Lisa Burstein

This Be Where I Blog

Pretty Amy’s magazine review censorship – a teen librarian’s take

on July 11, 2012

I tweeted yesterday about a national teen magazine that was supposed to write a review for PRETTY AMY, but wasn’t because it contained drug use. I’m not sure how much you all know about getting reviews from major publications, but it is damn hard, and I was ecstatic that an actual in-print magazine liked PRETTY AMY enough to want to review it. My publicist worked her butt-off for it and it was a real win for PRETTY AMY.

I don’t know exactly what went down or how it did, but yesterday I was told they were passing on their review because “the book contained drug use and they didn’t want to promote that to their readers.” They were professional and I have no complaints. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but as they say, so is everyone else.

I was amazed by the amount of followers of mine who were outraged by this. A teen librarian so much so, that she wrote the post below and I am sharing it with you now.

I could write my own post about the experience, but I’m going to be honest- hers is just better than mine would be.

As a reader, I know that story has the power to change lives.  From the moment I read It by Stephen King in the 6th grade, I knew that I wanted to be THAT type of friend.  When I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee I knew I wanted to be THAT type of a person.  You can, in fact, read about a couple of my life changing experiences as a reader here and here.

As a librarian, as someone who cares about teens, who cares about the future of the world, I count on the fact that story has the power to change lives.  I put books in the hands of teens every day and hope that they will have their Pandemonium or Ask the Passengers moment.

As a girl, I understand that story has the power to help us understand who we are, how we think, and how we can be so much more than the world sometimes seems destined to let us be.  I imagine that is also the case for boys, but have less personal insight into it.  But that is why there is such tremendous value in authors like Judy Blume and Sarah Dessen and Sara Zarr and yes, in the book Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein.

You see for me, the heart of Pretty Amy is the story that most girls have within them: we are struggling to be at peace in our own skin, we are struggling to find a group of people that we can be It level friends with.  We want to find a way to hold our head up high and feel pretty – not on the outside pretty, but inside valuable to the world no matter what pretty.  And this is the heart that beats in the core of Pretty Amy.

However, before Amy can get to the climb towards self acceptance, she must – like so many of us must – realizes that she needs to take that journey of self discovery.  In Pretty Amy, that moment comes when she is arrested on prom night for drug possession (marijuana) and intent to sell.  Yesterday, author Lisa Burstein tweeted that a magazine had decided not to publish a review of her book Pretty Amy because it had teens using drugs in it.

Let’s take a side step for a moment, shall we?  You may have heard that there is a mega hot selling book out right now called 50 Shades of Grey.  I have not read this book, but it is my understanding that many people consider it to be a model of unhealthy relationships.  There are articles about this book on every major news outlet and you can see commercials for it on TV.  You can not escape the phenom that is 50 Shades.  So, while we are busy being told time and time again that these types of relationships – and trust me, 50 Shades is not the only example out there, I have even discussed before my concerns about the way unhealthy relationships are portrayed in teen fiction and, in this case, adult fiction (trust me, teens are reading it too) – are okay, we are going to sweep Pretty Amy under the rug because a teen does drugs.  Please note: drug use is in no way glorified or condoned in this book, in fact, it is the impetus for Amy’s journey to a healthy sense of self which means she must move away from these activities.  What’s the take away teen readers get here? Reading about unhealthy romantic relationships good and titillating, reading about non glorified drug use is bad.  Let’s unpack that a little further shall we: it is your role to subjugate yourself in unhealthy ways to a man to find fulfillment as a woman, but we can’t let you read about a teenage girl smoking pot, being punished for it and finding ACTUAL healthy self-fulfillment.

So while Bella must surrender her soul and become a member of the immortal undead to find her true love and we accept that, we can’t let teens grapple with a very real life scenario and come to a sense of understanding that some of the choices that we make are unhealthy and unwise but we can fix them.  They don’t have to define us as we can move forward and make different choices.  Please note Bella can never make a different choice – she has surrendered her soul – but Amy most definitely can.

That is part of the value of realistic fiction.  It allows us as readers to step into someone else’s shoes, to live another person’s life, and learn from it.  We may learn compassion for others.  We may learn to make different choices.  We may learn to act, think or feel differently – but we learn.  The question we must ask ourselves is this: how do we want our teens to learn?  Do we want them to learn in the safety of their rooms in the pages of a book?  Or do we want to shelter them to such an extreme that they don’t understand the dangers of the world they live in and are forced to learn in very real ways?  I personally vote safety of a book, but that’s just crazy talk.

I have known teens and have watched them disintegrate before my eyes because they have fallen into the rabbit hole of drugs.  It is such a horrible sight to witness, drugs are a powerful force.  Abuse, drugs, crime – literature, the power of story, can help teen readers figure out how to live in the world without making very painful and sometimes irreversible mistakes.  If we want our teens to be critical thinkers who can make good decisions for self and future, then we must be willing to let them enter into the pages of a book and examine the story critically.

Amy becomes pretty, pretty on the inside pretty, because she learns to love herself.  Her story can teach teen girls everywhere to do the same.  I wish that we would understand that our teens are on those crucial steps toward adulthood and we need to allow them to make safe steps on that journey by allowing them the opportunity to think and feel and interact with the real world.  And let’s not forget, some of our teens are already living those lives that we are trying to protect other teens from, we devalue them and their story when we censor their truth.  Just because you want to pretend something isn’t there doesn’t really make it go away.  I think the question we have to ask ourselves is how to we learn about the lives of our teens, give them voice, and have meaningful conversations with teens and each other about the lives of teens.  And the answer is found in the pages of books like Pretty Amy.

Read my previous thoughts on censorship:
A Banned Books Week Primer
Banned Books Week: Teen fiction is . . .

Here is my review of Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein

8 responses to “Pretty Amy’s magazine review censorship – a teen librarian’s take

  1. Ara Trask says:

    The fact your book is so honest about what teens are really like (Yes, some DO use drugs! *Gasp*) makes me want to read your book even more. Fiction is best when it’s honest. Scrubbed-down stories without the bitter taste of reality give us a false impression on what real teens struggle with, and is therefore impossible for anyone to relate to. I laugh at anyone who thinks that fiction should be squeaky-clean where nobody ever does anything taboo, and always obeys the law: who would want to read something so boring?

  2. Kelley York says:

    This makes me sad. 😦 It’s not like the book is talking about a teen getting into drugs and thinking they’re the most amazing thing ever. I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far, I’m getting a REALLY realistic sense of what it was like to be a teenager, and I look forward to see how that progresses and blooms.

    I’m sorry you didn’t get this review, and I hope the reaction of your fans is proof you wrote something amazing, whether a reviewer agrees or not. 🙂

  3. I wrote an essay about this exact topic for an exam in my Young Adult Literature graduate class. My thesis was the same– books are a great place for kids to explore mistakes and bad decisions. They are a safe place for kids to view the darkness in the world and learn not to make those mistakes in real life. I would much rather a kid grapple with drug use in fiction than by taking a mystery handout at a party. I just bought Pretty Amy solely to thwart that magazine who didn’t want to encourage it. 🙂

  4. Carey T says:

    As a teacher of 8th graders, I could break your heart with all the stories my kids go through. And yes. Drugs is one of them. As is pregnancy. And homelessness. And the fact that they have to take care of their drunk mothers or siblings while parents work 3 jobs. So many things. And with all this, they feel alone. If a book can make them understand their issues are faced by others, than why would we deny them that? Life happens and they need to know it. I see it as another opportunity to get kids engaged in reading, because as I tell them every year, books are just a reflection of the human experience. We read books because in them we see ourselves and who we want to be and sometimes who we don’t.

    On another note…I always put up lists of banned/censored books. I tell them, if you want a good book, read these. They do. I will put your book up as an example next year. 🙂

  5. tammyjpalmer says:

    You’re in good company. One of my favorite authors when I was young was Judy Blume, and some of her books were banned too, for being too real. (In Forever the heroine had sex with her boyfriend and, gasp, the world did not come to an end.) It sounds like you’re doing everything right, some adults just prefer to live in their own fantasy world where teens lives are concerned. Do people really forget what it was like to be young?

  6. This is so hypocritical. I loved Pretty Amy, and it really isn’t about drugs or condoning teenagers behaving badly. I just don’t understand this people. I accept that they’re entitled to do whatever they want, but the reasoning behind their decisions doesn’t make sense. I also agree with the comparison with Twilight… They are so many things that could be seen as ‘wrong’ in the Twilight franchise from a ‘moral’ point-of-view… but, hey, there’s no pre-marital sex, so it must be fine 😉

  7. That was brilliant! This post is a great example of the fact that teens are so much more insightful than they are given credit for.

  8. Lisa, I’m so sorry this happened to PRETTY AMY. You’re one of the most talented and giving authors I know and this was truly undeserved. Teens do not live in a bubble, and I do not understand people’s rationale for pretending like they do. They will encounter drugs, violence, bullying, harassment, and cruelty in their lives. But, books can be the life line that help them through the dark times. Books enable them to see another person’s journey and relate to it on an emotional level. When they say #YaSaves, it isn’t some flippant remark. It’s a reality. Books have the power to save, to heal, and to inspire. Pretty Amy does all that, and it deserves to be a part of the YA community.

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