If your family is full of avid readers, and your house is stocked with books, consider this: On average, about 500 books are challenged every year in the United States, according to the American Library Association — and those are just the ones reported.
The ALA states that books challenged or banned in the United States during 2010-11 included: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — a parent claimed that it gave her 11-year-old daughter nightmares and could numb other children to the effects of violence; What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Guide for Parents and Sons, which was banned in 21 Texas schools after a parent complained about it; and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, challenged in Republic, Missouri schools because it is allegedly “glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex.”
In the recently released Book of Mercy, Minnesota author Sherry Roberts tackles the topic of censorship in a small town. Roberts’ story centers on a group of influential women — the Mercy Study Club — whose leader decides to remove “undesirable” books from the school library. The movement gathers support, and eventually, the school librarian is bullied into taking a select group of books off the shelves.
The plan goes off the tracks when Antigone Brown discovers the plot. Brown is a woman who has trouble reading road signs, keeps a stone in her pocket to help her remember right from left, and despairs of ever being a good mother to her unborn child. Brown is a quirky, smart, loveable everywoman that readers can’t help rooting for. The situations she finds herself involved in are messy and true-to-small town life. Though she is far from perfect, Antigone’s moral compass never wavers. The challenges she faces are formidable and her foes are deliciously evil.
“This novel is inspired by an actual book challenge that occurred in my daughter’s high school in North Carolina,” Roberts said in an interview via email. “She came home one day and said, ‘Mom, they’re banning books!’ A parent complained about The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes, and the school took it out of circulation. Eventually, the book was returned to the library shelves, after a public meeting and a review committee assessment. However, in the process, the English teacher resigned.”
During the interview, Roberts added, “Every parent has to face the same question that Antigone Brown ponders: how do we protect our children from the world, but save the world for our children?”
Roberts is also the author of Maud’s House, and two non-fiction books about the city of Greensboro, North Carolina. She has contributed essays and articles to national publications such as USA Today. Visit Sherry Roberts’s blog. To read an excerpt of Book of Mercy visit the The Ban of the Month Club.