Part of Banned Books Week coverage on HuffPost Books
When I received the news that my first novel had been officially banned, I clapped my hands together once, as if catching a fly, and shouted.
The book has been the recipient of many notables, including an NAIBA Best Book of the Year, a Booksense Pick, even a selection on Oprah's list of Teen Recommendations. But none of these distinctions have come close to the absolute thrill I felt when I got the news about the banning.
Being banned in this country, where we are free to write and read whatever we want, is a privilege. It is an honor. I join the ranks of some of my own beloved authors, including J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, Sherman Alexie, and Harper Lee, whose own works were pulled from the shelves for writing the things they wanted to write.
And herein lies the real honor of being banned: I believe that when someone writes their truth, their real truth, the one that has kept them up at night, wondering if they could put it down on paper, the one that made them weep when they finally did, the one that still haunts them, even to this day, it is an act of courage. The older I get, the more I understand that every act of courage in this world is eventually going to be met by someone who is still afraid. It is those fears that are really behind the banning of books, those closed minds and eyes, which refuse to throw open their own curtains and see their own light.
My book The Patron Saint of Butterflies, which is loosely based on some experiences I had as a kid growing up in a religious commune, is a work of fiction. But much of it was inspired by my own childhood, a place where fear was my understanding of the world. It was the language I knew first; the one I learned so well that living without it one day seemed impossible.
Until it wasn't. Until I sat down one day and began to write. The truth is, as a writer of six other books, I could not have written any of them until I wrote this one. It was this one that let me throw back the curtain on my own life, and refuse to live my life silently for one more day. It was this one that let me reclaim myself, and hence my voice, so that I could say the other things I wanted to say.
I don't think it's any accident that out of all my books, this is the one that people take objection to. It's a brave book, maybe my bravest so far. It talks about things like being hurt as a child, being silenced, and shut away. Parents don't like that. They don't want their kids to be exposed to some of the real horrors out there in the world. A part of me doesn't blame them. I'm a parent, too. I understand wanting to protect your children as long as you can.
But here's the rub: Hiding the truth from kids isn't protecting them. It's prolonging their understanding of the world at large, the world they will one day join in and be an active part of. Banning books like mine won't save them from the ugliness out there. If anything, it will prevent them from learning compassion for other people sooner, forestall their knowledge of how the choices people make shape their lives.
I will stand behind my novel until the day I die. There is nothing in its pages that I am ashamed of or that I would take back, even if I could. Having it banned is just another step along its journey in this world.
And one that I am proud to share with it.
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