Angered by the Rebel Librarian

This book angered me. That’s what makes it good.

So, earlier this week my older son brought home a book from school insisting I read it. That’s actually a pretty normal occurrence in our household. The boy’s a reader, rips through books, and is often excited about them.

Usually, I’ll ask him what the book is about. His answer usually consists of, “JUST READ IT!” with complete exasperation. Apparently I’m asking unreasonable questions.

This time, though?

This time, he told my wife a good ten-minute synopsis of the book. He was still excited when I got home from work an hour later. This excitement is a huge endorsement!

So I picked up the book as it sat on the kitchen table. Property of the Rebel Librarian. Well, the title’s already won me over.

I ripped through the thing. Relatively large print compared to most of the books I’ve been reading meant I zipped along the entire novel. Chapters flew by.

The basic plot: 12-year-old June’s in seventh grade, enjoys art and marching band, but her true love is reading. She finishes up her most recent book, The Makings of a Witch, a spooky book that she adored.

And then her parents find it.

You shouldn’t be reading about witches! And magic? Wait. This is from the school library?!” And the parents go and have the book banned. Along with any books involving witchcraft. Soon enough the entire thing spirals out of control so that the school library is closed and emptied of any objectionable books. The school librarian is fired and escorted off school property by security.

Soon June finds herself starting up her own library. She gathers banned books. Suddenly reading is cool, a rebel activity, and she is the rebel librarian.

But what happens if her parents find out?

So, that’s the book. And as I read the book, I grew more and more angry at the parents. It’s not because they were evil; it’s because they were written so very realistically. They were trying to protect their kids. They wanted what was best for their kids. In the process, they banned books because that’s what they thought was best.

That scares me as a parent. Have I gone that wrong? Do I overprotect my kids? They sure think so, but let’s be fair: A 12-year-old is not necessarily the best judge of that!

But it also tells me that Allison Varnes, the author, did a great job writing the parents as antagonists. They weren’t evil. They were trying to do their best. A kid reading the book might miss that, but this parent sure didn’t.

Those make the best kind of antagonists. Yes, sometimes you need someone like Sauron that’s just pure evil. But those antagonists that could be you… those are the scariest. I think it’s why I got so angry at the parents. I saw shadows of myself there.

If you’re looking for a fantastic, fast read, I highly recommend Property of the Rebel Librarian. If you’re a writer, I’d suggest you watch how Varnes crafts the scenes with the parents. In my opinion, she gives them a lot of humanity even as they make decisions I absolutely rail against.

The book’s also a masterclass in romantic subplots. So, um, spoilers this paragraph. June has a crush on a boy, and it’s clear relatively early on he’s a jerk. Rather than keep them together through the entire book, Varnes wisely has June figure it out relatively quickly. I’m thankful she had June figure it out not too much later than the audience is able to. Another good writing hack: Don’t annoy your readers!

And then there’s the overall plot and the fact the protagonist is a shy girl who’s big heroic quality is a love of reading.

Basically, go read the book, and pay attention to plot, pacing, character arcs, all of it. Gobble up the book. It’s worth it.

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