I grew up in government housing. Because it was in Indiana, it was nicer government housing than you'd find in Chicago or New York or Baltimore. We had a townhouse, and a tiny back yard.
My mother could grow tomatoes and strawberries during the summer months so we had some fresh fruits and vegetables- we each had a concrete slab porch where we could sit at night, if we carried a chair outside.
We also had police helicopters every Friday night. They flew over, searchlights flashing- they weren't looking for anyone. They were a show of force, to try to scare the drug dealers off the streets.
Four doors down from us, we had a husband and wife duo who liked to get drunk starting Thursday. The first night was a party, the second night was always a fight. By Saturday night, they spilled into the street- she would punch him, he would punch her, and the police usually arrived by the time somebody was bloodied. Usually.
Two doors down on the other side were the Quiet Ones. They kept to themselves, never caused any trouble, except every so often their son would go screaming from the house, naked. Always naked. No one knew what to make of it; eventually CPS took him away and the Quiet Ones moved out.
We heard gunshots all through the year, but especially on New Year's. "He shot himself cleaning his gun" was code for "he committed suicide." The police didn't come when someone stole your TV- we lost three thrift-store televisions in three years.
We had no air conditioning, we had few groceries. We all stood on line for government surplus- it wasn't just cheese. The Firefighters Charity paid for Christmas at least once; my 11 year old brother found a murder victim's body in the field across from his middle school.
A child molester worked his way through his neighborhood. We all knew who he touched; there were a lot of us. He was never caught.
I can see how this kind of life would be horrifying to a parent who is well-off, whose children have the luxury of worrying only about grades, and cell phone upgrades, and SATs.
I can see why parents would want to protect their children from stories about neighborhoods like mine. I can see why a loving mother would say, "I don't want you to understand just what the woman across the street is trading for cigarettes."
It's horrifying. And we were ashamed. We knew it wasn't a good place to live- but where would we go? What could we possibly do about it? Well, we went to the library. And what we did was read. They had air conditioning, they had quiet- quiet is in such short supply in neighborhoods like these.
And when I read BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, I was relieved. My neighborhood was NOT the only place in the world where people died for no reason. When I read THE OUTSIDERS, I was relieved! My neighborhood was not the only one where people fought for entertainment, and parents hurt their children, or each other, or abandoned them completely.
When I read IT, when I read THE SILVER KISS, when I read one of a hundred, a thousand books in the cool quiet of the public library, I was relieved. Because I wasn't alone. I was not singular- I hadn't done something *wrong* to live in a neighborhood like mine. I wasn't responsible for the terrible things that took place around me.
Reading books that reflected my neighborhood took away my shame, and replaced it with possibility. Other people had seen terrible things, and lived in terrible places, but they got to leave. They learned to fly planes and write books and build buildings and every remarkable, possible thing. I wasn't limited by the place I lived. I was limited only by myself.
I never would have realized that if some parent, some parent trying to protect THEIR child had decided that NO child should read BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA. Or THE OUTSIDERS. Or IT, or THE SILVER KISS, or any one of the hundreds, thousands of books I read to reassure myself that I wasn't alone in the world.
But every single one of these books have been challenged. And you know, I'm all for one parent saying "This book is not right for *my* child." But I beg you to remember that the book that's wrong for your child is the one that's saving another child's life. I beg you- leave that book in the library, because someone from my neighborhood *needs* to read it.