Right now, one of the most talked about issues in the literary world is the new campaign to ban books that some people deem inappropriate. This creates a problem for various reasons. First of all, it’s another form of censorship. Secondly, books offer an escape for readers. They not only take us to places in our imagination we’d never imagined, but they also give us comfort because some of the stories we gravitate towards are relatable to our lives. That’s why Shauna Robinson’s book The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is arriving at the perfect time.
The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks follows Maggie, a young Black woman who goes to the small town of Bell River, Maryland, where she temporarily fills the manager position at her friend Rochelle’s bookstore. Maggie is trying to figure out her place in the world and what she wants from life with her career. She sees this as an opportunity to clear her head until she decides what her next step will be.
What is so great about The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is that it feels like a love letter to all book lovers. And it can be a way to bring in people who are not necessarily big readers. Maggie is a relatable character because she isn’t your typical book lover. When she starts working at Rochelle’s store, she meets a few interesting people, and she can’t fathom why anyone would want to devote so much of their time to books.
Maggie assumed she’d just be going in, managing the store, and selling various books all day. When she learns she can’t sell books from this century or even books published after 1968 which is when the town’s literary figure Edward Bell, died that changes her outlook. What’s the fun of reading if you’re being told what you can and cannot read? Working in a bookstore that limits what I can share with other readers would be painful for someone who loves to read.
Throughout Maggie’s time at the bookstore and in Bell River, as she gets to know the people, she starts to realize they, too, are not so happy being stuck in the past. Everything centers on Edward Bell, and he’s viewed as this god-like figure. And he’s, of course, a white man, making him all the more influential and appealing to tourists who hear about the “great Edward Bell” and his achievements. The people think he was a feminist icon when nothing could be further from the truth.
Though the people of Bell River are not interested in continuing to spread the gospel according to Edward Bell, they do it because it means job security. Everyone is afraid of losing their businesses if Ralph, who happens to be Edwards’s grandson and leader of the Bell Society, were to find out they were doing anything that went against him. That includes selling books. Maggie’s arrival shakes things up in a big way.
I, Maggie Banks, solemnly swear to uphold the rules of Cobblestone Books.
If only, I, Maggie Banks, believed in following the rules.
When Maggie doesn’t seem to be following the rules the way Ralph wants her to, he drastically changes the bookshop, which threatens the business for Rochelle. Maggie has to devise a plan because she can’t let her friend lose her shop. That decision is to start secretly selling banned books and hosting private book events.
The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks gave me so many good feelings because Robinson does a great job describing what book events are like. Any person who has ever been to the smaller ones will be able to picture each one that Maggie hosted vividly. I felt nostalgic reading Maggie’s trip to her first book convention because I could feel how much her thoughts on books and book lovers were being changed.
While I would not call The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks a romance, some romance was thrown in. One of the people in town Maggie gets closest to is a guy named Malcolm, who works for Ralph as his resident tattletale. That’s not me being mean. Maggie literally calls him a tattletale. Because he works for the Bell Society, he’s tasked with checking in on all the businesses to ensure everyone is sticking to the ways of Edward Bell.
Unlike Maggie, Malcolm is an avid reader. They are on two different pages when they come into each other’s lives. He’s very much set in his ways, including maintaining Ralph’s standards regarding the Bell Society. Maggie brings a new way of thinking into his world, and the two of them form a book club of their own. His goal is to get her to read more and realize how much books impact a person’s life. She wants him to not only read books out of his comfort zone but also have him do activities involving exploring life outside Bell River.
If you’re planning to read The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks because you think it will be a story that focuses on books by Black authors being banned, this isn’t that. While it does have moments where it’s clear Robinson is talking about Black authors’ works not being sold, and there is a brief mention of the bookstore only carrying books that are slave narratives, the story doesn’t lean into that. Most of the focus on what’s banned is things like Romance, fantasy, and books that are thrillers.
It’s pretty safe territory which was somewhat surprising only because this book is about a Black woman working in a bookstore with such antiquated practices. Her friend Rochelle is also a Black woman who had to deal with that for years. I understand this book is more on the rom-com side, so I can see why the author chose not to make that one of the focal points. The story still gets the message that our voices are one of the most powerful things we have; if enough people get together and use those voices, they can make a difference.
Read the synopsis for The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks below.
When Maggie Banks arrives in Bell River to run her best friend’s struggling bookstore, she expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. But running a bookstore in a town with a famously bookish history isn’t easy. Bell River’s literary society insists on keeping the bookstore stuck in the past, and Maggie is banned from selling anything written this century. So, when a series of mishaps suddenly tip the bookstore toward ruin, Maggie will have to get creative to keep the shop afloat.
And in Maggie’s world, book rules are made to be broken.
To help save the store, Maggie starts an underground book club, running a series of events celebrating the books readers actually love. But keeping the club quiet, selling forbidden books, and dodging the literary society is nearly impossible. Especially when Maggie unearths a town secret that could upend everything.
Maggie will have to decide what’s more important: the books that formed a small town’s history, or the stories poised to change it all.
The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is available wherever books are sold.