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young adult book reviews & more

Banned Books Week: Castration Celebration Controversy



I don’t believe Castration Celebration has been formally challenged or banned yet, but with all the discussion and debate this saucy story has sparked around the blogosphere, I wouldn’t be the least surprised.

Where to start? I might as well with my own review. Let me make it clear here what I might not have been able to the first time around: I think the story is funny in a dirty sort of way; I don’t think young readers should read this book unless they are mature in mind, if not in age.

I’ll begin my more in-depth discussion with the latter point I just made. Castration Celebration is marketed as a “young adult” novel. For those of you not in the know, this generally means the story is aimed at the high school and older audience, not the middle school crowd. How do I know this? Aside from the fact that I can tell from reading the story, Castration Celebration would’ve been advertised as a “middle grade” title had it been intended for that age group, which it wasn’t. That alone should obliterate any counterargument that Castration Celebration is corrupting today’s youth.

Don’t believe me? As a contemporary American teen, I think I can provide a few more points to support my side. Most teens already know about some of Castration Celebration’s more “controversial” inclusions, namely, sex and drugs. How do we know this? Personally, I learned from my school’s sex-education and anti-drug programs, movies, TV shows, and yes, even some books. However, don’t think for an instant that knowledge equals action. Just because a kid learns about sex from his/her parents doesn’t mean he/she is going to run out and engage in that activity at the first opportunity possible. Just because I read The A-List books in eighth grade didn’t mean I wanted to do my friend’s boyfriend, utilize retail therapy, and go to a high end party in 90210 to get beyond drunk. Let me reemphasize:

JUST BECAUSE YOU KNOW SOMETHING DOESN’T MEAN YOU’LL ACT ON IT.

If you think the knowledge alone is bad enough, trust me, everyone knows it already. Even though I live in the only urban Republican stronghold in Southern California (that usually equates with lots of conservative parents), I met kids in middle school who knew way more about sex and drugs than my innocent little self had ever encountered and could comprehend. Even the thirteen-year-olds know it, guys! Wouldn’t it make sense for people just a couple years older to know it too?

For those people who want to attack the fact that teens do know about sex and drugs, they are seriously misplacing their front against Castration Celebration. Wizner’s book is not the problem here. Maybe try attacking American culture and society, okay?

Now, I’ll come back to my first point about the humor in Castration Celebration. There is no doubt that everything funny about this story is also a bit raunchy. I don’t have a problem with that. I deal with it daily when I go to school. Hello! It’s called teenagers with raging hormones, and there happens to be a few in the United States. Seriously, Castration Celebration’s humor is nothing teens can’t handle. All you have to do to encounter it in the world is find a high concentration of adolescents, and viola, Castration Celebration is like real life instead of just fiction.

Next, I’d like to address the people who still have a problem with the content in Castration Celebration, mainly the overconcerned parent type. First of all, they’re taking the book way too seriously. It’s meant to be funny, not instructional. Like I said earlier, teens already know about most of the “controversial” topics mentioned in this book. Any parent who thinks their child will go have sex and do drugs just because they read a book have little faith in their parenting skills and their own children and may even be severely disillusioned with the modern world.

Although I mentioned above that hormonal teens are prone to a certain type of behavior, such as the type displayed in Castration Celebration, not all teens are. In fact, most aren't. That seems to be another conclusion disillusioned adults are drawing from this novel. Want a good example of how these people are wrong? Uh, me! Do you see me running around with all my buzzed, oversexed, and overdrugged friends engaging in illicit activities whenever possible? Of course, I’m being sarcastic here since most of you don’t personally know me, but seriously, I’m a pretty good kid. I don’t even have buzzed, oversexed, and overdrugged friends. In addition, I highly doubt the main purpose of most teens’ lives is to shoot up and get laid. For those of you saying, “But Rachael, that’s all I ever see in the news about teens—sex, drugs, and alcohol!” Here I will apply a very simple rule I learned in AP Statistics: sampling. This means if you take a Simple Random Sample of all American teens, a percentage of them will act like horny adolescents. This is likely a small portion of the whole. But the reason the news generally only shows this portion is even simpler: news in America is entertainment news, all about sensationalism (thank you yellow journalism). If a new station doesn’t shock you with something interesting or gruesome, you don’t watch, the station doesn’t sell ads and doesn’t make money. It’s the world of capitalism.

And while we’re on the thread of economics, I’d like to invoke the theory of supply and demand for those of you wondering how on earth such a book like Castration Celebration would ever get published and sell. Again, very simple. If there’s a market for a certain product, someone will produce it, so obviously, there are people in the world (shocking!) who enjoy books like Castration Celebration.

Whew. Now, I have to say, I think I provide some pretty good defense for this book. But am I done yet? Oh no!

Let me bring up a fantastic example of the opposition, a glaringly negative review of Castration Celebration from the New York Post which opens with the lines “Hold on to your laps, America. And lock up the kids until they’re 42.”

Let pause for a moment. There’s so much wrong with those two short sentences, I barely know what to say, so I’ll just refer you back to my earlier points. The author goes onto say this book is aimed at “impressionable…pre-adolescents,” which it is not, that it “cheerfully promote[s] underage sex, drug-taking, binge-drinking and…male dismemberment,” which it does not, and that it is a “how-to [book] influencing youngsters,” which it so obviously is not. Do I need to repeat everything I’ve already written? Just because sex or drugs are mentioned does not mean they are “normalized” or “celebrated.”

Of course, I wrote the author of this article to express the misinformation I saw in her review. Want to know the three, short, but long-thought-out lines I received in response?
“I write a column, which provides my opinion. You’re a fan of the book, obviously. More power to you.”

As a book reviewer, I understand that reviews are opinion. Also, I’m not an idiot. Now, I wouldn’t even mind this kindergarten treatment had it not been for the next line. The thing is, I’m not a “fan” of Castration Celebration. I think it’s funny, nothing more. Would I read it again? Probably not. “Then why on earth are you defending the book, Rachael?” you ask. Because people are wrongly (I think at least) attacking it and I happen to understand the argument against them.

Back to the author of the negative review. She didn’t even bother to defend her opinion. My experience with this: either she can’t, or she think it’s so superior anyway, she doesn’t have to. Where do I normally encounter this mentality? Aha! The overconcerned parent type, the ones who like to BAN BOOKS. And you know what I’ve come to understand about these people? They want to control everything they can to ensure their kids stay “innocent” despite the fact that most of them rely on freedom of information to understand what little they do about the modern world.

Newsflash: kids grow up. We don’t live in Neverland, and even if we did, hello?! There are no parents there.

9 munch(es) :

Donna said...

It seems to me that parents want their children to stay children as long as humanly possible, which means maintaining their ignorance. If they keep their kids ignorant of the world around them, they'll maintain their innocence. Alas, enter public schools. Or any schools. You'd have to home school your kids to keep them away from that.

But seriously, teens need more credit than they're getting. If I were a teen, I'd be insulted that adults think I wouldn't be able to handle something like that, or that it's beyond my poor virgin eyes. Please.

Nicole said...

So aptly put.

And, therefore, I shamelessly promoted it.
http://wordforteens.blogspot.com/2009/09/castration-celebration.html

Simply_Megan said...

That was a very good blog post. And I agree, you don't have to like a book to not want it to be banned. If that book is on the banned list, who says any other book won't be put on it too? I love the author's response, too.

Kelsey said...

Go you! *high fives*

Cara Powers said...

This post just made me a subscriber. Munch on!

J Wiles said...

I knew there was I reason I liked you and here it is. (I haven't read the book and probably won't but as it deals with censorship I felt I needed to respond.)
As a Youth Services Librarian in a somewhat conservative town, I deal with those types of questions from time to time. It's refreshing to be able to point to a post such as yours and say "Here's a teenager who can defend herself in a clear and literate manner." And the fact that you're right about a lot of it helps. Most parents need to stop being so protective and actually try to understand their kids, not just censor everything that's put in front of them. TV is worse than most books these days, anyway.
And I often find that the best reviews come from readers who review for fun, not those that get paid for it. I'd be interested in finding out just how much of those books they actually read.
Keep up the amazing work. You're an inspiration and a wonder. (In short, you rock!)

Shakespeare's Muse said...

WOOT! Awesome defense of all us teenagers out here. Of all the times I've tried to explain to people about REAL TEENS, I've never come up with as eloquent an argument as this. I agree with everything you have to say, particularly on the overprotective-parent front. Reading is a fantastic way to explore the world (from the safety of your own home!) and it's an important outlet for a ton of us. To limit our reading choices because of things we are already aware of--sex, drugs, some religious stuff--only narrows our worldview. Thanks for this awesome post. :-)

Michelle said...

I agree with all of this! You've basically described everything I've ever thought and believed when it comes to this particular subject.

MissAttitude said...

excellent post! You hit all the key points. I espeially agree as a fellow hs student who found Castration Celebration absolutely hysterical! we do deal w/ that kind of humor every day, we DEAL. we survive.
I'd be fuming after the email from the NY Post reviewer. You defintely deserved a better response than that.

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