By Jackson Beach
This past week, I read Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King. I had first heard about this novel while on the site Heavy Medal, which focuses on mock Newbery selections. The Newbery Medal is awarded annually for significant contribution to children’s literature, and this book was one of their sixteen titles discussed and analyzed before a Top 5 selection, which it did not make it to. I had also heard about A.S. King in the past because she had been recognized by the Printz committee for excellence in young adult literature as an honor book and winner and the Margaret Edwards award for contribution to young adult literature over the course of her career in 2022.
However, I like this book because it serves as a sharp critique towards censorship and banning of books, a problem that has plagued American literature heavily over the past year. Sixth grader Mac Delaney lives in a town where one of the teachers at his school, Mrs. Sett, has heavy authority over the town, using it to ban junk food, Halloween, and other things which she thinks will negatively impact the kids. When Mac and his friends Denis and Marci discover that Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, the book they are reading for school, has certain phrases censored with “black rectangles” for supposed inappropriacy, they decide to fight back against this censorship because according to Theodore Roosevelt, “to be afraid of what is different is to be afraid of life”.
Over the course of the book, Mac and his friends are forced to confront issues such as their own anger and even relationships as well as authority which does not believe them which hampers their revolution. Still, they do not give up because although they have lost several “battles”, they have not won the “war”. My favorite part was when the real Jane Yolen showed up and said that children need to be educated about the Holocaust and mature themes such as body parts and reveals the story’s essential theme of speaking up and telling the truth, because the truth always outshines lies.
I love this book because it shows how when society is faced with issues such as censorship and racism, organizations and people feel compelled to take a stand against it. Although their actions do not immediately end these fights, they know that their actions were a powder keg that helped the fight become stronger.