Thursday, October 6, 2011

Americus by MK Reed, art by Jonathan Hill

Neil and Danny are growing up in a small American town.  Their favorite books are a fantasy series called The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde.  Unfortunately, Danny's mother hates the series, and forbids Danny to read it, saying that reading about witches is blasphemous.  When he's caught reading the newest book, Danny gets set off to military school, and now Danny's mother is trying to get the town library to ban the whole series.

When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued but cautious.  I wanted to know how it was going to be handled.  Was it all just going to be a gigantic stereotype with crazy religious fanatics trying to ban fantasy books because they might lead the children astray?  And yeah, it pretty much was.  But as I read it, I was thinking, "Well, it's certainly the extreme, but that doesn't make it untrue."  Because sadly, in some places, this totally happens to the kind of extremes portrayed in the book.  Harry Potter, anyone (which I assume is what Apathea Ravenchilde is suppose to parallel)?  There were absolutely groups that tried to get Harry Potter banned because learning about witchcraft was satanic and it was going to turn the children into worshipers of Satan.  It's sad and unfortunate, but it's true.  So yes, an extreme picture of someone who is religious and intolerant of other people is shown, but I don't think it was an untrue point to make.

There is still the fact that Danny's mother is kind of fat and yells all the time and constantly has an ugly, angry look on her face.  So, no, they didn't need to make her physically unattractive for us to understand what she's doing is undesirable, but they did.  And while we're talking about the art...the art was done in black and white, but when we go into the Apathea Ravenchilde story it's in greyscape.  I liked that.  It was a very clear switch and gave the stories a totally different feel.  I noticed that most of the people in Neil's town were blond, and the ones that had black hair, like he did, were usually people who became his allies.  The librarian, his mom, the kids he starts to become friends with at school.  Interestingly, the only one who he was close with that wasn't drawn with dark hair was Danny.  All the other "good guys" were drawn with black hair.    Black is also used to make someone stand out.  When Neil goes to the library board meeting and makes a speech, he wears a black shirt, one he picked out himself.

I loved how enthusiastic Charlotte, the librarians, was.  She loved the Apathea Ravenchilde books just as much as the kids did.  She fiercely defended them when they were questioned.  She made the point that people were protesting against something they hadn't even read.  She actually manages to convince one of the women to read it with her daughters, and they all end up enjoying them.  Charlotte is willing to fight hard to have books in her library that all sorts of different people will like, not just the group with the loudest voice.

Aside from the issue of censorship, we also get to see Neil coming into his own and growing more confident.  He starts high school at the beginning of the book, and he's grumpy and surly and an outsider.  As he starts working as a library page and becomes involved in the fight to save Apathea, he also starts to come out of his shell, making some new friends and discovering he loves music.  I have high hopes that Neil will grow up and leave Americus and be just fine.

So, overall, I liked it.  I think it did a good job showing the process of a fight against a book challenge, and the sometimes seemingly ridiculous reasons people give for challenging them.  But just keep in mind that this shows one very extreme circumstance.  And we understand that not all people who are religious hate fantasy and gay people.

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