This week, a review committee in North Carolina will decide the fate of Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits after parents in the district appealed an earlier decision that upheld the book’s use in classrooms. CBLDF has signed a letter from CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project in defense of the book.
Chastity Lesesne filed a complaint against the book in October after it was assigned to her son in a sophomore honors English class at Watauga High School in North Carolina. Lesesne called the book “graphic,” “immoral” and “pornographic,” but the review committee unanimously disagreed with her assessment that the depictions of sex, rape, and violence are unacceptable for high school students.
The House of Spirits follows several generations of the Trueba family and draws on Allende’s personal experiences. It has garnered critical acclaim since its 1982 publication, including being named the best novel of the year in Chile, and it has found a regular place in high school curricula, including in North Carolina’s own Common Core curriculum.
Karyn M. Peterson with the School Library Journal has been following the appeal, reporting:
From the beginning, the parent’s challenge and subsequent appeal were met with national opposition from reading freedom advocates, with public support expressed by advocacy organizations and such luminaries as Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina’s Poet Laureate. However, the local debate has slowly heated up in the interim as the district review committee was formed.
The first of two appeal meetings took place on November 20, and the book’s fate will be decided at a meeting on Wednesday, November 27. Advocates and opponents of the book will be allowed to testify during the latter meeting. Peterson describes the meeting process:
In Watauga County, the process for challenging educational texts has three steps: a review by a school advisory committee, a review by a Board of Education advisory committee, then a review by the entire Board of Education. Decisions made by the board apply to all schools in the system.
Allende herself has joined the protest with her own letter, drawing comparisons to the censorship of oppressive regimes in her opening paragraph (you can read the entirety of Allende’s letter here):
I find myself in the unusual and awkward position of having to “defend” my novel The House of the Spirits that risks being banned from a high school in Boone, North Carolina. Banning of books is a common practice in police states, like Cuba or North Korea, and by religious fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, but I did not expect it in our democracy.
The entirety of KRRP’s letter follows. Return to CBLDF.org for updates on the challenge.