Welcome to the next edition of Banned Books. In August, we read Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher.
First published: 2001
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2005 (source)
Reasons: racism, offensive language
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?
BETH: It might be quite clear from our Banned Books Challenge so far that Chrissi and I are against banning or challenging books but we always enjoy checking out stories that have caused a bit of a riot and dissect whether they had good reason for a challenge. I can safely state that without exception, we have found no good reason to ban or challenge a book. Perhaps limit it’s availability in school libraries if there are very young children around – we agree on that but otherwise, we shouldn’t limit literature for anyone. Many reasons we’ve found for challenging a book can be quite exasperating and there’s been very few that we can see why some people may have had an issue. In Whale Talk, released in the early 2000’s, the reasons that they’ve given, I cannot really deny. Yes, there is racism in the book and it might offend people. Nevertheless, I think it’s still important to show different people’s attitudes (no matter how wrong we might personally find them) so we can carry on talking about an important, abhorrent issue.
CHRISSI: I think this is one of the rare books when we can actually get on board with the reasons for banning/challenging the book. There is pretty offensive language in the story- nothing which I’m sure teenagers/young adults haven’t heard before. However, it’s undeniable that it’s there. So would we want our young people to read it? Some may find it anyway and might not be offended by its content, compared to what else is around! It does also include racism. I don’t always think it’s a bad thing to educate young people on racism, but I’m not sure this is the right one to do that with.
How about now?
BETH: As I mentioned in the previous answer, it’s important to talk about racism in the past and in the present. It hasn’t gone away and sadly, some people’s views haven’t changed on the matter. The other reason for challenging is offensive language. Normally, when we get a reason like this I retort with something like: “Where was the offensive language in this book?!” In Whale Talk, I have to admit there was bad language. I wasn’t particularly offended by it but I understand why some people might be. However, it is a book marketed towards a specific audience of young adults and you aren’t going to be able to shelter them from bad language in the real world, as we’ve said many times on this feature before.
CHRISSI: Like I said, I can see why, but I don’t think it’s something that should be taken away from people. As Beth mentioned, it’s targeted towards YA and I’m sure there’s worse language within peer groups or on social media/films. Not necessarily a solid enough reason to prevent them from this book.
What did you think of this book?:
BETH: This book was only okay for me unfortunately. I appreciated what Chris Crutcher was trying to do and I really liked the main character, T.J. but it wasn’t a narrative that really grabbed my attention or stuck in my mind as memorable. I thought it did raise some important issues though and I can understand why many readers would really connect with it.
CHRISSI: I thought I was really going to like this book, but for me I didn’t gel with the author’s writing style. I think it brings to light some important issues, so I believe it should be tried!
Would you recommend it?: