John Green fights back against banning of Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska has been named the most complained about book of 2015 in America for it’s ‘offensive language’ and ‘sexually explicit descriptions’ – we report on John Green’s response to the news plus news just in on the National Coalition Against Censorship campaign to help a Kentucky school district to keep the book in its curriculum and library

Also see our list of the Best ‘dangerous’ books

John Green’s Looking for Alaska has been named the most challenged book of 2015 (challenge meaning someone requested to have the book removed from a school or library) in a survey by an American Library Association. Most complaints were for “offensive language” and “sexually explicit descriptions”.

Looking for Alaska

The 2005 teen book claimed the number one spot on a list of controversial books, ahead of EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and, intriguingly, The Bible (at number six, this is the first time the Bible made the list and we presume most of these are protest complaints by liberal readers!).

The list was put together using the numbers of written or verbal complaints made to library staff and school teachers across the US, in a bid to have the books banned or removed.

The most common reasons for affront include offensive language, sexually explicit scenes, homosexuality and unsuitable religious viewpoints.

Author John Green responded to the announcement in a brilliant video which he posted on YouTube.

You can listen to John Green’s response to being top of the hit list here!

He said: “Text is meaningless without context. What usually happens with Looking for Alaska is that a parent chooses one page of the novel to send to an administrator and then the book gets banned without anyone who objects to it having read more than that one particular page.”

“In context, the novel is arguing really in a rather pointed way that emotionally intimate kissing can be a whole lot more fulfilling than emotionally empty oral sex.”

“So far as I can tell that kind of narrowly prescriptive reading only happens in the offices of school superintendents.”

The best–selling writer contuined, “If you have a world view that can be undone with a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.”

Another great video from John Green: “I am Not a Pornographer”.

The top 10 list also singled out other YA books including Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin. It was complied by the American Library Association as part of a their Banned Books Week 2016 – an anti-censorship campaign to promote free speech and freedom of choice.

The ALA, who are committed to protecting books from being banned, write on their website: “Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice”. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received 275 reports of challenged books last year.

Previously targeted books which have made the list include classics Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

News just in from New York City!

A coalition of national literacy and free speech groups in the US (called the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project - or KRPP for short) are encouraging a Kentucky school district to keep John Green’s Looking for Alaska in its high school curriculum and library.

One parent in Kentucky, expressed strong objections to the teaching Looking for Alaska in his child’s 12th grade English class despite being given the opportunity to opt out and read an alternate text. His formal complaint form, which triggered a review process, calls the novel “filth” and lists his fear that the book would tempt students “to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and profanity.”

A school committee will be meeting today (26 April) to discuss the merits of Looking for Alaska and determine its value “based on the materials as a whole, and not on parts taken out of context.” The book has been removed from the curriculum until they make a decision.

Check out the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRPP) letter here.

What do you think about books being banned? What are some of your favourite ‘banned’ books? Let us know on email: or tell us on @GdnChildrensBks

Amy Coles

The GuardianTramp