Author: E.R. Frank
Official reasons for being banned: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Homosexuality (get ready to see those three a lot on this list) Drug and Alcohol Use, Inappropriate Language(?), Suicide(?)
Unofficial reasons: None
Hello, nobody in particular! Addressing the elephant in the room (great, now I can’t say that phrase without thinking of a certain governor. Thanks, Time.) – yes, I’m making use of a new format. The main reason for the change is that it saves the space that I would spend talking about the reasons for a book’s banned status, and spend more space on the review, because my purpose of these reviews isn’t to get on my soapbox and rant, it’s to inform, as well as to pique your interest. I’m including unofficial reasons there because sometimes, the people banning these have some hidden motive for doing so. I didn’t notice any here there, so ON WITH THE REVIEW! (On a side note, 100 means it’s the least banned book on the list.
To be honest this is a book that’s hard to synopsize quickly and without spoilers, which is the mark of a good book. However, I’ll try to be brief (but not to avoid spoilers, so SPOILER ALERT). The book centers around America, a mixed race boy in a psychiatric treatment facility, and his interactions with his psychiatrist, Dr. B. (Seriously, that’s the doctors name.) Why is he in this facility? Well, he was abandoned as a child, adopted by a working class woman and her brother, until he’s then re-adopted by his birth mother, who then abandons him (again), leaving him in the care of his two older brothers, one of which is a kleptomaniac, and the other of which is a schizophrenic. Then he gets reunited with his foster family, only to be abused by his uncle, whom he then kills with fire, and runs away. Then he’s taken in by some random New Yorker – who ends up getting arrested for drug dealing, at which point America is sent to an orphanage called Applegate, where he tries to commit suicide. So yeah, nothing much.
With the synopsis out of the way, how about I talk about what I thought about the book. I thought it was very good. The book is a very gritty, uncompromising, and surprisingly realistic story, told in a way that you can’t help but enjoy. The first thing I like about this book is that it doesn’t pull any punches. It says what it needs to and couldn’t care less what you think. I definitely appreciate that in a book, especially as a person who’s reviewing banned books in his down time. The second thing that I like about this book is the way it’s put together. It alternates between Now sections and Then sections, the Now sections tell about America’s time in the psychiatric treatment facility (do we know know it’s name?), while the Then sections talk about the events leading up to his time there (see the synopsis). In addition to making it impossible to put the book down, this composition almost makes it feel like we’re doing the psychiatric evaluation of America right alongside Dr. B., just from a closer perspective. It gives insights into the main characters thoughts and personality that might not be available in a traditional three-act story. And that leads me to the third and final reason that I think this book is fantastic is the main character of America. America is a very realistic and relatable character. Despite the fact that he seems, at first, like a very harsh and even unlikable boy, we grow to like, respect, and empathize with this character as we gradually learn his history. This is, in many ways, a normal person, one that has been put in a very difficult situation. One of the most common tropes in storytelling is putting an ordinary character into an extraordinary situation, or an extraordinary character into an ordinary situation. This book utilizes this trope marvelously, showing America, and his environment, as both ordinary and extraordinary, in many ways the way an actual person would be. On top of that, I like the little touches with this character, like the way that his name and his race keep coming up and keep being interpreted differently. Finally, I like the way that, in a way, America’s story is simply a coming-of-age story. It’s a story that has been done thousands of times, and yet Frank puts a spin on it that makes it feel entirely fresh and unique. That, my hypothetical friends, is what makes true artistry.
Overall, I give this book 5 stars and 5 hearts. This is the highest rating I can give a book, and I believe it fully deserves it. The next book on the list is Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. Read more books, and I’ll see you at the next review.