Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Bette Greene

I came across this book in the library, as noted before, after putting it on the very long list of banned books I have yet to read. After finishing it, unfortunately I am left wanting.

This is the story of a small town in Arkansas with a devout connection to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- so much so that when a homosexual couple comes to live amongst its people, turmoil ensues. The sad story is seen alternately through the eyes of Carla, the teenaged daughter of a very liberal librarian, and Frank Montgomery, one half of the targeted couple. There are many layers to this story- Carla's fixation with Andy Harris, the ringleader of the group that harasses Frank and his partner, Stephan Jones, that has her trying to conform to please him, as well as Andy's and the rest of the town's hatred of homosexuals fueled by the church and its pastor Roland Wheelwright. Then there's Carla's mother, Judith, who faces constant scrutiny and censorship for her book and display choices by the townsfolk, and then Stephan Jones himself, who studied for the priesthood before coming to terms with his sexuality and harbors a deep fear of the water. All of these, which come to a head in the violent climax of the novel, are wonderful premises; however, Greene doesn't do much to see them through. Her writing is clumsy at best, with unrealistic dialogue and paragraphs of description that run longer than they should. All of this makes for a reading experience that, rather than enlightens you, makes you keep from rolling your eyes- and that's a shame, considering the weight and intensity of the topic, not to mention its importance.

All the same, though, someone somewhere saw fit to try and remove it from bookshelves. The Library Patrons of Texas (another Southern state- go figure) objected to the content of the book, and it was also banned in a school district in South Carolina. Without being too prejudiced toward either of these fine states, I can easily imagine why the book would be banned there; the topic of homosexuality is not at all a popular one there. They probably imagined that a "homosexual agenda" was being promoted, as with so many of the other books on my banned list.

As it's written right now, Greene's novel will surely resonate with her target audience (teens)- it's bold and gets straight to the point, and its overall message is powerful. However, I would have liked to see a bit more subtle writing, as well as some more realism. The town could be one anywhere in the Bible Belt, and the characters anywhere in the country, but the reader can sense a false tone in the writing itself, and that sours it for me.

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