Last week was banned books week. I thought about writing something here, but in the end I didn’t post because I wasn’t sure I had something new to add to the discussion. I mean, is it very useful or surprising for me to say I’m against banning books, that I prefer a world where readers choose for themselves the ideas that they’re exposed to? Probably not. On the other hand, I did think about the issue more than I otherwise might have (I suppose that’s the point of these themed weeks), and one thing I thought is that I’m a little bit glad that book banning is still an issue. Why? Because it means that writers are still writing books that might be considered dangerous, books that venture into uncertain territory. And all the interesting stuff happens in that uncertain territory.
Holly Schindler’s A Blue So Dark is one of those books that ventures into uncertain, and possibly dangerous territory. It’s a YA novel that explores the links between creativity and mental illness, and it does so without flinching, and without offering clean and neat solutions. It’s narrated by Aura, who’s in eleventh grade, who prefers wearing loose sweatshirts to pretty blouses, whose dad has moved on to a new family, and whose mom is an artist suffering from schizophrenia. And Aura is an artist too, making the fact of her mother’s schizophrenia all the more complicated and terrifying. With Aura’s dad busily embracing his new life, and with her best friend busily adapting to being a teenaged mother, Aura is left to deal with her mother’s rapidly escalating psychotic break all alone. And there s something far more lonely about the fact that her mother, her beautiful, talented, amazing mother, is there the whole time.
And even though I know [mom’s] got the world muddled, that nothing she does should hurt me because she’s not even in the same world I’m in anymore, I look at those mermaids piled in the sink—the ones she’s tried to destroy—and I hear her words to the shopkeeper who carved them: We’re just alike, me and Aura. Suddenly, my heart is in that sink, blackened into some unrecognizable, useless brick of ash. (170)
That passage captures the chaos and fear that penetrates Aura’s life as well the strangeness and beauty that penetrates Schindler’s novel. It is a novel of wooden mermaids and ash, of thick gobs of paint and a life swirling down a bathroom drain, of troubles and light.
Happy Belated Banned Books Week. If you’re looking to read a book that ventures off the beaten path, that has shades of uncertainty nestled alongside beauty, you might dive into the oceans of A Blue So Dark.