Some thought Harry Potter was troubling?

Betsy Newmark – that tireless educator who is all for getting kids interested in reading – is appalled, and I think rightly, at the hottest new book for teenagers which Betsy says “glorifies the life of a suicide bomber.”

Writes the Telegraph: A new novel for teenagers about a mixed-race girl who trains to become a terrorist suicide bomber has become a bestseller in mainstream bookshops since its publication a month ago.

Checkmate, by the award-winning children’s writer Malorie Blackman, features a heroine who is groomed by militant members of an oppressed ethnic group in an unspecified country – but there are many clues to it being Britain – to wear a vest bomb to kill a senior politician in a suicide mission on her 16th birthday.

“We have not had a negative reaction at all. The emails that Malorie has been getting from readers, and we just don’t know whether they are black, white or Asian, is that they are amazingly moved. It’s been particularly heart-warming that a lot of them have been from teenagers who say they don’t normally read books.”

Awww, how heartwarming! The little darlings are reading, after all, so what can be bad? And, you know, it’s making them sensitive to the injustices that are at the root cause of terrorism…or something. After all – just look at the lessons these kids are getting from the book:

Katie Twyford, 15, of Braintree, Essex, said: “Why wrap teenagers in cotton wool? It is very important to open people’s eyes up to racism and terrorism. Soon enough we are going to have to go out in the real world and we watch the news anyway.”

Amelia Farmer, 11, of Cambridge, said watching coverage of the London suicide bombers after reading Checkmate “made me wonder whether they were nice people when they were children and whether they might have been bullied at school like Callum is in the book or whether life might have been unfair to them”.

Henry Page, 13, of Winchester, said: “Checkmate is a fantastic book. It showed how difficult it must be to be a different colour from other people. It opened my eyes and it was quite sad.”

Awww…if life is unfair to you…if you have been treated badly, or even if you simply perceive that you have been treated badly…well, then…that makes blowing up innocent men women and children perfectly understandable, doesn’t it?

Betsy writes: The 9/11 bombers were not downtrodden. The guys in London could have easily made something of themselves. One was on welfare living off the dole, but I think that two of them had jobs, wives, and small children. They weren’t trying to change racism in England; they were killing for a fundamentalist Islamic way of life. They were killing people, many of whom were not members of the supposedly oppressive upper class, but just some people going to work on a Thursday morning. You don’t hit the upper class in the Metro. But kids seem to be reading these books and thinking that it tells them something about those who are killing innocents throughout the world.

Is it just me, or does it seem like the whole world is become a teeming vat of mish-mosh, with hypersensitive folks on the left finding pretty much all behavior that is not either cowboyish, manly or “religious” to be quite excusable, understandable and even forgiveable, and the folks on the right’s eyes starting to spin from the sheer volume of this topsy-turvey, up-is-down, bad-is-good, a-loss-is-a-win sort of corkscrew reasoning which seems to dominate western culture?

I don’t like censorship, but just as I talk with my own sons about what they are reading and the conclusions they draw from a book, I certainly hope the parents of these teenagers have enough sense to make the points Ms. Newmark has so articulately made.

While Betsy is hardly an advocate for censorship, this book has brought to the fore her dissatisfaction with young adult publications in general:

As a teacher, I’m so sick of the idea that the only good subjects to appeal to teenage readers are books about suicide, divorce, sex, death, and other topics that supposedly evoke the real-world problems that teenagers face. Including, I guess suicide bombing. According to these books, teenagerdom is one terrible Hobbesian state of nature where all the pretty girls are nasty and cruel; the good-looking boys just want to use everyone; and the parents are either dumb, alcoholic, or absent…I find the kids I interact with every day an inspiration and a great source of optimism. Sure, there are some mean kids and some unhappy, unpopular kids, but they are more the exception than the rule.

She is wondering if your interaction with teenagers makes you feel optimistic or afraid, and seems sincerely to want the feedback.

I only know the teenagers my son Buster goes to school with and hangs with, and the ones he hangs with seem like pretty level-headed people. But then, Buster is the rare teenager who knows who he is, and his friends seem to reflect that self-assurance. When I see teenagers at checkout counters biting their hair, unable to make simple change and looking like the lights are on but no one is home…I do wonder, sometimes, what the hell is going on.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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