Absolutely True Diary Restricted in Brunswick County Schools

absolutelytrueOne North Carolina woman’s months-long crusade against Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian culminated this week with a disappointing compromise: the book will remain in Brunswick County middle school libraries, but will be kept behind the counter where only students with parental permission may check it out.

Frances Wood of Ash, NC has no children or grandchildren in the Brunswick County School District, but that hasn’t stopped her from railing against the book’s presence in middle schools. In early June while presenting the school board with a petition signed by 42 members of her church, she said the novel was “profane and not redemptive.” Informed that she needed to follow the formal challenge procedure laid out in district policy, Wood did so a short time later. When a review committee unanimously recommended against a ban in July, she appealed that decision to Superintendent Edward Pruden. He agreed with the committee’s decision in early August, but there was still one more level of appeal available to Wood: the school board.

Last week that body voted 4-1 to keep the book in middle school libraries but restrict it to students who have parental permission to read it. The dissenting member, Bud Thorsen, did not object to the book; on the contrary, he thought it should remain freely available in school libraries. He explained to the Port City Daily newspaper that “I voted against the motion because I felt like it is a type of censorship to pull a book off the shelf and put it behind a counter. This decision will only result in other books being challenged with the possibility of the same results.”

Thorsen is absolutely correct. We frequently point out that it’s perfectly fine for parents to decide whether books are appropriate for their own children, but particularly for library books that decision should be “opt-out” rather than “opt-in.” Restricting a book behind the counter necessarily stigmatizes it in the eyes of parents who might not have any objections if they actually read it and decided for themselves. Although the board’s decision is the end of the line for the middle school challenge since Wood has exhausted her appeals, she told the newspaper that she now plans to challenge its presence in high schools as well.

A district parent concerned about the attack on the book forwarded us a statement that Wood issued following the board’s decision:

Of course I am truly disappointed, but not for myself, I am disappointed for the children, they are the ones who are going to have to suffer for this filth that is going to be handed to them.  Their young minds don’t have the ability to differentiate between what is or is not good for them at this age. God gave that job to the parents and the Christians around them. As parents and Christians we are not doing our part.

Shirley Babson, a member of the board, led me to believe she was going to make a motion to remove the book.  She never made the statement that she would make that particular motion but her conversations led me believe she was. My mistake! She asked me not to speak last night so I did not. Again my mistake! The Bible said to watch and be not deceived. I was totally deceived from conversations with board members and I am so sorry I let the children down.

I am glad they did tweak the way the children could get it by having to have a note from the parents in order to take it out of the library, If it is so filthy they have to have a parents signature then why keep it in the school??? By the way, do you remember when you were in school how you and others got friends to sign notes for you when you thought your parents wouldn’t sign it. WELL! That still goes. This decision will not keep this book out of their hands. Please keep abreast of what books your children are binging [sic] from the school, it could have filthy content.

Pastors are not leading and churches are not picking up the cross to follow the lead of our Master. We should do what is right and fight against filth no matter who is the one giving it out, even if it is a member of our church. Most of us are sitting on the fence and going along with the politically correct things being made up by the few who do not have the best interest of our children or us at heart. We keep saying it’s wrong but we keep sitting on our bum and doing nothing.

God said he would turn us over to a reprobate mind; well it’s here with more to come because we are giving these people complete freedom to do as they please. It’s our fault; we need to take the blame. When I do something wrong it is I who is ruining my reputation, not those that fight against that which is wrong.

God bless us every one.

Wood and Alexie agree on one thing, at least: restricting his book will not prevent kids who really want to read it from doing so. To end on a high note despite the board’s disappointing partial concession to Wood’s demands, we’d like to share this short and very timely video in which the author discusses the many trials that Absolutely True Diary has endured around the country:

We need your help to keep fighting for the right to read! Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.