Talking About Book Bans with Author Camryn Garrett

By Sherry Wang (she/her), 17 years old, editor

September 30, 2023

Reading has always been a great way for teenagers to better understand themselves and the world. Unfortunately, many books are being banned (through removal or restrictions) in schools, libraries, and bookstores. Many are banned due to references to race, gender, and sexuality, including sexual orientation, making it difficult for many readers to access books with characters that are representative of them.

To raise awareness and celebrate and support authors whose books have been banned, the American Library Association (ALA) maintains “Banned Books Week”, an annual event that will take place from October 1 to 7 of this year.

In honor of this, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Camryn Garrett (she/her), author of the young adult novels. Full disclosure, off the record and Friday I’m in love. Garrett has been writing since she was young and was first published when she was a teenager. A Black, queer author, she writes books with characters that represent diverse readers.

Garrett’s books have been banned due to discussions of race, sexual health and identity, as well as queer pride. We discuss the importance of representation and diversity in literature, the impact of book bans, and what you can do to help.

The importance of access to books

Literature has always been important to Garrett. “I’ve always been a little shy,” she says. “I loved having books to escape into…reading books about different people in different places exposed me to a lot of things I would never have experienced or known about.” Garrett says reading when she was a teenager helped her discover more about her identity, including her sexual orientation.

Much like his experience, Garrett explains the importance of young people being exposed to diversity. “Children can see people who may or may not be like them,” she says. “I think it’s always important to expose them to different types of life. You are living in your city. “You’ve never been anywhere else and you can see all these different possibilities in books.” Learning about others can make teens feel less alone and increase empathy and acceptance of others.

Books can also be a source of security and joy. “Even now I think books are really comforting,” she says. “It’s nice to get out of your own head and go on a journey and an adventure.”

Teens have questions

Like many others, Garrett did not have access to comprehensive sex education as a teenager. It’s not that she and her classmates didn’t have questions. She remembers her health teacher telling her, “I would like to answer your question, but I can’t because we can only talk about abstinence.”

Books can help readers learn more about themselves safely. “I wanted to create a book where people could explore their sexuality and the idea of ​​sex in general,” says Garrett. “I wanted to be very frank about it, without any stigma or judgment.”

For example, Garrett wrote Full disclosure, about a girl who is HIV positive. Garrett says that in her sex education class “there was no discussion about how people with HIV live today.” The discussion of HIV/AIDS felt dated, rather than including the progress that has been made in prevention and treatment. I wanted to help destigmatize the topic.

Reach teenagers

Garrett says his books have been banned at least three times. “I’ve seen libraries say, ‘We won’t have this book in the teen room anymore,’” she says. “‘We will move it to the adult room and the children will have to ask to be allowed to take this book out.’ Which is not a total ban [but] It’s discouraging because the reason many authors, especially young adult authors, write the books they write is because they want to reach teenagers. “They want to reach young people.”

When asked why he thinks there has been an increase in book bans, Garrett explains: “[Books] exposing teens to a lot of different ideas and points of view, and a lot of these places where there are bans don’t want that. They don’t want conflicts. “They don’t want speech.” This can lead to people not learning to think critically about the situations around them.

How can you help

There is some hope. For example, Illinois has passed a law which prohibits the banning of books in schools and public libraries. Bans can be difficult to navigate, but Garrett has some suggestions. “It is always important to request an author’s book from the library,” she shares. “You can also ask to study certain books in class… go to the local library, participate, ask your parents to accompany you to community and school board meetings, to make it clear that you are not in favor of banning.”

Teenagers can make a difference. “I think it’s very important to make your voice heard in any way you can,” Garrett says.

Representation issues

It’s disappointing that books that teens identify with are being banned, but remember: you are not alone in your experiences. Teenagers deserve to have a well-rounded education and access to a wide range of books that represent our world.

Thank you, Camryn Garrett, for being a part of this article!

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