School Board Bans John Green’s Paper Towns After One Complaint

This happened a few weeks ago, maybe more. But I’ve been busy so I haven’t gotten to writing about it.

Cover of Paper Towns by John Green

Basically, this year’s list of eighth grade suggested reading material included popular YA author John Green’s novel of young love Paper Towns. One mother who had recently decided to stop homeschooling her child became concerned over the content of the book when her daughter asked what “masturbation” was after she began reading it. Mom complained saying there should have been a warning to parents that the book may contain content of a sexual nature because she felt the book contained soft porn.

Despite receiving the parent’s e-mail on a Friday and being out closed for Summer hours, the school board reacted immediately. By midday on Saturday, the curriculum department had put together some basic information about the novel. By Monday, the book no longer appeared on the list. Board members collectively decided to remove it because they felt it was inappropriate for the age group. Without a hearing or discussion, a direct violation of their own protocol for removing and banning books.

This is not only a violation of the school board’s own policies, but of the student’s right to read. A parent can say their child can’t read a book, but not that all children can’t read a book. This is, of course, something all librarians are against. And as a Youth Librarian, I will defend any book for children, especially since I’ve had people other than my parent’s tell me what I can and can not read. (For the record, my parent’s have never, and would never prevent me from reading something.)

Sexual content in YA books is on the rise, but the fact is that teenagers think and talk about sex. Books with such content reflect how our society is now, how life is for teenagers. Sugar coating it with books were everyone is prim and proper are not a true reflection of teen life. Same goes for drug and alcohol use, depression, suicide, abuse, language, body image, and any number of other things parents tend to object to. Usually those that think young people aren’t dealing with such issues, or aren’t mature enough to, are not in tune with the modern high school experience.

Paper Towns was the recipient of American Library’s Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award in 2009. An award given out yearly to several Young Adult books considered the best in fiction. I’ve read a couple of this year’s recipients during The Hub Challenge, and I agree with their selection. We recently added more copies of all of Green’s work to the libraries’ collections, which immediately were sent right back out due to the long holds lists on each novel. While I have yet to have a chance to read Paper Towns, I’m now moving it up the list. My boss did read it after the article appeared in the paper, and said she found it quite good, and that all the hullabaloo seemed to be caused by some stuff that happened in the first few chapters. To ban a book based on only part of it seems to be common. People begin reading it, find something they object to, freak out and request it’s removal, and then stop reading.

I truly hope that the teacher’s who chose this book fight this decision. It’s about time something contemporary was put on these reading lists instead of things like Ethan Frome and the Old Man and the Sea. The first was required Summer Reading for ninth grade while the second was required during ninth grade when I was in school in the same district. The first has attempted suicide in it and adultery, but no one protested that.

As always, I’m with the Banned.

You can read the article that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times here.

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