I’ve said this a few times lately, most recently when I reviewed His Hideous Heart and maybe I shouldn’t fight it so much, but I do. I don’t like talking about books from an educational standpoint too much. It isn’t why I started Novel Lives. In fact, it is the opposite reason.
Thank You Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for an ARC in exchange for an honest review
When I started it, I was still working in education and I wanted a place to talk about novels outside of the educational space. Now that I’ve taken a step back from that career, I just don’t want to force my educational lens on others. However, there have been a few books that have come out recently that cry to that part of my life, for brilliant reasons. And I can’t help but answer that call. Suggested Reading, out 9/17, by David Connis is one of those works.
Suggested Reading, while definitely a Young Adult novel is a book that should be read by everyone and anyone involved in the educational space from politicians (not that they should be anywhere near the educational space but I’ll let that one go) to superintendents and right down the line. Because this isn’t just a story, although the story is a pip.
And while many educators like to talk about giving kids agency, empowerment and teaching them advocacy? Unless they are one of the few that actually walk the walk? The main character, Clara, and the steps she takes when the school board bans fifty books on the first day of school will surely make them want to send Suggested Reading right out the door. Because it will give too many students too many ideas. And it will. That is the whole point.
And it should. Reading is just that important. Students need to know what they can do. More importantly, they need to know why they should do it. Exposure to reading they connect with, reading that speaks to them gives them a voice, opportunities and a vision with choices, possibilities.
When Clara starts a library from her locker room that contains banned books it causes a domino effect that leads to the why that students need to examine and reach a conclusion of their own design. Suggested Reading provides that opportunity without spoon feeding or leading. They will go on this trip with Clara as she must evaluate her actions throughout the book.
Her ideas and beliefs are often put to the test and that causes her to reflect on what literature means to her, how much what she is standing up for means to her and what she will ultimately choose to do.
Equal time is given to both sides of the argument, which will allow students to debate, think and judge for themselves what they would do and should do. And while, yes, Clara comes to the decision we would think or assume in the end, it doesn’t take away from the journey she embarks on.
Like most journeys, Clara’s change over time is as important as to where her character ends up and this is equally important. The discussions around judging others, forgiveness and learning from mistakes are as important for adults as adolescents.
A greater theme and takeaway from Suggested Reading, as if it hasn’t done enough already is to every part of life. Standing up for what you believe in when it comes to banned books isn’t just about banned books. It is about standing up for you what you believe in, period.
It is about applying that action and those thoughts outside of the classroom. And for anyone who believes in truly empowering students in advocacy, equality and change? That is the endgame.