Rummanah Aasi
  Like Lush, I never heard of Adam Selzer's debut middle grade novel How to Get Suspended and Influence People before. I'm not sure if I would have gone out of my way to check it out, but I saw it listed on a challenged list by ALA and that in it of itself made me curious. The book tackles the ever controversial sex education curriculum in schools. 

Description: Gifted eighth-grader Leon Harris becomes an instant celebrity when the film he makes for a class project sends him to in-school suspension.

Review: Leon Harris is our sarcastic, smart aleck, and extremely witty narrator. He is a gifted eighth grader who participates in an advanced studies activity along with several of his equally intelligent, socially outcast friends. For their first assignment, each advanced student must film an educational health or safety advisory video to be shown to the younger middle-school students. Leon immediately thinks of the boring videos that he and his classmates have seen throughout the year particularly the out dated and uncomfortable sex education videos that never really address that plagues the ordinary tween. Leon decides he wants to do a sex-ed video that will address his peer's issues and anxiety with honesty so he signs up for the sex-ed topic. He decides to deviate from boring anatomical line drawings and cheesy cartoons in favor of a surreal, avant-garde video inspired by Fellini and Salvador Dal!. In fact he goes even further and names his movie La Dolce Pubert. He knows he can't use real nudity in his movie but cleverly goes around this issue by using a montage of classical nudes with close-ups on the 'good parts' and frank rhyming narration that comes off as quite comical and tongue in cheek. 
  While his advanced studies teacher applauds Leon's creativity, the moralistic and conservative teacher, Mrs. Smollett, who heads the gifted program finds Leon's video inappropriate for the student body. Her interference with Leon's video results in Leon's suspension. Leon's peers' interest in the video skyrockets and Leon becomes an instant celebrity. Whether or not Leon achieves victory is what the second half of the book is about. 
  I liked Leon. He is definitely a lot wiser than his years. His intention of making a sex-ed video never deviates from making an educating video that states "it's okay. it's normal". I don't think he even thought he could reach celebrity or fame with his video nor does his head swell up when he does. The book is definitely more slanted to the unconventional bent that clearly empathizes with Leon's attitude toward school, his budding relationships and the adults who seemingly don't understand him. Unfortunately, the book falls a bit flat in the last half of the book as we are told how the video is made and what Mrs. Smollet's reaction is instead of showing it. I felt the lack of describing the process lessened the impact of the book's purpose and it showcases the one dimensional opposing viewpoint. Selzer doesn't take into consideration that there are parents that oppose to sexual education being taught in schools and that opinion is also valid too. Despite these flaws, I thought the book was enjoyable. 

Rating: 3 stars

Why it was challenged/banned: In 2009 the book was challenged at the Nampa, Idaho Public Library by a parent appalled that the cover included an abstract drawing of a nude woman and the back cover contains some profanity. Source: ALA

Words of Caution: While there is an abstract drawing of a nude woman on the front cover, that depiction is most graphic as the book gets. There are no detailed graphic descriptions of which pictures Leon uses for his project. There is some mild profanity in the book, however, it is mild and not unlike what is heard in the school hallways. I would recommend this book to Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashijan
5 Responses
  1. Seems like a silly book to be challenged. It raises issues tweens want to know about. But most challenged books are made for ignorant reasons. This sounds great. Too bad it didn't stand up in the end.

  2. Jenny Says:

    Is the above abstract woman the one that was challenged? Seriously? A kid could go to an art museum and see far more graphic images than that! Does she know that The David is nude? I'm surprised she hasn't tried to have the Italian government cover it up. Honestly.

    Too bad the second half of the book didn't quite live up to the first, but I really like the sound of Leon:)

  3. Alison: I completely agree. The book had a great premise. I just thought it could've been written a bit longer and better.

    Jenny: LOL. I know, right? Apparently she doesn't know a thing about art or has never been to a museum. I thought Leon was really clever and a lot more mature for his age.

  4. I can't believe that anyone even bothers to attempt to challenge a public library book. I was doing a presentation on the 1st Amendment to a class of seniors today and I asked, Why are most books challenged/banned? A boy yelled out "Because that person has way to much time on her hands." Maybe he's onto something.

  5. That abstract woman is wearing more than people wear at the beach!

    Kids that are a lot wiser than their years have a tendency to be a bit far fetched, but that doesn't sound like it was the case with Leon.

    Thanks again for all the info on these challenged books. It makes me feel like I've just watch a "The More You Know" commercial. hehe

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