Any time I hear that a book has been challenged in a school library, I do two things. First, I wonder if the person(s) making the challenge have read the book and understand its message. Second, I pick up the book and read it for myself. I think a lot of readers are with me on this, especially my teenage readers. What’s the first thing that happens when you tell a teenager–or anyone, for that matter–that they shouldn’t do something? They do it, of course! So, this summer, when I heard that Chris Crutcher’s Angry Management (a nominee for the 2011-12 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award) had been challenged and pulled off the shelves in one South Carolina county, I knew that the controversy surrounding this book would only make sure that teens would read it. I don’t even know that I would have read this book if some goofball hadn’t tried to remove it from his kid’s school library. (I’m an elementary school librarian now. This book was barely even on my radar.) But I did pick up Angry Management, and I did read it in its entirety–which is more than I can say for the parent who tried to have it banned. If he had read the whole book, maybe he would have learned a little about how the censoring of ideas only leads to trouble. No one wins when we try to trample on the First Amendment. (For more on this controversy, visit http://www.chriscrutcher.com/south-carolina-2011.html.)
In Angry Management, we are reintroduced to some of Chris Crutcher’s most memorable characters–Sarah Byrnes, Angus Bethune, John Simet, Montana West, and others–in an anthology about teenagers with reasons to be angry. Whether it’s an abusive father, an absent mother, homophobia, racism, being overweight, fighting against censorship, or just struggling to survive, these kids are facing a lot, and they have good reason to be angry. But can they use their anger and turn all of their rage into something positive? Can they deal with their scars–on the inside and outside–and use their hurt to do something good, be something great? Will they be able to show everyone that they can’t be broken…no matter what is thrown at them? It’s not an easy road to travel, and not all of them will be successful, but these beloved characters have a chance to use their anger in a productive way and change their lives forever. “Not a good chance, maybe. But a chance.”
Before this book, I had only read one other novel by Chris Crutcher–Whale Talk–so I wasn’t familiar with most of the characters in this anthology. It didn’t matter. Even without the background from previous novels, the stories in Angry Management were powerful, and each one taught a lesson. Yes, there was a bit of language (the reason this book was challenged in SC in the first place), but it was true to the tone of the book and the lives of the teenagers depicted. Most teenagers aren’t going to say, “Well, phooey,” when they’ve lived with abuse their entire lives. Sometimes, only an expletive (or five) can convey just how angry someone is. The message of Angry Management is what we need to focus on. We–teens and adults alike–should use our anger to make us stronger, and fight against the injustices that try to keep us down. We need to use our rage to lead us to a better–and more hopeful–future.
I hope you’ll take the time to read this wonderful book. It is moving, eye-opening, and heartbreaking, and it serves to remind us that, at the end of the day, we always have hope that things will get better.
For more information on Angry Management and other books by Chris Crutcher, please visit http://www.chriscrutcher.com/index.html. If you’re a South Carolina school librarian, pay special attention to his upcoming appearances in our state. Awesome.