US battle over banning Looking for Alaska continues in Kentucky

Free-speech groups have added their voices to support the teaching of John Green’s YA novel, in the face of one parent’s complaint about its ‘filth’

A school in Kentucky is being urged not to drop John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska from its curriculum, following a complaint from a parent that the book would tempt pupils “to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and profanity”.

Green’s bestselling novel, which won the American Library Association’s Michael L Printz award for “the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit”, tells of the teenager Miles Halter, who is swept away by his feelings when he meets Alaska Young: “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.” Earlier in April, it was named the most challenged book in the US by the American Library Association.

Now a parent in Marion County, Kentucky has described it as “filth” in a formal complaint form, telling Marion County High School that its inclusion in the curriculum could encourage students “to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and profanity”. The book is understood to have been suspended from the curriculum while the school reviews the complaint.

Another resident has written to the local paper describing the novel as “mental pornography” and detailing the number of times the “‘f’ word” is used (16) and the the “‘sh’ word” is used (27).

“One scene … goes like this, ‘Lara unbuttoned my pants and pulled down my boxers a little and pulled out my penis … Then it proceeds to state that oral sex then was performed. All of this is in detail. Now let me ask you something, what do you think is going to go through the mind of a young man with hormones racing through his body as he sits in the middle of class?” said the letter. “And we wonder why our teens are getting pregnant, why our young men can’t keep their pants zipped?”

John Green on the banning of Looking for Alaska.

Earlier this month, Green himself spoke out in the book’s defence, asking his fans to join him in emailing letters of support to the teacher who has stood by the novel’s inclusion on the curriculum. “I am so grateful to those at Marion County High School who have supported Looking for Alaska and understand that I am not out to corrupt teenagers, and who further understand the importance of reading books critically and thoughtfully as a whole, rather than focusing on individual scenes ripped from their context,” wrote the novelist on Facebook.

Now, with a school committee meeting scheduled for Monday to determine the value of Looking for Alaska “based on the materials as a whole, and not on parts taken out of context”, American literacy and free speech groups have added their voices to Green’s and called on the school not to drop the book.

The letter is co-signed by organisations including the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project, American Booksellers for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers and the National Council of Teachers of English. It says: “Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to explore issues they may encounter in life. Young adult novels like Looking for Alaska may be especially powerful in this regard because they are so relatable, and, in this case, so well-written.”

The letter, to the high school’s principal, says that “decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds … not on certain individuals’ agreement or disagreement with the message or content of a particular book”, and urges that Looking for Alaska be kept on the school’s curriculum as well as its library shelves.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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