Judy Blume, editor,
Places I Never Meant To Be:
Original Stories by Censored Writers

(Simon and Schuster, 1999)

Places I Never Meant To Be is a collection of short stories and essays by writers for children and young adults. The common thread? All of these authors have had books banned in some form or another. Some have had books removed from the shelves of school and public libraries, or never ordered in the first place. Others have been gently asked by editors to change a scene that might create controversy. All have received criticism for their work, for speaking in a true voice about life for children and teens.

The book opens with an intensely personal essay by Judy Blume about her experiences with censorship, both as a child seeking reading material and an author metaphorically pilloried by parents and press. Next is a letter from Joan Bertin, executive director for the National Coalition Against Censorship. She urges the reader to learn more about what is censored and why, as well as about the anticensorship movement. She also applauds the publisher and Judy Blume for creating this work.

On to the stories: "Meeting the Mugger" by Norma Fox Mazer follows Sarabeth, a teen struggling with her mother and her self, through a very scary situation. Julius Lester explores racism and relationships in the classroom in "Spear." The pressures of sex and the intimacies of boy-girl friendships form the essence of Jody's story in Rachel Vail's sensitive "Going Sentimental."

"The Red Dragonfly" by Katherine Paterson investigates the artistic inner thoughts of a boy in the throes of a crush on his teacher. A day in the life of an unnamed child narrator is shown simply, as a painting, in Jacqueline Woodson's "July Saturday." The sensitive side of an "unplaceable" older boy and his relationship with a younger, hero-worshipping child is examined by Harry Mazer in "You Come, Too, A-Ron." Walter Dean Myers delves into the mind of John, a Pennsylvania college student whose heart remains in Harlem with his mother and grievously ill sister in "The Beast is in the Labyrinth."

"Ashes" tells of Ashleigh, child of divorced parents, and her relationship with her loving, dreamer father and more practical mother, written by Susan Beth Pfeffer. David Klass examines masculinity and baseball in the strong "Baseball Camp." A tale of the violence and inhumanity that happens between children is chillingly told by narrator Tuesday in "Love and Centipedes" by Paul Zindel. "Lie, No Lie" by Chris Lynch shows the odd friendship between two boys, and concerns about homosexuality that the narrator expresses. Friendship in college is also analyzed in Norma Klein's "Something Which Is Non-Existent."

Each has a quote from the story on the previous page, and a short essay by the author about censorship following it. The essays are as interesting to read as the stories themselves, and often tell of the author's experiences with censorship. In all, these powerful short stories and essays draw the reader in, requiring thought about difficult subjects.

Sales of this book benefit the National Coalition Against Censorship.

[ by Beth Derochea ]

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