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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Review: Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Property of the Rebel Librarian 
By Allison Varnes 
September 18, 2018 
Random House BFYR 
Source: pub for review 

When twelve-year-old June Harper's parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval. 

But June can't give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn't have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It's a delicious secret . . . and one she can't keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library's popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle--a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it's powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read. 

Equal parts fun and empowering, this novel explores censorship, freedom of speech, and activism. For any kid who doesn’t believe one person can effect change…and for all the kids who already know they can! 


When seventh-grader June Harper’s parents decide her latest reading material is too inappropriate for her, they cause a chain reaction of events, from the firing of June’s beloved librarian to the removal of almost all the books in the Dogwood Middle’s library, to the new strict rules regarding what students can and cannot read. Devastated by and fed up with the new rules, June soon starts an underground library at her school, using an empty locker to trade the bookish goods. If discovered, June could lose everything and she must decide if the movement she’s begun is worth the consequences. 

Oh y’all, I’m so conflicted when it comes to Allison Varnes’ middle-grade, Property of the Rebel Librarian. With a premise with so much potential and power I wanted to love this book, but unfortunately, I found it disappointing. 

I always like to start with the positives and Property of the Rebel Librarian certainly has those. The premise and message about censorship, the power and importance of books, and staying true to one’s self, are awesome, timely, relevant, and important and I applaud the author for tackling them. The heroine, June Harper, is, for the most part, an admirable, relatable, and likable main character who has some real character development and growth. 

My main issue with Property of the Rebel Librarian is how unbelievable the whole thing feels. June’s whole world feels so contrived and paper thin. First, the characters, which are lacking when it comes to diversity, feel like they were all written to fit come cliched stereotypical boxes: mean girl? Check. ultra hip girl in nineties band t-shirts? Check. swoon-worthy, dreamy, effortlessly cool boy who always knows what to say? Check. average, girl next door girl who has multiple boys fawning over her? Check. Young readers are going to see right through these characters and think middle-schoolers don’t sound, act, or think like this 

If this were set in some kind of Stepford Wives- Fahrenheit 451 dystopian then the extremes it goes to when it comes to the censorship, book banning, and jumping on the bandwagon would make sense, but it’s not and it doesn’t. The extremes that June’s parents, the principle, the PTSA, and school go to and the extreme lack of questioning by anyone are so extreme it’s actually ridiculous. And again, young readers, who are so smart, are going to realize this. 

And then there’s June’s parents and oh boy are they awful. Like, they come across as truly awful, lacking in any sense kind of people...and they are NOT supposed to be seen that way. I truly believe they’re meant to come across as loving parents who are trying to do what’s best for their daughter, but just make some mistakes. But y’all, they take June’s books and edit out any of the deemed “inappropriate” stuff ...they rewrote the ending of Old Yeller and edit Anne of Green Gables. Anne of freaking Green Gables?! They are so controlling of June and her older sister (who is in college) that they feel like they can tell their girls what they can and can’t study or major in. And June can’t read Harry Potter or watch the movies, but she can read The Crucible and watch Jaws? How does that make any sense?! June and her sister are absolutely terrified of making mistakes and disappointing their parents. This is NOT a healthy parent-child relationship, but it’s treated as if it is. 

Again, this premise and the book’s message or so great, but the execution and delivery are severely lacking. I don’t ever want to discourage a kid from reading a book and I think there are younger readers who will like Property of the Rebel Librarian, but overall, there are SO many other wonderful middle-grade books out there that I would put in their hands first.  

2/5 Cupcakes

Like librarian Ms. Bradshaw in Property of the Rebel Librarian, Allison Varnes has fought for her students. She taught English in special education for eight years and once had to convince administrators that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not an endorsement of witchcraft. She’s from a family of teachers and has a PhD in education from the University of Tennessee. And like heroine June, Allison is a former marching-band geek. When she’s not writing, she howls along to the Hamilton soundtrack with a trio of Chihuahuas named after Peanuts characters. Find her on Twitter at @allisonvarnes or on Facebook at 

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