Chris Crutcher may be my new hero. That’s probably a little strong, but I do love what he did with this book. I think I’ve said this before, but when I was growing up, my mom felt very strongly that kids should be encouraged to read and that one way to do that was to not interfere with what they wanted to read. She stood up to one of her sisters who told her that whatever I happened to be reading at the time was inappropriate and too adult. (When she told me this, after the fact, I asked her what book I was reading, but she couldn’t remember.)
I read kids’ books that were banned at the time–Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was one of my favorites, as was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (both books are frequently banned). I read science fiction and fantasy books that my high school and college aged brothers and my father were reading. In sixth grade, I read the Thomas Covenant books, and in seventh grade, I read the Dune books. Both contain very adult themes and have very high reading levels.
With my own son, I’ve found it challenging to carry on my mom’s legacy of not censoring his reading choices. Not so much because I don’t want him to read about certain topics–it’s because he’s less of a reader than I am, so I find myself choosing books for him to entice him to read. If I leave it to him to choose, unfortunately, he just won’t read. He occasionally comes home and tells me about a book series he wants to get–I have managed to instill in him that books are something he will always get if he asks. (That was another of Mom’s key beliefs. We didn’t have much money, but if I asked for a book, we got it, often at the library or through a book order. I was never told that books were too expensive.) But mainly I try to expand his reading by reading together.
Anyway, Chris Crutcher’s books are, apparently, frequently targeted for banning. And that battle is one of the main storylines of The Sledding Hill.
I am reading my way across the USA–5 or so books from each state, with an emphasis on books where the setting becomes another character in the book, or where we learn something about the geography, history, and/or people of the state. Right now we are in Idaho.
The Sledding Hill doesn’t have much in the way of landscape in it, despite the name. In fact, much of it doesn’t even take place in the winter–the sledding hill is a community gathering place, and a place where many of Eddie’s best memories of his recently deceased best friend (who narrates the story) take place, along with a number of dream sequences.
As for learning about the people, I’m not sure I’d recommend The Sledding Hill for that aspect either. Most of the people are stereotypes–the Teens for God, the fire and brimstone religious fanatics, the sheep-like general population, even the main character is a bit of a stereotype of a kid with ADHD. Of course, stereotypes exist for a reason, and Idaho is definitely a red state with a strong church presence (both Mormon and other Christians).
I took a little bit of issue with Eddie’s selective mutism… or rather his *elective* mutism. Crutcher’s character is definitely choosing not to speak, whereas my research (done recently due to several other characters we’ve discussed recently in Minnesota!) indicates that many people who experience selective mutism due to trauma (such as discovering the dead bodies of 2 very important people in your life within several weeks of each other) or anxiety find themselves *involuntarily* unable to speak in at least some circumstances. (Think of it more like stuttering.) That’s why the condition has been renamed “selective” rather than “elective” mutism.
Of course, Eddie’s mutism is key to the plot of the story, and it’s important to that plot that it be Eddie’s choice. So I understand why Crutcher portrayed it that way. But I hope that choice doesn’t result in his audience thinking that this is a choice for all kids who are non-verbal.
Overall, it’s a minor quibble, and I’m willing to overlook it, because I really want this book to become well-known. Because this book gives a play-by-play account of how to fight the banning of a book in your community, especially at your school library.
I love the group that gathers in the school janitor’s closet to read the book aloud. I really love Montana’s speech at the meeting and the points she makes about what kids today are exposed to as part of their lives.
“One out of three girls is sexually abused,” she says, reading from the paper. “One out of five boys. The statistics on both boys and girls who are emotionally or physically abused are hard to zero in on because of definition, but understand that if you’re in a class of twenty-five kids, there are several. Approximately one in ten humans is gay. Anywhere from twenty to sixty-five percent of the students in a high-school classroom are sexually active in some way; could be higher. Every class has at least one kid who’s anorexic or bulimic and one who cuts herself or himself. I’m one of those. I cut on myself because it’s pain I can control, instead of pain from you-know-where from you-know-who that I can’t control. When I feel like I have no control, I get it wherever I can. When you try to control what we think, we feel out of control. We think you’re cowards when you won’t talk with us.”
Montana has a couple of other great quotes about banning books:
“If you don’t want to lose us,” Montana says to the crowd, “stop trying to tell us how to think. It makes it almost impossible to respect you.”
“… go ahead. Take it. We’ll find it and read it, and we’ll post a list at the city library of every book you ban and read every one of them. We’ll carry them, front cover out, all over campus, and we’ll talk about them, loud, with one another.”
There’s a list of authors, including Crutcher, whose books are also removed from the school library at the same time:
The Bear Creek High School library is cleansed of Chris Crutcher, and subsequently of Alex Sanchez and Terry Davis and some of Walter Dean Myers, Judy Blume, Alice Walker, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Cormier, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling.
And, of course, this kind of a list makes me want to find out about and read all of them. Which, also of course, is Crutcher’s intention. But I’m okay with that. If you’re interested in learning more about what books are most frequently banned or challenged, check out the American Library Association’s website. They have great information as well as lists by year and by decade of the books.
Alex Sanchez – Author of the Rainbow Boys trilogy and winner of several Lambda Literary awards, which celebrate published works that explore LGBT themes. Rainbow Boys made the ALA’s list of Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books of 2000-2009.
Terry Davis – “… has been a high school English teacher and a wrestling coach, is the author of three novels for young adults: Vision Quest (1979), Mysterious Ways (1984), and If Rock & Roll Were a Machine (1992). He has also written Presenting Chris Crutcher, a biography of the respected young-adult author” (from Goodreads author bio).
Walter Dean Myers – Fallen Angels made the ALA’s list for Top 100 1990-1999. I’m surprised his book Monster didn’t as well. Sunrise Over Fallujah and Shooter seem likely targets as well!
Judy Blume – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret isn’t the only Judy Blume book that’s controversial. Forever, Blubber, Tiger Eyes, and Deenie have also made the ALA’s decade lists.
Robert Cormier – Several of Cormier’s books have made the lists of banned and challenged books (We All Fall Down, and Fade) but The Chocolate War has made it consistently. “His books often are concerned with themes such as abuse, mental illness, violence, revenge, betrayal and conspiracy. In most of his novels, the protagonists do not win” (from Goodreads author page).
Stephen King – The classic horror writer is no stranger to challenges to his books. Cujo, Carrie, The Dead Zone, and Christine have all made the ALA’s Top 100 Lists.
J.K. Rowling – Honestly, it always boggles my mind that the Harry Potter series gets banned or challenged, given the mind-boggling worldwide success of the books and their undeniable appeal to reluctant readers. And I totally get that by the end of the series the kids are dealing with very adult, very scary situations. But this is a series that I couldn’t wait for my son to be excited about reading.
So, overall, The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher was a great read, but not great for my reading challenge or for getting to know Idaho better. Oh well, we have other choices… hopefully we’ll hit some gold soon.