Twenty Boy Summer
by Sarah Ockler
June 1, 2009
"Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it."
"Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?"
"Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?"
According to Anna’s best friend, Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie–she’s already had her romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
Twenty Boy Summer explores what it truly means to love someone, what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every beautiful moment life has to offer.
The blogosphere has been rightfully up in arms this past week about the Missouri school board that voted to ban both Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer from their schools’ curriculum and libraries. Given some school board members’ admission that they hadn’t even bothered to read the books and the quality of both books, one could wonder if they simply dislike titles with numbers in them.
All flippancy aside, I think this decision by the school board is utterly short sighted and disturbing. My feelings on banning books aren’t terribly sophisticated: no books should be banned. All books have value even if that value is only to turn our stomachs or arouse our distaste. Neither of the choices above fall under that category.
I’m not going to get into the value of Slaughterhouse-Five. The book is a modern classic, and its defenders are numerous. And this isn’t a glowing review of Twenty Boy Summer. I read it too long ago to give a proper review without a thorough reread, and I don’t have a copy to hand. What this is a strong recommendation to read both books if you haven’t already. Read them and see what is so dangerous that a school board feels just having the book on the shelf of the library would damage its students.
Twenty Boy Summer was banned because “it sensationalized sexual promiscuity and included questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents and a lack of remorse.” It does include some of this but I think those who determined this forgot how to actually read instead of simply ticking off demerits on a list. Upon reading the book, it becomes clear the overarching themes are of friendship, lying and telling the truth, and how to continue living after the overwhelming tidal wave of grief has shattered the landscape of your world. It’s about how people handle loss differently and how families fall apart and pull back together.
That seems to me like the type of book I’d want teenagers to have access to as they’re learning to be adults, learning to live confidently and meaningfully, and learning that we all cope the best way we know how.
If you haven’t read Twenty Boy Summer, I strongly recommend it. Read it and then give it to a teenager in your life or donate it to the local library so its available for all. And then pick up another banned book and do the same.