Martha Lee is the CKG Judge for YLG Wales, she is an academic librarian at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
During judging this year there was a moment that I’ll never forget. My personal favourite of the 114 nominated Carnegie titles and the book I had actually nominated myself became a severe point of contention amongst the judges and divided opinion. I thought it was fantastic and that it undoubtedly met the criteria that we judges have to adhere so stringently to when assessing each individual title. The plot was tightly devised, the writing phenomenal in its darkness, wit and pure visceral nature and the characters so sharply distinct and compelling that, in my opinion, it deserved to be on the longlist, shortlist and ultimately win. Not only this but I had never read anything like it, it was so unique and would have made the longlist that little bit more unusual.
Alas, after much discussion (and championing by me) it was democratically voted off the longlist. I was so upset. The thing about CKG is that you invest part of yourself in all the amazing books that you read. As a judge you must of course constantly remain objective but after all the time, stress and tears of reading 207 nominated titles, it’s impossible not to have your personal favourites and if they don’t make it on to the longlist it’s a heavy blow.
This experience made me think of the importance of controversial books and how vital it is for us as judges and librarians to remember the value of these books and what they bring in terms of reader engagement. I understand how personal opinion can interfere, but we must strive not to allow it to overshadow our impartiality and censor these brilliant books.
Some young adult books deemed controversial (and even banned in some cases) include Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To Kill a Mockingbird, Junk, Of Mice and Men, When Mr Dog Bites and The Bunker Diary, to name but a few. Through the themes within controversial novels readers can be inspired to find ways to problem solve, deal with conflict and overcome struggles via bibliotherapy. These books can also influence deeper thinking, moral sensitivity, social awareness, tolerance and encourage readers to question. Not to mention the passion, vigour, and enthusiasm for reading it offers teens (and adults alike). Because, after all, who wants to read a bland and boring book?