Thursday, July 30, 2009

Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers edited by Judy Blume (a review)

Places I Never Meant to Be edited by Judy BlumeAs I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of short stories; however, they can make great “palate cleansers” between courses of full-length books and I enjoy anthologies as they are a good way to discover new writers. This particular anthology, Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers edited and with an introduction by Judy Blume, also supports a good cause: sales of the book benefit the National Coalition Against Censorship and the collection was obviously put together to raise awareness of this issue. Judy Blume’s introductory essay was a bit of an eye-opener for me: in it she details her battle with the censors (which was going on when I first read her in my teens in the 80s), including the fact that she caved in to editorial pressure and changed a passage in her novel Tiger Eyes. She also pays tribute to a few of the folks in the trenches, including several teachers who fought against the censors at great personal cost.

As might be expected, all 12 contributors to this book are YA authors, only 3 of which were already familiar to me (Norma Klein, Norma Fox Mazer and Paul Zindel). Three of the stories stood out, although I did enjoy the other nine (they just weren’t as memorable). My favourite was “The Beast Is in the Labyrinth” by Walter Dean Myers, a moving story about a brother and sister from Harlem who escape where they come from in very different ways. The other two were notable only because I disliked them so much: “Love and Centipedes” by Paul Zindel and “Lie, No Lie” by Chris Lynch. Zindel has never appealed to me: I didn’t like his writing when I first encountered it as a teen and 20+ years later I still don’t. This offering is a grim story of cruelty to animals and revenge that lacks subtlety or humour. Lynch’s story about two very different boys starts off promisingly enough (I love this quote: “He provides me with the whoosh that makes the drag-ass parts of living more worth it; and I provide him with the vacuum of experience that allows him to still feel any whoosh at all”) but soon devolves into a disturbing tale of manipulation and nonconsensual gay sex. (And it somehow feels wrong to dislike these two stories so much when they’ve been published in an anthology against censorship—as if by doing so I’m colluding with the censors, even though that’s obviously not my intention!)

Despite my reservations, overall this book is a good read made all the more interesting because each story is followed by a brief one- or two-page commentary on censorship by the author.

For other reviews, visit these sites:
Children’s BookPageOpen Mind, Insert BookReading Rants!

You can also read Judy Blume’s introduction to this book on her website.

Finally, head over to this site for an interview with Blume:
Children’s Literature

Thank you to Aerin at In Search for Giants for sending me this book.


  1. I can remember the concern about her books being published in Great Britain in the early 80's. I am sure a lot of parents were in uproar over the content of them. All the 12 years old just wanted to read them to learn about boys and periods!

  2. The Paul Zindel story you highlighted doesn't sound appealing, but I loved his work as a teen - I wonder what I would think of it now.

  3. Thanks for the review. I'd like to check this out just for the Blume intro. I loved her books when I was young and certainly remember them being "controversial." However, now they seem so tame!

  4. This one sounds interesting! I can't even tell you how many times I read Tiger Eyes growing up!

  5. Hadn't heard of this one, but looks like it may be worth checking out!

  6. Interesting, that censored pieces also tend to be the 'best of' and 'worst of'...and I don't think disliking a story is the same as being one with the censors.
    Speaking of controversial writing for YA, have you read Luna by Julie Anne Peters yet?

  7. You're not trying to censor it, you just don't like it.

    This sounds like an interesting anthology, and I'll always have a soft spot for Judy Blume.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  8. I don't know if I would enjoy this book, but I agree with the person who had left the comment about controversial works having made the 'best of' and 'worst of' lists. I had read somewhere at some point that harry potter 1 was banned somewhere, the reason being that the book discusses uses of magic. Can you imagine?

    I remember reading The Pigman by Paul Zindel. I hope I'm matching the title and the author correctly, or that would just be silly on my part. Honestly, I remember not having enjoyed The Pigman; my grade 8 teacher made me read it. =(

  9. I'm with you- I've never been a big fan of Paul Zindel. I did like "A Begonia For Miss Applebaum," I think we had to read that in school, maybe around 8th grade. But all his other books just weren't my style.

    And I want to second, third, fourth, etc. the suggestion that you read Luna by Julie Anne Peters. That book is absolutely amazing. I started keeping a book journal in 2004, I believe, and since then I've read close to 1000 books- Luna is STILL in the top five of all the books I've read. I can't recommend it highly enough.