Need help finding a good book? Try one that your 9th grader shouldn’t read

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Los Angeles Times)

Need help finding a good book? Try one that your 9th grader shouldn’t read

On Ed

Robin Abcarian

January 31, 2024

I’ve discovered many wonderful books, especially in the young adult category, by reading news stories about what’s banned in public schools today: Gender Queer, the riveting, disturbing graphic novel about the non-binary author’s journey of self-discovery; Dear Martin, in which a black teenager who is wrongfully arrested while trying to help his drunken ex-girlfriend get home, writes an imaginary letter to Martin Luther King Jr.; and Paradise Lost, John Milton’s 17th-century epic poem about the fall of Adam and Eve.

Wait what?

No joke.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Paradise Lost was one of 673 titles removed from public school shelves in an Orlando-area district late last year in response to new state laws requiring librarians and teachers to review all classroom books and banish those that are pornographic or depict sexual conduct.

As the Sentinel explained, New State Training warns them to be careful when approving books and warns that they could face criminal penalties and the loss of their teaching certificates if they approve inappropriate books.

The censorship efforts in Florida are part of a book-banning frenzy sweeping through the more conservative parts of our supposedly free-speech-loving country.

We have recorded cases of book bans in 30 states, says Kasey Meehan, director of Freedom to Read at PEN America, which advocates for free speech and fights censorship. Florida and Texas are leading the way, as are Missouri, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Utah, she said.

In Idaho, librarians are so demoralized by the censorious political climate an official finds themselves in

the city of



referred to the local librarian as a groomer that more than half recently told the state library association they are thinking of leaving the field, according to the Idaho Capital Sun.

The pressure to censor comes mainly from the right, which has pushed book bans under the banner of parental rights. Efforts on the left, Meehan said, often include protests against white authors who use the N-word. In 2020, the Burbank Unified School District removed a number of books from required reading lists, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, after parents complained that the books


racist. Burbank, though

chief inspector

Sut. John Paramo told me Tuesday that they are still available in school and classroom libraries.

Books targeted by conservatives often feature characters who are not white, or who are not heterosexual.

In January 2022, a North Carolina parent asked his school district to remove Dear Martin from the required reading list in his son’s high school English class. Tim Reeves told a local TV news station that he did not object to the novel’s message about racial profiling per se, but to its liberal use of vulgar words. Words that start with the letter S, as he put it. Words that start with the letter F.

Dr. Martin Luther King would not want any vulgarity or sexual innuendo [to] are used to teach the lesson about racism and brutality, Reeves said. I do not know. It seems like King may have been more interested in ending racial profiling than worrying about the way fictional children talk.

Anyway, thanks to Reeves I downloaded Dear Martin, the critically acclaimed debut novel by Nic Stone, a black woman whose father is a police officer. The book is inspired by the same events that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement’s police killings of unarmed black men and women. I wondered: what


Dr. King would say or do if he lived in our current social climate? Stone wrote in her author’s note.

Thanks to the magic of my search function, I discovered 10 F-words, 39 S-words, 30 damns and three damns in the lyrics of Dear Martin.

As someone raising a teenager, that sounded good to me. You should hear how the children talk when they think there is no adult around.

You might think that a book ban is beneficial for a young author. Hey, all publicity is good publicity, right? But this is not the case, Meehan said.

If their works are banned, she told me, it could have a significant impact on their income. These authors are less likely to be invited to a school visit, a public library talk, or a Zoom classroom visit. These are revenue generators that children’s authors rely on.

If you are a famous author, like Ann Patchett, or perhaps a dead one, like Milton, a ban wouldn’t hurt at all, it might even help.

When Patchett heard it


this month, for example, that two of her books were banned in Orange County,


Fla., she trolled with the


on Instagram:

It’s a pretty big day for me personally, Patchett said. My first novel, Patron Saint of Liars, is about a home for unwed mothers in rural Kentucky. They get the baby and give the baby up for adoption, just like they tell us to do in the state of Florida. I would actually think this book would be required reading. (Her other banned novel, Bel Canto, is about a hostage situation and ends with the murder of the terrorists. With guns. Maybe that would be okay in the state of Florida too, because they don’t ban guns, Patchett suggests.



It’s not just sexual, gender and racial issues that enrage some on the right, Meehan said. Parents have also banned books that contain scenes of violence (Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune), sexual abuse (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale), drug use (Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower) or suicide (Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why”).

Its content makes people feel uncomfortable, Meehan said. But isn’t that the beauty of books?

It is. Think of the discomfort and relief provided by the most famous line of “Paradise Lost,” spoken by that great fictional character Satan: “It is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”



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