Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Gutsy Heroine Takes on a Town of Book Banners

A Guest Blog by Sherry Roberts
My novel, Book of Mercy, is the story of a woman who cannot read and yet finds the courage to stand up to the book banners in her town. It was a finalist in the 2011 Midwest Book Awards.

I love stories of ordinary people who rise up to meet extraordinary circumstances. My lead character, Antigone Brown, is pregnant with her first child and fears she will be an awful mother because of her dyslexia. Books have brought nothing but misery to her life, yet she tries to save them when the Mercy Study Club begins removing “undesirable” literature from the school library.

I became fascinated with the censorship issue when my daughter was in high school and came home crying one day because “they were banning books.” At the time, we were living in North Carolina, where Book of Mercy is set. The school had removed The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes from the shelves because a parent objected to its explicit love scenes between a young Mexican revolutionary and an American teacher. Fuentes is recognized as one of the most influential writers in Latin America. In fact, in 2006, he received the Four Freedoms Award for Freedom of Speech and Expression. Ironic, I know.

After an intense public meeting and a review by committee, The Old Gringo eventually was returned to the library. Our community was lucky, but such incidents are not uncommon. According to the American Library Association, on average about five hundred books are challenged every year in the United States—and those are just the ones we know about.

While censorship is a serious issue, Book of Mercy tackles the subject with a sense of humor. Antigone gets into a pie fight with Irene Crump, the leader of the study club and a woman who likes to sneak into the local bookstore and hide holy cards in the New Age books.

I wanted Book of Mercy to be a fun read that also might start you thinking. After all, eventually every parent has to choose whether or not to be a censor. We have to decide what we will permit our children to read. As Antigone says in Book of Mercy, “I want to protect my child from the world. But I also want to protect the world for my child.”

I hope you get a chance to meet Antigone Brown and the other folks in fictitious Mercy, North Carolina. Stop in for a milkshake at Antigone’s restaurant, the O. Henry Cafe, and tell her it’s on me.

Note: If you’re interested in censorship issues, visit my blog at where I have written several posts on the topic.

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