June Harper loves reading, and she’s constantly grabbing book recommendations from her school librarian, Ms. Bradshaw. However, when her overprotective parents find a book they claim contains inappropriate content, they take drastic steps to curtain her reading. Not only is her personal collection confiscated, but Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, the school library is weeded for content, and students can only read pre-approved materials.
For June, the restrictions are impossible. But after spotting a Little Free Library on her way to school, she hatches a plan to create her own library and soon realizes she’s not the only one who covets the freedom to read.
Author Allison Varnes deserves all the praise she can get for delivering such a solid piece of fiction that examines intellectual freedom and activism. Central to this success is the character of June Harper, who Varnes paints as such a wonderfully likable character. At first, she’s a kid who doesn’t want to cause disruptions, though she grows into leading a movement. She’s smart, funny, incredibly charming, and, I believe, highly relatable.
Relatability is important because June really grounds the story. The sections dealing with the school administration and parents might sound melodramatic if June wasn’t leading the action. That’s not to suggest the other characters aren’t believable. They are. I can completely picture overprotective parents editing texts for their children and ousting librarians who don’t conform to their agendas. As extreme people, in turn, they feel like extreme characters.
But June pulls all the focus as she maneuvers all the issues of middle school, including relationships, while also tackling censorship.
The story itself could easily fall into preachy territory in lesser hands, but here it feels more like a full story mixed with a celebration of books. June’s actions are complicated and there’s obvious inner turmoil. She struggles with disobeying her parents while relishing in her role as the rebel librarian. It’s compelling. For the best example of how gifted Varnes is as a storyteller, focus on the ending. Without going into spoiler territory, it is a beautiful blend of catharsis capped with the realism of activism.
Title: Property of the Rebel Librarian
Author: Allison Varnes
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Classification: Middle Grade
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.