A mother and father in Rosemount were alarmed by what their 11-year-old daughter brought home from school: A novel about how a one-day fling in Paris with a Dutch hunk changed an American teenager’s life.
Gayle Forman’s 2013 work of fiction, “Just One Day,” has received critical acclaim for its depiction of a young woman taking control of her life from overprotective parents. Yet Ben and Kandi Lovin of Rosemount seized on the pages that for them went too far: an f-bomb dropped on page 261, the b-word on page 274, clothes being shed and a condom appearing in the brief sex scene on page 128.
Unhappy with the response from the principal, vice principal, librarian and teacher, the Lovins filed a formal request in October to the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district to remove the book from the district’s middle and high school libraries. “It is a novel that has no life lesson to be learned from at this age level that cannot be learned from any of many quality books available,” they wrote.
The life lessons of this episode are many. Books are far more than the sum of their pages. Due process still exists. And librarians matter.
The American Library Association maintains a list of the most frequently challenged books. The top spot, currently, is Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” (2007), which is the target of censorship campaigns for its frank discussions of sexuality, substance abuse and other touchy stuff.
Forman isn’t on the frequently banned list, and her work doesn’t typically spark much controversy. She declined to comment for this column. But she did weigh in on the issue of banning books in 2013, when the Anoka County schools and libraries rescinded an invitation to author Rainbow Rowell. Rowell’s book “Eleanor & Park” was denounced by some Anoka parents for profanity and sexual content.
“Censorship in general flummoxes me,” Forman wrote on her blog. “You don’t like a book, don’t read it. You don’t think it’s right for your kids, tell them not to read it. But to ask for it to be removed from a library? It makes no sense to me.”
On Dec. 3, the Lovins sat down in a meeting room at District 196 headquarters in Rosemount. They faced a committee convened to decide whether Forman’s book would be yanked from the shelves. They were two teachers, five parents, a high school student, a secondary principal, a middle school media specialist and a high school media specialist.
The Lovins denied they were censoring anyone. “We’re not trying to squash anybody’s intellectual freedom,” Ben Lovin said. Then they told how their daughter got the book from the school library on the recommendation of another student. How they flipped through it and discovered references to sex, date rape, drinking.
“We just don’t think it’s appropriate and want to do something about it,” he said.
Dawn Lyons, a secondary media specialist in the district, then spoke in defense of the book. “It is the right and responsibility of parents to guide their own family’s library use, while allowing other parents to do the same,” she said. “We are dealing with censorship if books are selected or removed for personal beliefs.”
The committee’s discussion sounded more like book club than the thought police. “Just One Day” is about a sheltered and introverted 18-year-old, Allyson Healey, who makes an impulsive decision during a European tour to go with a virtual stranger to Paris for a day. Most of the book is about her subsequent yearning for that lost love, which is really about her declaring independence from her parents so she can follow her own dreams.
There’s far more in the book about Shakespeare, European tourism and teenage angst than steamy love scenes. Allyson lies to and defies her parents, just like every teenager in history, but no one talked about that.
Only one member of the committee voiced any criticism of the book. Yet when the secret ballots were counted, four members voted to remove the book from middle school libraries. Seven, however, voted to keep it. “Just One Day” will stay on the shelves in four school libraries in Dakota County. The National Coalition Against Censorship called it a victory.
The battle continues, however. In Marshfield, Wis., a school board member wants to remove “For Every Child, A Better World,” a book featuring Kermit the Frog, because it has images of poverty and war that she said could be traumatizing to young children.
Contact James Eli Shiffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-673-4116.