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You Can't Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! News:

The current textbooks being used in public schools today, that your children are reading, memorizing and being tested on, are inaccurate, revisionist, anti-American, racist, climate change propaganda based on fake science, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, pro-Islam, Marxist, globalist, pro-Socialism/Communism, pro-homosexuality, pro-abortion, and sexually explicit.
In previous YCRT! posts I've tried to trace the connection between right-wing politics, Christianist activism, and the current wave of book bannings and challenges in the public schools. The quotation above is from an op-ed by Victoria Jackson. It's a glimpse into the brains of those who want to purge the school system of any sort of actual teaching.

Amusingly, Jackson's false claim that the books she's targeting are actually being used as textbooks in Tennessee elementary school classrooms energized the trolls. Schools have been besieged with calls from outraged parents, and Amazon customer reviews of the books in question have been swamped with angry comments.

Wonkette published a great rejoinder, including a detailed summary of the misleading claims and outright lies contained in Jackson's op-ed, which should remind us to take everything book banners say with a grain of salt.

Meanwhile, in other book, television, and movie censorship news:

 YCRT! Banned Book Review:

i hunt killersI Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1)
Barry Lyga

The narrator of I Hunt Killers is the 17-year-old son of "America's most wanted serial killer," now locked away in prison (or is he?). The son, Jasper Dent, grew up under his father's murderous tutelage, not exactly an accomplice but certainly a witness to the aftermath of his dad's 24 increasingly sadistic killings. He helped arrange his dad's trophies -- locks of hair and personal items belonging to the victims -- and even watched as his dad killed his beloved pet dog in order to help Jasper get over his squeamishness about killing. Jasper goes over and over these killings in his mind, describing awful details like the injection of liquid drain cleaner into still-living captives. Jasper also agonizes, over and over, about whether he himself is doomed to become a serial killer, given his background and education.

Over and over is the operative phrase here: repetition is the most-used item in Lyga's writerly toolbox. Not a chapter goes by without Jasper asking himself the same questions or restating the reasons he might be a twisted psychopath like his father.

I was unable to swallow some of the premises Lyga relies on to make his story work: one, that local police would allow a 17-year-old boy to assist in active murder investigations; two, that the same cops would not have immediately made Jasper Dent their prime suspect; three, that townspeople would not have burned the boy's house down and run him out of town.

As with much YA fiction, the young protagonist has sex on the brain, but there's no actual sex in the book. Jasper's a virgin and determined to stay that way, at least until he figures out whether he's a serial killer or not. He's afraid that if he finds joy in sex he'll quickly find joy in killing, as his father did.

The story has two main lines: one, the hunt for a new serial killer who is apparently copying Jasper's father's old killings; two, Jasper's mental issues. I was disappointed that Lyga left both lines unresolved; clearly he's shooting for a franchise, with numerous sequels, and we'll have to read Jasper Dent #2 or possibly even Jasper Dent #5 before we find out whether the killings end or whether Jasper ever gets his stuff together. Because of this, I Hunt Killers does not seem a stand-alone book to me; it's more like a chapter in a longer, as yet unpublished novel.

I Hunt Killers first came to my attention while gathering material for a previous YCRT! post. In November 2013, parents in a Lexington, Kentucky school district challenged the inclusion of I Hunt Killers on a high school reading list, saying it is too violent. A local newspaper summarizes the challenge by quoting one of the parents:

"The back of the book is described as deliciously demented and a twisted tale from a teenaged psychopath and it's all about killing," said Kassie Bennet. She was shocked when it was in her 15 year old's back pack for a school assignment.

"If my child picked up the book out of the library, then your child has the ability to do it too," said Bennet. I Hunt Killers was on the Henry Clay High School reading list, along with dozens of other books. Bennett's son chose it from the school library, but she wants to know why it was even an option.

I read the ebook version of I Hunt Killers and thus can't confirm the "deliciously demented" or "teenaged psychopath" blurbs on the book jacket, but I can vouch for the subject matter, and yes, it's pretty much all about killing. The challenge in Lexington, as far as I can determine, is ongoing. For now the book remains on the reading list, but parents are still trying to have it removed.

I understand where the Kentucky parents are coming from: there's very little that's positive in this book. Oh, to be sure, Jasper doesn't want to be a serial killer. He wants to do right, and at the end of the book he resolves to become a hunter of serial killers. That, I suppose, is good, but it's not much. Really this book is about killing people in horrible ways, and Lyga lingers over gory descriptions of killing after killing. If Nancy Grace were a YA novel, this is the YA novel she'd be.

While there's little of value in I Hunt Killers, I can't accept the book banners' argument that the book is too dark for teen readers, or that it'll influence them in negative ways. I hope the school district keeps to First Amendment principles and leaves it on the reading list.

Overall, I found this YA novel repetitive, unrealistic, nastily obsessed with death and mutilation, and lacking an ending. I'm really only interested in it because it's the subject of a ongoing book banning attempt, and while I'll follow the progress of the challenge in the news, I probably won't follow the ongoing saga of Jasper Dent, hunter of killers.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

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