Banned Books by RJ Astruc

Banned Books by RJ Astruc
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (70 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

At St. Peter’s, an exclusive British boarding school for boys, a teacher’s word is law—and Anthony Parker is leading a rebellion. When he is found reading a book containing “questionable content,” he receives a reprimand from the headmaster. Parker responds by secretly lending questionable materials to other students, aided by his best friend and long-time crush, Rafe.

The situation escalates when their draconic literature teacher discovers their subterfuge and compiles a banned books list. Parker and Rafe fall in with Peter Fritz, a broody outcast who’s turning the ban in his favor by buying and lending banned books to students—for a price. As the banned books library grows and hidden feelings threaten the boys’ burgeoning partnership, they discover that the challenges of growing up might outweigh the rewards of bucking the system.

Nothing tastes sweeter than forbidden fruit.

Anthony Parker might be a little naive, but he’s such a kind, goodnatured guy that I immediately liked him. His biggest strength lies in how he reacts to the world around him. Parker nearly always believes the best about other people and naturally assumes they think the same thing about him.

This book would have worked better had it either focused on one of the two primary plots or been expanded into a full length novel. Either Anthony’s crush or the banned book library could have filled up nearly all of the 70 pages. Compressing both storylines into such a small amount of space made it difficult for all of the loose strings to be tied up at the end. The last few scenes in particular felt rushed to me, and I never quite understood how certain conflicts were resolved so rapidly.

Even though the plots needed more time to develop, their fast-paced nature kept me emotionally invested in Parker’s fate. This is an action-packed book that jumps quickly from one conflict to another, and little time is wasted on anything that doesn’t directly contribute to furthering one of the two main plots. I was also surprised by the author’s sense of humor especially as it pertains to Parker’s astute observations in math class.

I was troubled by how Ms. Lowry, the sole female character in this novel, is portrayed. While no one has time for much character development in a novella, Ms. Lowry’s decision to prohibit certain books was never truly explained and most of the people around her assume the worst in everything she said and did. Her shrill, unreasonably harsh behavior makes her come across as a negative stereotype of both women and teachers. Once again expanding this into a full length novel would have allowed the author more time to explain what was happening from multiple points of view.

It was difficult to determine the best age recommendation for this book. The writing style seems to be geared toward middle school students, but Parker and his peers are in their mid teens. Parker’s crush on Rafe was also displayed in ways that are much more consistent with how people a few years younger than him act once they realize who they find romantically attractive. With that being said, this story is completely appropriate for interested readers who are at least 12 years old, and I strongly suspect it will be well liked by students in that age group.

Banned Books is a good choice for anyone in the mood for a quick, playful read.

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