Challenges to Twisted

The challenges to TWISTED come from the Three Monkeys School of Thought; “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Some people believe that if teenagers can be sheltered from all thoughts and examples of dangerous behavior, then they will not do anything dumb.

I wish.

In the fall of 2009, TWISTED and several other books were removed from a classroom in Montgomery County High School, in Mount Sterling, KY. Here is the letter I sent to the committee reviewing the challenged novels:

“I am the author of TWISTED. It is my understanding that my book is about to be removed from a classroom in your school, because a parent or parents do not like it.

I am not a taxpayer in your district, but there are a few things about my background that may allow me to contribute to your community’s discussion of the book.

First and foremost, I am the mother of four children. Our girls have all graduated from college. Two of them are teachers, one manages a bookstore. Our son is a senior in high school and is busy with his college applications. All of our children are products of public education.

Our family has faced the challenges, fears, and hard decisions that families all over America face when trying to raise their children in a culture that seems bent on destroying traditional values.

I live in a conservative, rural community in Northern New York State, a few miles away from the village where my father, a minister, had his first church in the late 1950s.

I suspect I would feel right at home in your town.

I wrote TWISTED after speaking to roughly half a million high school students about my first novel, SPEAK. Countless teenage boys came up to me after my presentations, or emailed me at home, to talk about the kinds of issues in their lives that caused them pain.

Three common topics emerged from these conversations:

  1. Boys are confused by girls.
  2. Boys have to deal with issues of bullying that far exceed the scope of what most adults assume they are dealing with.
  3. Many boys are sorrowful because they don’t have a healthy relationship with their father, or with any man who could be a father figure. And they need that relationship in order to grow up to be good men.

I set out to write a book that would explore these issues.

Here is the root – I suspect – of the parental concern about my book. TWISTED has scenes in which teenagers make stupid, dangerous, and occasionally horrifying decisions.

Why on earth would someone like me put things like that in a book?

Because readers who can experience those decisions – by reading about them – and appreciate the consequences of those actions – by seeing those consequences affect the lives of a book’s characters – are less likely to do the stupid, dangerous and occasionally horrifying things themselves.

Jesus knew this. He did not simply reiterate the Ten Commandments, or tell us to love one another and walk back into the desert. He told stories that made His listeners think. They make us think two thousand years later.

Storytelling is the traditional vehicle mankind uses to pass wisdom from one generation to the next. TWISTED contains a lot of bad decisions, hard consequences, and wisdom.

At the bottom of this email, you will find a listing of the state and national awards TWISTED has received. They were all very flattering, but none of them mean nearly as much to me as the email I get from readers. Here are a few quotes from three of those emails.

“I just wanted to say thank you for writing this book. I have been considering killing myself for many years and now I am entering my junior year of high school and about 10 minutes ago finished this book. It has given me a new perspective on life and that death isn’t the easy way out. I can relate to Tyler in many ways… I greatly appreciate this book because now I know that there is hope in my life and that death is not the answer. And one more thing this is the only book I have been able to pick up and not put down from start to finish. I finished it in one day.”

“… I read “Twisted” today. I started around 4, and I couldn’t stop, I finished at 9:40. This book, was so eerily similar to my life, not completely, because I haven’t done any “Foul Deeds” (haha), and I don’t have the same “Bethany” situation, but my father is so much like Tyler’s, it sounded like he was based off him. He yells about grades constantly, to the point of making my house unhappy. I’ve considered suicide before and told no one, just buried it. I know this sounds strange, but I connected to this book in a very strange way. I can’t explain it, I just did. I’ve never sat down and read a book cover to cover, but for some reason, I couldn’t stop… But, I mean, this sounds silly, but I just want to thank you for writing that book. I feel different now, I know it may not make perfect sense, but this book changed part of me. So, thank you.”

“Your work is very true to heart. I don’t know if you intend to or not, but you really help young people out there. Twisted really got to me. I’ve had 3 suicide attempts and the way you wrote the way he was feeling, and the hopelessness and complete unhappiness he had to deal with really hit home with me. You really nailed it… After finishing twisted I realized how much of a miracle life is, and how problems are only temporary. I could honestly bore you with a 3 page email explaining to you all I’ve learned and connected with from your writing. Basically I really appreciate and look up to you and your work.”

Those emails, ma’am, are the reason I write hard, true, literary books for teenagers.

It’s easier to keep teaching the traditional canon of high school literature. The Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, and Hamlet don’t bring many parents to school board meetings, because parents remember reading those books and being bored to death by them. (Remember, please, that these canonical books deal with adultery, murder, and suicide.)

The challenge with bringing new literature into the classroom is that the students actually read the books. They are engaged by characters whose life experiences reflect their own. They want to participate in discussions about the decisions made by the characters and explore how the themes might resonate in their own hearts.

The scenes in TWISTED that some parents might find offensive are reflections of the reality of our nation. Many of our children are living it. They are all surrounded by peers who are living it. They watch Law & Order reruns after school, they read newspapers, they are aware of the latest scandals involving sex and violence.

I wish that it were not so. I wish all our children could be raised in innocence and live out their lives without ever knowing about the darker side of the human experience. But aspects of sexuality, and violence, and death, are a part of all of our lives.

Banning books does not protect teenagers. It condemns them to ignorance and puts them in danger.

I fully sympathize with the parents who do not want their children to read my books. They are doing their job as parents.

But I strongly disagree with their attempt to impose their personal standards on the entire school district by banning TWISTED. That flies in the face of our Constitution and damages the values of free speech and free thought that make our country unique in the history of the world.

I hope you will continue to support your teachers and honor your students by giving them books that will help them grow strong in mind and spirit.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.

With respect,

Laurie Halse Anderson”

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