A high school in Delaware decided to completely eliminate their summer reading list following a controversy over a book with a lesbian main character. The book in question was a Young Adult novel called The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily N. Danforth.
The controversy all began when a parent expressed concerns to a board member at Delaware's Cape Henlopen High School. The board swiftly voted to remove this book from the summer reading list due to its use of profanity. However, according to the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), the school board's decision violated district policies by ignoring the fact that there must be a written complaint and a review committee to formally evaluate the book's merits. In addition, the NCAC notes that many other books on the summer reading list contain similar language, so there should have been no reason for this book to be singled out.
The Kids' Right to Read Project (KRRP), part of the NCAC, wrote a letter to Cape Henlopen's superintendent and board outlining Cameron Post's merits, calling it "a highly acclaimed coming of age novel," and urging for the high school to reconsider their decision. KRRP wrote:
Removing a book with educational and literary value raises serious constitutional questions under the present circumstances. Government officials, including public school administrators, are under a constitutional obligation not to remove or restrict content because some members of the community object to or disapprove of it. The Supreme Court has cautioned that school officials “may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”
The book's author Emily N. Danforth also wrote a letter to the school board, which was published by the Huffington Post. Danforth expressed that she does not believe the book was removed solely for its "objectionable language" because several other books on the reading list also included similar language. She wrote:
I think, for me, this is the most depressing part of this entire dismal and embarrassing charade. You're clearly hiding behind claims of finding too much "inappropriate language" in my book, when other books on the list certainly include the exact same kinds of language, in some instances, in abundance. This feels like a particularly insidious form of homophobia, one that's not nearly as covert as you must think it to be.
She went on to describe the harm that can be done by preventing teens from reading books like this:
Within just a few hours of learning of your decision, I received an email from a teen reader going into her sophomore year of high school. Which means that, if we're doing the math, she was in exactly the age group that you've deemed "not yet prepared" for my novel when she read it. This student told me a little about the difficulties she's having getting her parents to accept her sexuality, adding: "...the way you describe Cameron and her challenges, made me fall completely in love with her as well as see parts of myself in her...Your writing completely captivated me, and I hope I will be able to do that someday."
I think it's incredibly unfortunate that your decision to remove my book from your summer reading list may well keep a student just like this one--a student who might be too embarrassed or unsure to, on their own, pick up a novel with subject matter like mine--from choosing my book "safely" as part of a larger class assignment.
After over a month of controversy, the school board convened once again to vote on whether to reinstate the novel to their reading list. In a shocking turn of events, the board decided to eliminate the entire list altogether.
Now a Delaware bookstore called Browseabout Books has partnered with AfterEllen.com and many generous donors to supply copies of The Miseducation of Cameron Post to high schoolers for free! Teens in Delaware have the chance to pick up the free book, and speak up for themselves in an essay contest run by the NCAC. To learn about the essay contest click here!