After parent outcry, West Ashley High pulls Some Girls Are from summer reading list
“A few weeks ago, MacDonald and her daughter both downloaded “Some Girls Are” on their Kindles in hopes of tackling the summer reading assignment together. […] MacDonald got to page 74 – and a crude reference to oral sex – before she’d had enough. The next morning, she confiscated her daughter’s e-reader and called the school.
“I’m not a prude for God’s sake and I understand that these are issues kids are facing – the drugs, the alcohol, the bullying – but there has to be a way to present it that’s not destructive to them,” she said. “I get they’re trying to find something the kids are interested in, but this book is trash.”
She brought her concerns to Runyon, the school’s English department chair and the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees. […] She filed a complaint with the district to trigger a committee review of the text and its usefulness in the curriculum.
Before the committee could meet, Runyon and the English department agreed this week to remove the book from the summer reading list.”
Per the article, West Ashley High School offered freshmen students in Honors English I the choice between two books for its summer reading program–Some Girls Are and Rikers High. All students enrolled in this class had the option of reading either novel.
In the wake of MacDonald’s concerns (which she wrote about to the Post and Courier last Thursday, warning parents of my novel’s content without naming it) the district added a third title to the list. In spite of this, MacDonald escalated her complaint and demanded Some Girls Are be removed as an option from the school’s summer reading list.
West Ashley High School complied with her demands and Some Girls Are will no longer fulfill summer reading requirements.
While it’s commendable that Melanie MacDonald is actively involved in her daughter’s reading life, it is not one parent’s place to make a judgment call and presume the experiences and reading needs of all teenagers.
What’s more, books provide us with the opportunity to empower teens by letting them have a say and a choice in what is relevant to their lives. This gives us the chance to talk with them about it and it is so important for teen readers to be heard and listened to.
Some Girls Are is a confrontational no-holds-barred look at young adolescent life. It’s about bullying–something most teenagers witness, experience or perpetuate in their school careers. It’s about a highly toxic culture that fosters aggression between girls. The novel explores the consequences of hurting people and asks us to consider the impact our actions have on others. It’s about picking up the pieces of our mistakes and bettering ourselves. It’s about forgiveness.
It was selected as an ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults title and a Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It was also an Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading White Pine nominee, Canada’s largest recreational reading program. As part of the program, the book was available to teen readers in over 3,000 schools nationwide.
I have made a career out of writing young adult fiction about difficult topics. It’s my deepest hope teenagers living the harsh realities I write about–because they do live them–will read my books and feel less alone. It’s incredibly powerful to see yourself in a book when you’re struggling. Not only that, but gritty, realistic YA novels offer a safe space for teen readers to process what is happening in the world around them, even if they never directly experience what they’re reading about. This, in turn, creates a space for teens and the adults in their lives to discuss these topics. Fiction also helps us to consider lives outside of our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic toward others.
Including Some Girls Are on a summer reading list for students entering West Ashley High School could have been an opportunity to send a message about the types of shaming, language, and bullying that would not be tolerated as well as increase students’ awareness of the effects this type of behavior has and open up critical lines of communication about it.
One of the reasons I write my novels is to validate the experiences many teens go through in their day-to-day lives. My readers expect me to be honest in my work and, as a result, I’m humbled by the emails I receive from them thanking me for reflecting their truth in the pages of my books.
Some Girls Are is not smut. Some Girls Are is not trash. It’s not a problem when someone chooses not to read any of my books, whatever their reasons, but it is problematic when that choice has been taken away from those who might feel differently.
Advocating for books and readers can be a difficult and thankless job, sometimes with more risk than reward. I’m so grateful to all educators and librarians for working tirelessly to connect readers with the right book at the right time. I’m grateful Some Girls Are was chosen for the West Ashley High summer reading list, however brief its stay.
I’m sorry Some Girls Are will not have the chance to be read, contemplated, and discussed in a school environment and more than that, that it might not have the chance to reach the teens at West Ashley High who need it. I hope they’ll find it, in spite of its removal from the summer list.
We don’t protect teen readers by denying the realities many of them are faced with. Often, in doing so, we deny them a lifeline.