Censorship in YA: Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

Thursday, January 26, 2012

For a long while now, I've been a huge fan of Alex Flinn's writing style. The author has the unique ability to spin incredible fairy tales, while also creating gut-wrenching stories full of life, reality, compassion and depth. Censorship is a hot button issue in the book industry, as well is in the world today, as a whole, and I couldn't sit idly by when I heard the news that Alex Flinn's critically-acclaimed novel, Breathing Underwater, is facing censorship in Richland, Washington. Below is a description of the novel:

Nick is one of the chosen few at his high school: intelligent, popular, and wealthy. People think his life is pretty easy. Except for one thing. Nick has never told anyone about his father's violent temper.

When Nick meets Caitlin, he thinks she is the answer to all his problems. Caitlin is everything Nick has ever wanted—beautiful, talented, and in love with him. But then everything changes, and Nick must face the fact that he has gotten more from his father than green eyes and money.

The Richland, Washington school district is stating that that Breathing Underwater features "profanity," "dark themes" and "sexual content." As a conservative individual who has read the book, I can objectively state the profanity never goes beyond name-calling such as "b*tch or "slut," the dark undertones mimic the severity of the situation that the novel is actually bringing to light and the sexual content is merely alluded to. There is no action, there is no physical description and, frankly, the content to which the school board is referring is much like a tactful fade-out, if you will.

I believe there is value to books that tactfully broach upon the difficult-to-stomach issues of real life. There are going to be teens in this world that can relate to the trauma that Caitlin faces, both emotionally and physically. There are going to be boys that can relate to the internal battle that Nick fights every day to control the violence inside him. Simply censoring and glossing over such important and valuable content would be severely detrimental to the children whom the Richland, Washington school district are teaching. To ban a book simply based on the presumption that the content is too much for the sensitive minds of the children is narrow-minded and egotistical. Frankly, there are probably students who won't have the courage to stand up and step out of a situation without reading a novel like Breathing Underwater.

Breathing Underwater has won dozens of awards and honours, but perhaps the most valuable of all was not so much an award, but a clear and distinct recognition of its necessity for teens. In 2007, Rhode Island passed the Lindsay Ann Burke Act in honour of a young woman killed by her abusive boyfriend, making it mandatory for all schools in the state to address dating violence in their curriculum to raise awareness to the severity and detrimental nature of it. Nebraska and Ohio passed the act in 2009, as well. Breathing Underwater has been recommended reading for the course since.

Last year, the school district fought to ban the book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and lost due to public support and the upholding of the novel's merit. It is my hope that as a YA community, we can rally behind not only the integrity of Breathing Underwater, but also the author in this situation. To the Richland, Washington school district: life isn't all sunshine and roses. In some situations, there is a dark underbelly that needs to be exposed to properly educate and grow the minds of the individuals being taught.

There is still time to help Alex Flinn and support her novel, Breathing Underwater. We are a vast community, and we have the opportunity to make a significant impact. Please, if you can take just a moment to do so, tweet this, share it, blog it and get it out to others that the censorship of Breathing Underwater must be stopped.

 If you would like to email the school district to rally for the cause, please do so HERE.


  1. Thanks for the post! I've never actually read Alex Flinn before, but I'm pretty much always against book banning. I tend to think that what a child reads should be left up to each individual family, and that an opportunity to read a certain book shouldn't be taken away from an entire community of kids just because a certain group of people find it inappropriate.

  2. What a shame. Censorship is never the answer. But at the same time... nothing gets people talking and reading like attempted censorship! I bet everyone in Richland will know all about Breathing Underwater by the time this is over!

  3. I love Alex Finn. Seriously, lately it seems everyone wants control over things and censorship is just one way to do it. I don't think it's right to take away the option. But, Katie's right, this is good media (in a way) for Breathing Underwater. I hope those people who need a book like this hear about it and realize they aren't alone.

  4. That's unfortunate. I actually really loved this novel. It's far and away one of the absolute best novels dealing with relationship abuse that I've ever read. It would be a shame to take this book away from teens. Boo to censorship

  5. Sometimes I just do not get the books they want to census. And this one should not

  6. I just sent them a message. I hope they don't take this book away.

  7. I have not read anything by Alex Flinn, but I am incredibly interested in this book. And appalled that this is on the table for being censored. Thank you for you awareness.

  8. I actually didn't know Alex Flinn did anything but Fairy tale retellings until I was looking on Amazon. Then I started reading about all the other amazing books! I couldn't believe it and this one was at the top of my list to read.

    I'm really surprised about Washington being a place to want to ban a book like this. In college, it seemed like all the new ideas were coming from there. It seemed so progressive. I guess everywhere has it's pockets of people that don't get it.



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