Michael Coats's Reviews > Americus

Americus by M.K. Reed
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M 50x66
's review
Mar 09, 2012

really liked it
Recommended to Michael by: J. Coats
Read from March 09 to 17, 2012

Americus was a good middle grade approach to the ever-topical issue of banned books. Our protagonist is Neil, a teen about to enter high school who is undergoing several life changes. He has found solace in a wildly popular fantasy book series about Apathea Ravenchilde (think Harry Potter), and shares his enthusiasm with his local public librarian and his best friend. His best friend's mother, however, is outaged by the book series, and begins a campaign to save her son and the community from its perceived anti-Christian agenda.

The central character is very well drawn, and must face several challenges as he enters high school. His conflicts are mirrored in his books; the authors of Americus do a good job of alernating between Neil's story and Apathea's, a technique which gives the reader an insight into how Neil views his personal struggles. The art is well done, and the story never bogs down.

The best friend's mother, however, was a problem. She is rather one-dimensional, serving only to express loud outrage and encourage the many small-minded citizens of Americus to join her in demanding the book series be removed from the shelves of the local public library. A strawman argument is used to attack the Apathea books, one which is easily deflected by the good citizens who come to the defense of the library and the books. The vote by the board of trustees for the library is presented as a final decision, settling the issue for all citizens. I found all this to be difficult to believe; such an important character as the best friend's mother deserves to be fleshed out, the arguments against the book should be made more persuasive to the reader, and the final vote should not result in peace and harmony.

The biggest complaint I have, though, is with the arguments for the book. The Apathea series is presented as worth saving because it contains nothing truly objectionable, and is, in fact, a great series of books, stimulating imaginations and teaching valuable life lessons. If the argument against banning books hinges on this principle, we are in trouble. It's not OK to ban books if they're of lower quality; the only factors that should matter when deciding whether to purchase a book for a library are the cost of the book, and whether enough patrons will want to read it to justify that cost.

That said, this was still a good read. Neil's growth over the summer and into the fall should be familiar to 14 year olds across America, and I hope many of those teens will find this story, enjoy it, and learn from it.

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03/09/2012 page 7
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