Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Book of Mercy: Review

Book of Mercy
By Sherry Roberts
Published in 2011
Published by Osmyrrah Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9638880-5-1

I purchased this book myself - as an e-book. Cue gasps of horror from those acquainted with my previous digital resistance.

I don't know what this world is coming to. What are the kids thinking? It never used to be like that when I was their age. We were different. More respectful. The youth of today will be the ruin of this place. Have you heard the lyrics of the songs they listen to? Seen the content of the games they play? Someone ought to do something about it....

Thus starts an idea which is skirting into the very dangerous territory of censorship. It seems to me that this concerned hand-wringing that people do about 'the youth of today' is perpetual. People were saying it about us when I was younger, before that they were saying it about my parents generation, and the generation before that. Worse still, now people my age are starting to say it to me about 'kids these days' and look shocked when I flat out disagree. The problem with this world is not aged between 12 and 22, does not attend high school and does not wear hooded sweatshirts and baggy trousers. The major issues within our societies are caused by much older and better dressed forces. But the hand-wringing continues and ideas of what sorts of materials are appropriate for the eyes and ears of the young abound.

Irene Crump is one such hand-wringer, but she's the well-dressed, powerful sort. The most dangerous sort, in other words. She is the Head of the Mercy Study Club, a group of affluent women who meet to engage in educated discussion and participate in fund-raising activities for their community in Mercy, North Carolina. She takes it upon herself to produce a list of books that can be found in the local high school library that she considers 'filthy' and demands that they are removed. Books that contain such things as witchcraft (Harry Potter), profane language like 'hell' or 'damn', teen sexuality (Judy Blume's books) or allegedly encourage disobedient behaviour. She uses her connections and gets them banned. What she hadn't counted on, however, was being publicly opposed by the feisty Antigone.

Antigone is an entrepreneur, has a way with animals, takes in waifs and strays of all species including human, and has a habit of taking off on binge drives. She is also dyslexic, meaning her relationship with the written word in her life has been understandably fraught, however when she hears about Irene's little scheme she refuses to let it stand. Books, she argues, are knowledge and being locked out from them as she has been for most of her life, is something she wouldn't wish on anyone.

What ensues is a battle of both willpower and political power - the right to freedom of speech versus the right to protect the minds of the young from harmful materials. While I certainly agree there are limits on what children should be exposed to, the definition of what is harmful is a tricky one and it's inevitably tied up with politics and conservatism. I really think that people over-estimate the ill-effects of listening to songs with swearing in them, or knowing about sex at a young age. I grew up listening to all sorts and reading all sorts. One of my favourite songs when I was 11 years old was Deep by East 17 and it was entirely about sex - although I didn't know it at the time. Goodness only knows what anyone thought when they heard me tunelessly singing lyrics like "Yeah I'll butter your toast/ If you lick my knife". I haven't ended up a pervert nor did I let anyone 'butter my toast' until a much older age. I read my first sex scene when I was around 13 I think, entirely by accident. I picked a book that belonged to my mother off the book shelves one summer holiday and started reading... Nothing terribly explicit, my mother certainly wasn't one who enjoyed Mills and Boon, but enough to give a wide-eyed girl on the verge of adulthood a bit of an education. Again, seems I haven't come out any worse for it.

This book has fun characters, a good plot line and it moves at a pretty snappy pace. Overall, it was an incredibly enjoyable read which I was surprised about, to be honest, given that the listing price on Amazon was US$0.99 (it has since returned to its regular price of US$5.75) and that I had heard nothing about it. It was refreshing to prove my inner book snob wrong and find a cheap, unknown digital book that had me enthralled until the very last page. It wasn't high literature but I didn't want it to be. It was a great escape into a good story which is ultimately what reading should be all about.

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