Challenged books in Flagler County schools are on a winning streak–or a losing streak, depending on the perspective.
Less than 24 hours after an appeals committee upheld school-based committees’ decisions to keep Sold, a novel about human trafficking, on the shelves of the county’s two high schools, a joint committee of two high schools this afternoon reached the same conclusion for Last Night at the Telegraph Club, a novel set in McCarthy-era San Francisco.
Representatives from Matanzas High School and Flagler Palm Coast High School each voted 4-0 to retain the book on their shelves. The votes were tallied less than an hour into the meeting. Those challenge meetings have been getting shorter as committee members have been getting the hang of the task, agonizing over ghost objections less and methodically asserting the titles’ value through written rationales.
It was the sixth book in a row in about as many weeks that survived a challenge either on MHS or joint MHS-FPC school-level committees, or at the district-level appeals committee. The superintendent has yet to rule on titles appealed to the district. Her decision, in case she opts to preserve the book, is appealable to the school board. No title has yet been appealed to the board, but that appears to be a matter of time, with Sold a leading contender.
Two titles have been removed–one at FPC, one by the district.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, written by Malinda Lo, is the coming-of-age story of a Chinese-American teen who discovers her sexuality with the girl with whom she falls in love, transgressing her family’s, her neighborhood’s and the era’s norms. It won the 2021 National Book Award for young adult fiction.
The book is relatively new. It had yet to be borrowed by any student from the Matanzas High School library before it was challenged.
As with other challenged books that have survived attempted bans, the discussion about Last Night focused almost entirely on the book’s intentions, its message, its literary merits, and its character development, among other formal criteria, relegating the book’s sexually explicit passages–such as they are–to a footnote. Proportionately, those passages in the book occupy about as much space as a few footnotes.
“I believe–and I thought really hard about this–the material is appropriate for most high school age students,” a member of the joint committee, one of its media specialists, said, referring to the the more questionable passages. “In the sections that somebody may question, they are not described graphically. And students will relate to the coming of age themes.” The joint committee was made up of media specialists, English teachers, administrators and members of the public.
The book is focused on relationships, the risks of being truthful, the difficulties of growing up conflicted, on the immigrant experience from a Chinese-American perspective (“a voice that we don’t get to hear that often”) and on conflict between generations. The member at times spoke in dust-jacket blurbs that summed up the book’s content:
“It’s just growing up and figuring out who you are.”
“Anybody who has drifted from a best friend will relate.”
“Anybody who grows up differently from your parents, they don’t understand the things you’re doing. Yup.”
Members of the committee agreed that while the book is set in the 1950s, readers here and now would also think: “This is how I feel. This is what I’m going through. This is what I had to do with my friend or my mom, or a friend that judged me, or whatever.” In the book, the protagonist Lily’s best friend, Shirley, is more traditional–if not dogmatically so–and intent on fitting among Anglo-Americans as much as possible. Not so Lily, who battles the tensions between allegiance and self-realization. The story is told from the point of view of the Chinese-American Lily, but “in my notes,” a committee member said, “that universal theme came up a lot.”
The book didn’t escape some criticism, but none related to the formal objections. A committee member found the book “verbose, maybe a little too verbose for some students.” Another committee member who had listened to the book confessed that she’d speed-up the passages that seemed to lag. She was not alone.
One of the questions the committee had to answer on a rather extensive, written questionnaire outlining the rationales for its positions asks whether the book enhances appreciations for different cultures. “A big yes” was the answer from one of the members. The novel illustrates how no one has a monopoly on prejudice. “Everybody had their own stereotypes, nobody was without their pore-conceived ideas,” a member said.
The challenge–or request to ban–was filed by one of the same three people who have filed all 44 challenges to 22 titles this year, claims the book is pornographic. It lists numerous pages to make the case. The page numbers, and the wording of the challenge, are drawn word for word (and page for page) from a national website that has aided “moms for liberty” in several parts of the country to file book challenges.
That suggests that, unlike the eight members of the committee who reviewed the book today, the challengers did not read it. In several instances, as committee members went through each page noted for an objection, the members searched in vain for passages that could be considered objectionable. They were repeating the same fruitless hunt that took up time in previous committee meetings, judging previous books: again and again, denoted page numbers have led to content that would not raise objections in any setting.
The next book on the Matanzas High School committee’s challenge list is Looking for Alaska, by John Green. The book was published in 2005. Only the MHS review committee will meet for that one, as it has not been challenged at FPC. It has been among the most-often challenged books in the United States for many years.
History cannot be erased but we can learn from it. What happened in the past should be a lesson for the future so the same issues do not rise again. That does not mean we need to “change the entire atmosphere” – learn respect for all humans.
Book banning or book burning is never done by an enlightened group, nor by a group that history looks upon favorably.
This is the America that the dumb Trump cultists want. No longer the home of the Free.
Add DeSantis to this list ! He is worse than Trump! Florida needs to wake up and start taking action to save our freedoms in this state!
C. J. says
Or the Brave. The Brave are able to distinguish between truth and fiction (propaganda), good from evil, and how to love thy neighbor and learn from history. Cults are populated by the self-indulgent, fear-ridden who justify their beliefs through projection of that hate and demand absolute control. They all destroy themselves when the leader(s) loses his/her clothes. We can only hope, and VOTE!
I would like to hear these offending passages read out loud by the students at school board meetings. That way we could all see what the fuss is about. If they are unwilling to do that, then you have your answer.
Any thoughts about that?
The books are not being used by whole classes. They are on book shelves for students to choose to read, not forced.
@A better world
Michael Cocchiola says
The book-banning (burning?) Moms For Lunacy (Liberty? not so much) are not looking for literary or educational merit. They are not looking for context. They don’t even read the books!
The MFL are culture war zombies. They receive information from their national group on which books to ban and which passages they should quote as justification. Then they blindly say the words. Their goal is to keep our students as ignorant and repressed as they are. Bring back 1950… maybe 1850.
Remember, the MFL represent a small fraction of American and Flagler County parents and students. Yet they are trying to force their ignorance and repression on all parents and all students. It is truly an attempt at tyranny by the minority.
We have a responsibility to prepare our kids for the hard struggle that is life. They need knowledge, not indoctrination.
James Mejuto says
I applaud the Palm Coast and Matanzas High Schools panels for allowing the novels: ‘ Sold ‘ and ‘Last Night at the Telegraph Club’.
However, looking at the committees, I see mostly white women, one Latina, no men and no high school students evaluating these novels. This is not a valid representation of the communities and the high schools.
These review committees are precisely why I believe that America will rise above the current pseudo-Republican, pseudo-conservative agenda. I have always believed that school librarians knew how to do their job, and this character assassination towards them is unwarranted.
Thank you committee members, for caring enough.
Hopefully, now, the real Republicans will take back their party.
What a monumental waste of everyone’s time to go through this ridiculous process for books on library shelves!