The central characters in these stories are all teenagers who face problems which test their coping abilities, but the nature of these problems varies from story to story. The main character in Norma Fox Mazer’s “Meeting the Mugger” gets into an argument with her protective mother and storms out into the night only to find herself confronted by a mugger. Julius Lester’s “Spear” focuses on a teenage boy who has always been expected to take his slain father’s place as a radical African American Leader, but as the boy matures, he realizes that he does not want to become his father’s clone. In Harry Mazer’s “You Come, Too, A-Ron,” the central character ends up in a group home after his mother is sent to prison, while the main character in Walter Dean Myers’s “The Beast is in the Labyrinth” finds himself torn between the new friends he has made at a private college and the troubled relatives he has left behind in Harlem.
Some of the characters in these stories find themselves in difficult situations as a result of their budding romances. Katherine Paterson’s The Red Dragonfly focuses on a Japanese boy who becomes infatuated with the young woman who is his teacher, but when he sneaks out one night to leave her a poem, he makes an unpleasant discovery. The teenage girl in Rachel Vail’s “Going Sentimental” goes about planning the end of her virginity in a matter-of-fact manner, but she soon learns that there is more to sex than she had imagined. Paul Zindel’s “Love and Centipedes,” perhaps the most unusual story in the book, deals with an overweight, working-class girl who falls in love with the boyfriend of a popular cheerleader. A crisis occurs when the jealous cheerleader pays the central character a most memorable visit.
Although none of these characters is totally overwhelmed by the problems that face him or her, some cope better than others do. The characters who seem to cope the best are the ones who turn to friends or family members for support. Those who have no one to turn to for help are the ones who end up bearing emotional scars. My guess is that Blume wants the reader to remember this point when confronting the problem of censorship, for she makes a very similar point toward the end of her introduction to the book:
The bottom line is, censorship happens, often when you least expect it. It’s not just about the book you may want to read but about the book your classmate might want to read. It’s not just about teachers and librarians at other schools who might find themselves in job~threatening situations-it could happen at your school .... And what happens if censorship hits close to home? The first step is awareness. Become informed. Take a stand. Work with the adults in your community. Don’t try to do it on your own. No one can. It’s up to all of us.
The Five Owls is a bimonthly publication devoted to the field of children’s literature. For more information and to subscribe, go to www.fiveowls.com
Mark West is a professor in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and editor of The Five Owls.