Pop Culture

Author Protests Banning of Her Highly Regarded Teen Book on Surviving Sexual Assault

Cover of Laurie Halse Anderson's YA novel Speak

Somebody forgot to read Fahrenheit 451. Or any of Laure Halse Anderson’s books.

The acclaimed author is speaking out against the recent ban of a slew of her books from school shelves. This comes at the same time as the widespread crackdown by conservatives on education departments across the country. Florida teachers have already been forced to remove books from classrooms in order to mitigate their chances of prosecution. Luckily, in other areas of the country, the pushback against such measures has been strong. Now, Laure Halse Anderson is adding her voice to the debate, as parents have taken umbrage towards her literary canon.

Anderson defends her novel

The book in question is Anderson’s breakout young adult novel Speak, which deals with rape. She recently spoke at a Florida school board meeting in order to protest the decision, saying that literature is an essential tool for victims of sexual assault. After all, high schoolers not are safe from sexual assault. In her speech, Anderson cited a 2021 CDC study that reported 14% of high school girls have been forced to have sex, as well as 4% of high school boys. This year, 18% of high school girls have been the victims of sexual violence (including unwanted kissing or touching), along with 5% of high school boys. She noted that not reading books, and not talking about sexual violence or healthy consent-based sexuality, pulls all of that and “puts it underneath a lid.”

Yet sexual violence is not the only reason that books get removed. Florida’s Central Bucks school board recently voted that virtually all depictions of sex should be banned. The exact verbiage was that “No materials … shall contain visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts” or “explicit written descriptions of sexual acts.” This is equally unfortunate, as (news flash) many high schoolers are already having sex. This doesn’t protect highs schoolers from sexual content. It simply reduces the scope of a high schooler’s understanding of healthy and unhealthy depictions of sexuality.

If it sounds like organized religion is at play here, that’s because it is. The Central Bucks school district is currently entangled in a federal investigation of anti-LGBTQ bias after a religious liberty-focused legal group which reviewed the book policy was cited as opposing the legal rights of transgender students. Surprise, surprise.

Florida’s book banning spree

Author Jodi Picoult suffered a similar ban against some of her books that parents said feature “adult romance.” She was quick to condemn the ban, noting that the books don’t even feature a SINGLE KISS (what a ripoff, right?). However, the books DO feature “issues like racism, abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, and other topics that encourage kids to think for themselves.”

That doesn’t fly in a Ron DeSantis-run Florida. The governor has been quick to condemn any evidence of “wokeness” in schools. He has even introduced controversial legislation in order to curb what he views as the spread of radical leftist ideals. The most infamous of these bills is the “Stop WOKE Act,” which will disallow students from pursuing majors in Racial Justice, Gender Studies, or anything else that deals with the taboo terms “critical race theory” or “gender identity.”

Picoult notes in her essay that school boards do not actually have to “ban” a book to bar it from school shelves. They simply list the book as “pending review” and allow it to moulder for years without actually reviewing it whatsoever. It’s a diabolically clever workaround that allows the school system to avoid “banned book” publicity while still pushing their agenda.

And boy, are they pushing it. As Picoult says in her essay, 92 books were pulled from the shelves of schools across the state. Twenty of them were hers. The rest? They either featured “mature content” or were written by BIPOC or LGBTQ authors. Checks out with DeSantis’ plan for Floridian de-education, doesn’t it?

Most surprisingly, one of Picoult’s banned books was a novel called The Storyteller. It is about the Holocaust and describes the rise of Nazi ideals in a post World War I Germany. The irony was obviously lost on the people who banned it, considering that burning books was one of Hitler’s most infamous actions during his rise to power. I guess they don’t want the definition of irony being taught in schools, either.

(Featured image: Farrar Straus Giroux)

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