It’s finally spring break! This means I finally have enough breathing room to sit down and actually read the book Baylee and I have been discussing for the last few months. I’m only about a third of the way through, but reading it made me think a lot more about the Grace Enriquez article we encountered earlier in the course, “The Reader Speaks Out.”
I’m shocked by how much I actually, on some level, agree with the Whittier Middle School parent complainant about some elements of Glass. There is an awful lot of explicit language, which I don’t usually think of as bad, but some of it seems unnecessary. There is quite a bit of sexual language and innuendo, though some of it may slip past its younger readers, but I understand why it’s there. An interesting part of the Whittier parent’s complaint is that she only objected to its exposure to middle-schoolers, not to all adolescents; the book itself issues an “ages 14+” warning, so I’m tempted to agree with her on that.
I decided to take a look back at Enriquez’s study to see exactly what kinds of responses a book like this would get from young readers, and it doesn’t appear that they would be entirely positive. A lot of the students interviewed expressed distaste for sexual or drug-related content in the books they read, partially because they felt like they weren’t supposed to be reading it, but sometimes because they just didn’t care for it. They disagreed with the prioritization of censoring sex over violence, though, which I found to be a very mature and warranted observation of the hypocrisy of the adult world.
Controversy and Literary Merit
Students in Enriquez’s study were careful to point out that a “good plot” made controversial material like sexual content and explicit language excusable or even inconsequential. This is an area that I think Hopkins excels in; I found myself lost in Glass even though I know its entire plot already, because the writing is engaging. This was something the Norman Public Schools Reconsideration Committee brought up in defense of the book when they refused to pull it from the shelves. “The quality of the writing is outstanding,” they wrote, “and motivating to reluctant readers.”
As an English student, a lot of what Glass has made me think about so far is the advantages it could present in introducing literary style and devices to its young readers. This is something I wish Enriquez would have touched more in her article: the role of literary quality and merit in the way young readers feel about texts. Glass would not only be useful as a cautionary tale about addiction but also as an instrument by which to teach the advantages of a free-verse poetry format to express the inner thoughts and perspectives of a struggling addict. I think with an increased emphasis on this aspect of young adult fiction, students could gain a knowledge and appreciation of the ways different styles and narrative choices foster empathy and interest in different ways. That way, students will be able to acknowledge that it is not just a “good plot” that makes something controversial worth reading, but also its contributions to literature and writing as a whole.