PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN,
BY ALLISON VARNES, RANDOM HOUSE, NY, 2018
YOUNG ADULT BOOK.
“How old do you have to be to read what you want?” middle school protagonist June Harper (p. 121).
Property of the Rebel Librarian is a book published by preeminent publisher Random House and it was given a positive review by the New York Times, both important cogs in our era’s Politically Correct “transform the world” factory. The story concerns June, a Dogwood Middle School child (age 12-14?), and her war against her parents, the school principal, and the school board, ostensibly framed as a justice battle against the evils of censorship. (Her parents are so sinister that her father is even the president of the PTSA and her mother passes out band uniforms at the school. Mom even poses as an artist in her spare time). The book glorifies defiance against parental control, conflating the right of a husband and wife to guide their child with Orwell’s pernicious Thought Police. (June’s parents forbid her to date yet, after all). The book likewise heralds subversion and a secretive revolutionary (“rebellion”) cell in an effort to overthrow the existing social (parental) order. In essence, it is a Social Justice political treatise, a blueprint for social change and ideological engineering, a left-wing political indoctrination recipe for the young, wherein children are here encouraged to defy and overthrow their parents in a war against censorship (i.e., censorship here defined as mother/father barriers to whatever a child wants to do).
Resistance to the established (parental) order entitles June to be decreed (by a boyfriend) as “supergirl” and, ultimately, regarded by peers to be the most popular girl in her class (thanks to her gutsy sedition). “This is no longer the same Dogwood Middle,” declares the school’s new Chairman Mao. “It’s an alternate reality where reading is the coolest thing you can do and I, June Harper, am the leader of the cool kids – of the rebellion.” [p. 119] Grotesquely uncool is a former romantic interest who becomes a nemesis as president of the ultra-Orwellian Student Club for Appropriate Reading [p. 120]
The story begins when June’s parents forbid her from reading The Making of a Witch (a fictitious title, so the reader isn’t privy to what it contains that June’s parents find objectionable, other than the fact that the girl is told that the book “is too scary for you.” [p. 3] The Witch tome was recommended to the schoolgirl by the school librarian, who is the Master Revolutionary of this “rebel” story, goading the Middle School girl to more defiance towards schoolgirl liberation. Meanwhile, actual details of the parents’ perspective and objections to the book are not revealed, so the reader is expected to accept on faith that the parents are censorial morons). All that matters to June, and the author of this self-righteous pap, is simply that the girl should be allowed to read (or do?) anything her parents don’t like: “All I know is,” declares the rebellious girl, in what could be her revolutionary mantra, “they don’t want me to read it, so I’m gonna.” [p. 89]
Ultimately, a sacred librarian — a defender of Open Minds, Freedom, Liberation, etc. (and ideological mentor for this story’s underground cell) — falls into trouble for having the Witch book on the shelves at the library, let alone expressly guiding it into June’s hand. Beyond that, the Librarian Freedom Fighter even granted the book’s heroine an organizing role in an upcoming visit to the school by the author of the controversial volume. June gets “grounded” by her parents for reading such an “unapproved” book and the librarian eventually gets canned. (Although, eventually, her “phone is ringing off the hook” with support and she gets a job in Boston where “they say I can fill my library with all the banned books I want.” [p. 258] The suffocating parental Thought Police succeeds in lobbying the principal and school board, and the entire library is soon shut down so objectionable material (literally 2/3 of its inventory) can be dutifully expunged. A school edict appears, expressly banning books with “profanity, drugs, violence, rock/rap music, witchcraft, drinking, smoking, or rebellion of any kind.” [p. 58]
In the wake of this Oppression, June decides to fight back against her parental and school fascists. She discovers a tiny book exchange (the Little Free Library) in her neighborhood (run, we later learn, by the subversive librarian), and eventually June is overseeing a secret trade in contraband books from a locker at her school. With its underground shadows and joyful perk of illegality, this paradigm invariably echoes a template for the self-destructive pinnacle of educational insubordination: the schoolkid drug dealer. (Or, twisted to a political platform, the bomb-planting anarchist?)
Many of the heroine’s underground book smuggling is innocuous (titles like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Dork Diaries), wherein reading virtually ANY book becomes a blow to the parental Thought Police. Reading itself is equated with primal liberation. “What’s wrong with you?” June proclaims. “Reading books can’t be wrong. I’ll tell you what wrong is – it’s trying to control someone.” [p. 123-124] Within such a plotline’s overtly political slant, it’s also not surprising that the author of this volume manages to touch on a number of obligatory politically correct platitudes in her compilation of forbidden texts. These include real-life books with disabled protagonists, a novel about Jewish suffering under the Nazis (the ultimate white supremacists,) and a story (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry) about a black family’s struggle against white racism in 1933 Mississippi. The fact that these tales are part of schoolgirl’s secretive Thirst for Information reinforces the implicit presumption that her (conservative) parents don’t want her to read such material and are – along with being wanton censors – ideological prisoners of their own narrow era and are likely racists, probably of the closet – not admitting — variety. The black family in Roll of Thunder “had land,” bemoans June, “and a bunch of racist people thought they shouldn’t have it … Some of it is hard to read because it makes me so mad. I hate that people used to talk like that. Or treat people like that.” [p. 89]
Parents, let my people go!
Along with fairly tame books in June’s underground collection (although absent a former generation’s Mary Poppins), author Varnes is profoundly disingenuous in conflating relatively mundane kids’ books (Pax, Because of Winn-Dixie, etc.) in the underground library with the likes of “George,” by Alex Gino, a novel heralding a boy who yearns to be a girl. According to the New York Times, this real-life child’s novel is controversial to some because it 1) the protagonist is a transgender child, 2) there are conversations about pornography, 3) the novel champions “lying to your parents,” 4) “has a potential conversation about masturbation,” and 5) champions childhood sedition in learning out how to erase browser history on a mother’s computer. Likewise, Blubber, by Judy Blume, is part of Varnes’ Seditious Library. Blume is well-known as one of the most controversial authors in children’s literature and Blubber text like “That teacher is such a bitch” has never endeared her realm of tales to all parents (or teachers). “I just love Judy Blume,” declares one of June’s Rebel Librarian comrades. [p. 115]
So what is the ultimate result of June’s “rebellion” against her parents and their culture, an antiquated world that needs to be transformed, even destroyed? CNN (yes, notorious as the quintessential “Fake News” network in the Trump era or, conversely, considered relentless Left-Wing Truth-Tellers in our era of political divide) turns up to champion a news story about book burning at Dogwood Middle School. June becomes a young Freedom Goddess, this minute’s new media icon against the suffocating Thought Police of the Trumpian universe (i.e., her parents and their totalitarian world.) The mass media frenzy that champions a young girl against Old World censorship broadens over time and June gets to become a left-wing martyr (albeit much praised and rewarded) when she delivers an impassioned soliloquy to a school board meeting, now a national news event, including:
“We may be kids but we’re smarter than you think. We will always find a way to get around what you say if we don’t agree with you. If you push, we will push back.” [p. 239]
And when an ABC reporter asks June “If you could say anything to America, what would it be?,” the middle school child replies: “Don’t tell me what to read.” [p. 246]
This book’s “rebellion” against parents by a middle school kid is of course a conveniently exploitive political hook to ideologically ensnare young readers in their formative years, kids who are expressly searching for identities away from their overseeing parents. Such a book manipulates this typical teenage phase in an effort to bind them to the “progressive” political bandwagon, heralding subversive collectivist activism against the norms and values of the existent social order (unspoken subtext: the enemy is “conservative.”) This book isn’t really about censorship. It is about choosing the hyper-liberal side in our current Culture Wars. (How many right-wing or religious books about, say, the wrongness of transgenderism, does heroine June treasure in her “rebellion” library? Hint: someone needs to start an alternate universe underground library.) Even the agitation tradition of rebellious posters from noble “protesters” makes its way up and down the halls of Dogwood Middle School, [p. 219] part of – in leftist lexicon – an inevitable mass movement, fueled and nurtured by a sympathetic mass media.
Ultimately, there is a political paradox that such a children’s novel is innately framed upon. The modern library is, after all, a kind of socialist enterprise: a system of communal sharing wherein no collectively owned item is anyone’s private property. The very concept of “Property of the Rebel Librarian” is antithetical to the collectivist ideology that undergirds the library system — and the very communalist premise of this volume. The book’s possessive title is a label June conjures as a fake (appropriative, materialist, even capitalist) front for her Underground Information Center. Its innately socialist premise is amplified, accelerated, by her “rebellion” against the normative authority figures in her life. And these are oppressive conventions in this schoolgirl’s view that are foisted upon her by narrowly focused oppressors. In essence, June’s parents represent an antiquated social and moral order that must – according to the very real life (and very politically active) American Library Association – be “progressively” “transformed.”
Death to the Old Order. In with the new.
In times past, cross-culturally, it was a hallowed admonition – even a biblical commandment from God — that one should Honor thy father and mother. But the youthful overthrowing of the staid Old Order by children who know better than their parents must change all that – in this book, both literally and metaphorically.
In sum, here is the futuristic vision of the Rebel Librarian and its leftist author:
June (to her mentor, the librarian): “My parents are not going to change.”
Librarian: “Not today. But they will. I don’t think anyone’s ever told them they’re wrong before, do you?” Her face is full of mischief, “Change happens slowly, but what you have to remember is that it HAPPENS.” [p. 261-262]
Bottom line: Who gets to guide kids down the rocky road to adulthood? Their parents, or subversive contra-activists in today’s leftist Information World? And most importantly in our current Culture Wars, beyond the ideological grasp of Property of the Rebel Librarian’s author: whose set of values is, ultimately, the most manipulative and authoritarian?
Further reading: An online web site, SAFE LIBRARIES, is among those who fight against the hypocritical library claim of censorship in today’s war of morals and ideas.