and how neat the plot, I will not recommend to my students any book that needlessly offends me or those students!  Before you publish certain words, think about the classroom.

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