Avoid Censorship, from original document by Dorothy Broderick, Update October 2016

Based largely upon the originally written letter from Dorothy Broderick to reviewers

VOYA editors present the following information to help reviewers learn how to handle various materials in a way that does not even hint of censorship.

Sex

Subscribers have a right to know there is sex in a book; however, this information must not be conveyed as a warning. Sex may be a “political problem” in some communities, but a review should address only its presence in literary structural terms, not as moral judgments. If libraries, whether school or public, are to remain bastions of freedom, we must adhere to a commitment to the literary process and not be lured by political pressure groups into treating books as if they nothing more than an extension of the values of the most vocal groups within a community or the nation.

Instead of vague phrases about sexual content making the book inappropriate for this age group or that age group, find a way to describe it to VOYA readers. Here are a few techniques that will provide the information in a neutral manner.

The relationship between Jack and Jill (or Jim) is described by the author without graphic details of sex acts on-page.

OR

It is questionable whether the author needed graphic details about the sex acts involved in the relationship between the characters as such descriptions contributed nothing to the pace of the plot or to character development.

OR

While the relationship between Jack and Jill results in Jill’s pregnancy, readers unaware of the sexual act which produces pregnancy will not be informed by this author who leaves sexual acts off-stage.

 Violence, Profanity, and Drug Use

These are also content issues that VOYA readers have a right to know about when making selection decisions for their communities. VOYA offers the following suggestions on how to inform readers about violence, profanity, and/or drug use in a book—without becoming a censor.

Consider the entire context of the violence, profanity, and/or drug use (V/P/D):

  • can the V/P/D easily be tied into the theme and plot?
  • does it flow with the action or does it come from out of nowhere?
  • does it change the tone of the book—for better or worse?
  • how frequently does the V/D/P occur?
  • does the it seem disruptive to the flow of dialogue?
  • is the V/P/D an obstacle to understanding the dialogue?
  • is it consistent with the character’s (or characters’) personality?
  • is it appropriate for the action that is taking place?
  • can you distinguish the character’s voice from the author’s voice when profanity is used?
  • does the violence and/or profanity make the dialogue and the action more effective, believable?

Do not use statements that contain judgments about these issues, such as “contains lots of violence” and “has adult language and sex.” Instead, write something informative with facts from the text, allowing readers to form their own judgments about their own communities.  Examples:

Three major scenes comprise knife-wielding, head-splitting, blood-gushing fights and profanity is slung with rapidity. Action readers will be thrilled as the author skillfully, tightly winds up the tension.

OR

As this is a story about deep-seeded vengeance among arch-enemies, characters are unsurprisingly mutilated and maimed in a gory confrontation.

OR

All the characters in this book know a thing or two about violence and gore. It is natural to this title that they use profanity with versatility and abandon. While it does not dominate the pages, it is a significant presence, as it is used casually by the characters in some places, bitingly, vindictively, and vulgarly in others. Violence is graphically depicted on-page, with blood and gore.

OR

There are several brief descriptions of rape, in which the author emphasizes the victim’s terror. There are also some violent fire-fights and explicit language, both of which are appropriate to the dystopia created here.

MAKING JUDGMENTS LEADS TO CENSORING

While your VOYA review certainly should inform readers of a book’s full content, please remember NOT to use judging phrases, such as “too depressing,” or warning phrases, such as “contains adult language and sex.”

In the above examples, the word “too,” within this context, imposes the reviewer’s own preference in reading material. The phrase “adult language” is a red flag that censorship is just around the corner. Both assume things about all YA readers that the reviewer can’t know.

State facts from the book and use the questions above to determine if the issues you want to point out are organic to the text or thrown in without a specific need.

Tommy swears when it seems realistic that a teen would use that language.

OR

F-bombs are thrown around like confetti throughout the text.

OR

Many times, the use of swearing seems inorganic to the characters and unnecessary to the plot.

OR

Drugs are passed around at the party, and that seems a realistic part of the story, given that these teens are determined to break as many rules as possible before summer is over.

OR

The book contains violence, young adult drug use, underage drinking, graphic sex scenes, and descriptions of rape.

You’ve made it clear what is in the book without adding your own judgment value or biases—let the reader make the call about who to hand the book to, or whether to put it in the collection, or where to shelve it, or whether or not to purchase it.

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