Book Review: You Can’t Say That!

Authors, Banned and Challenged Books, Book Review

Leonard S. Marcus’ new anthology You Can’t Say That! Writers for Young People Talk About Censorship, Free Expression, and the Stories They Have to Tell lives up to its name. Published by Candlewick Press in July, the work contains interviews with big names such as Angie Thomas, R.L. Stine, Matt de la Peña, and more. School Library Journal recommends the collection for grades 7 and up, and I agree with that assessment – although adults will certainly find something to like here, too. 

An Appealing Collection for Teens

You Can’t Say That! Book Cover

You Can’t Say That! can serve as a good entrypoint for teens who are new to the concepts of intellectual freedom and censorship, thanks to its easily digestible format. Each chapter features an overview of its subject followed by an interview about their work and, specifically, their experiences with being challenged or banned. Their stories are varied enough that even students more familiar with the idea of banned books will learn something new. Even as a professional librarian who has spent a great deal of time studying children’s and young adult literature, I came away from the collection with a better understanding of how authors are impacted when their works are challenged. 

The challenges highlighted by Marcus run the gamut from concern over depictions of LGBTQ+ characters in Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies to Robie H. Harris’ definitive guide to human sexuality, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health to concerns over profanity in Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Even R.L. Stines’ tremendously popular Goosebumps and Fear Street horror series have been challenged due to their scary content and alleged “occult” themes. Marcus does a commendable job of highlighting many different types of challenges, as well as featuring a diverse cast of authors and creators. 

“filth. I was angry! I went from hurt to anger and frustration and to feeling misunderstood. That’s why all of those emotions ended up going into On the Come Up. Bri’s feelings are what I felt. I just took their lemons and made lemonade.”

Just in Time for Banned Books Week

You Can’t Say That! is a good pick for nonfiction young adult collections and could be used to generate discussion in a book club or other interactive program. The list of bestselling authors featured has wide appeal to teens with enough mainstream interest to be compelling to older readers as well. It successfully captures the reasons why book challenges continue to be a major concern for intellectual freedom advocates, and I would consider it highly recommended reading in advance of Banned Books Week. 

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