The Ad Hoc Literature Committee in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho has issued a formal rejection of a teacher’s recommendations to include award-winning Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake in the district’s high school curriculum. Citing explicit sexual references and language, the committee, which is comprised of parents and other residents of the community, voted 4-2 against the book’s inclusion in the approved reading list.
In response to the decision, the school district has initiated a 30-day review period in which other members of the community can comment regarding whether the book is appropriate for high school students. “I think input from the committee gives the board an idea as to what the community threshold is for appropriate literature,” said Board Chair Christa Hazel to The CPA Press. “I use it as a guidepost as far as knowing if there is a particular book I need to pay attention to.”
The committee, which previously incited a heated debate last year over their attempt to have John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men restricted from the district’s 9th grade curriculum, has been known to be a little too narrow-minded when it comes to making their review decisions, often focusing on minute details like “dark” themes or “explicit” language as opposed to the broader overall message being presented by the books. Such censorship has led free speech advocates like the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Sarah Hoffman to urge the committee to “keep looking at the whole, rather than the sum of its parts. What offends one person will not offend all, and remember that with an opt-out policy, there always is ‘parental choice.’”
The Namesake is Lahiri’s first novel, and it has been widely acclaimed for its examination of cultural conflict. The book focuses on a Bengali couple who immigrate from Calcutta to the East Coast of the United States and their struggles as they raise a son in a culture very different from their own, starting with birth practices and naming through adulthood. Lahiri was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, which explores similar themes, and she was award the National Humanities Medal in 2014.
The school district urges members of the community to go out and pick up a copy of The Namesake during the review period. “It is important for our entire community, not just parents, to take advantage of reading the books that our educators and the ad hoc literature committee are recommending to the school board,” commented district spokeswoman Laura Rumpler. “Having the books available for public review is not only a great service, it is vital to our public participation process and we want to easily offer the opportunity for individuals to read the books we are discussing.”
The review period has just now started, but a meeting will be held at its conclusion to determine the ultimate fate of the book. Hopefully, the community can follow in the footsteps of last year’s decision, which saw the rejection of the committee’s decision to restrict Of Mice and Men.
CBLDF will keep you posted on any new developments.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!