In a blow for the freedom to read, John Green’s popular YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars, has been removed from Riverside Unified School District’s middle schools by a 6-1 vote from the California school district’s book reconsideration committee. The book will still be available on the shelves of the district’s high school libraries, but copies will be removed from Frank A. Miller Middle School.
The book was deemed inappropriate for middle school students because of its theme of mortality, sexual content, and vulgar language. Suzanne Hurt with The Press Enterprise, a local Riverside news outlet, reports that one parent, Karen Kruger, complained, “I just didn’t think it was appropriate for an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old to read. I was really shocked it was in a middle school.”
Green, who is well-known for his active online presence and vocal opposition to censorship, recently responded on his Tumblr page after a fan asked how he felt about Riverside’s decision to censor The Fault in Our Stars:
I guess I am both happy and sad.
I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.
But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time one of Green’s novels has been challenged. This summer, CBLDF joined a coalition to successfully defend Looking for Alaska from being removed from schools in Waukesha, Wisconsin, after a parent filed a challenge over language and sexual content. Looking for Alaska was also banned in 2012 from Sumner County School District in Tennessee. Paper Towns was also recently censored by Pasco County School District in Florida when the novel was removed from its eighth grade summer reading list. CBLDF also joined a coalition defending Paper Towns, which was quietly restored to district reading lists.
Luckily, two Riverside board members, Vice President Tom Hunt and member Kathy Allavie, oppose the way in which the book was removed. Stephen Wall with The Press Enterprise quotes Allavie as saying, “I’m very distressed about it. This didn’t come before the board and we had no chance to weigh in on it or vote on it. I’m just as unhappy as a lot of other people.” And while Hunt himself does question whether the book is acceptable for middle school students, he is unhappy about the way the book was removed:
“Until I learned about the committee’s decision, I and my peers knew nothing about this,” board Vice President Tom Hunt said Sunday. “We are definitely going to revisit this procedure.”
The next school board meeting will be held October 6, and further discussion about the issue is expected. Hopefully, the board will ultimately act in defense of the freedom to read.
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Nusha Ashjaee is a writer and cartoonist. She lives in Brooklyn.