Spoiler Alert : Day 3

I actually have a bit of a history with 2005 ALA-challenged book Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher.

My high school used to assign a required reading book to the tenth grade. When I was a freshman, the sophomores had to read Whale Talk (I read it as well because I’m a rebel). There was eventually a huge commotion raised by some parents about the same issues given by ALA – racism and offensive language.

Who the hell cares?

I don’t remember whether or not the 10th grade was allowed to continue reading the book or not, but I remember reading Whale Talk. After finishing it, I thought it was the greatest thing I ever read (this was before I met Shakespeare and we became bros). Looking on it now, I can say that it has its faults—there’s no such thing as a perfect book—but to accuse of it having too much offensive language? Apparently some people have never been around teenagers.

The main character of the book, T.J., is 17 or 18 years old, as are many of the other characters. If they need to express frustration, their options are essentially limited to violence or foul language. And since the idea of punching someone through a book is as feasible as punching someone over the Internet, cursing is the medium that best reflects those frustrations to the reader. It is one thing to read a fight scene, but it’s another to have a barrage of f-bombs thrown at you like you’re part of trench warfare. It makes it easier for Crutcher to relate to his audience, and if you don’t think his audience is familiar with foul language, then you were probably raised in a convent.

But overall, focusing on only the racism and language in Whale Talk detracts from the literary purposes those issues serve—to show complexities of identity, the pressures of masculinity and the desire for acceptance. Whale Talk might not be pretty in how it handles those topics, but neither is your face. And you don’t see me trying to censor you, now do you?

1 Comment

  1. We did indeed get to continue reading the book, but only with signed permission slips from our parents. Those of us whose parents denied it (*cough*) had to read a different book and borrow someone else’s “Whale Talk” and read it outside of class.

    Chris Crutcher came later that year to talk about the book and do a book signing, where I obtained my copy. But only members of the Sophomore Lit & Comp classes whose parents had signed the original permission slips were actually allowed to hear the talk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.