It’s Banned Book Week, and I’m celebrating in my own way. Two titles I read over the summer made the list, and I can tell you why.
Better Nate Than Ever
by Tim Federle
Simon & Schuster
The Premise: In a carefully-crafted, half-crazy scheme, thirteen-year-old Nate Foster runs away from his rural Pennsylvania hometown with fake ID, his mother’s ATM card, a couple dozen doughnuts, and a dream. He’s headed for New York City, where he plans to audition for a part in a Broadway musical.
Personal opinion: Nate’s eye for detail, smart-alecky inner dialogue, and boundless optimism are completely winsome. I grew quickly attached to this “boy soprano with a ballsy chest voice.” But in the final third of the book, once readers are entrenched, a new theme rushes to the fore. Suddenly, “getting out of Jankburg” is less about Nate’s Broadway dreams and more about shedding conservative values. Christians are painted as hypocritical bullies, responsible for driving out their prodigals.
My initial enthusiasm for the story fizzled as the author interrupts the plot in order to Make A Point. Suddenly, Nate is just a tool, the drama feels contrived, and I wanted to thwap the charming Mr. Federle upside the head for trying too hard to tell us something that Nate was doing a fine job of demonstrating simply by being himself:
Bullying is bad. Being yourself takes guts. And never give up on your dreams.
Controversy lands this story in the “banned book” category, and parents deserve fair warning. Nate is the brunt of much bullying, and his tormentors are far from polite. Expect creative profanity and frequent references to Nate’s orientation. There are also passing references to an extramarital affair, under-age drinking, gay pornography, theft, blackmail, and homosexual lifestyles.