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West Ada middle schools told to pull controversial book from its libraries

The young adult novel “Looking for Alaska” by John Green has been pulled from the shelves of West Ada School District’s middle schools and reassigned to its high schools after the book’s contents were deemed inappropriate for younger students.
The young adult novel “Looking for Alaska” by John Green has been pulled from the shelves of West Ada School District’s middle schools and reassigned to its high schools after the book’s contents were deemed inappropriate for younger students.

The West Ada School District has pulled a popular title from its middle school libraries due to content it deemed as not age appropriate.

The book, John Green’s award-winning 2005 title “Looking for Alaska,” is a New York Times bestseller chronicling a teenager who goes to a boarding school in Alabama, comes of age and falls in love.

The school district received a complaint about the book from a concerned parent, saying the title contained bad language, as well as references to smoking and suicide, according to spokesperson Eric Exline. The district’s middle schools have been instructed to move the books to their corresponding high schools, according to Exline.

The district’s librarian, curriculum director, language curriculum coordinator and assistant superintendent for instruction read the novel and looked at reviews of the book, the majority of which deemed the book intended for a high school audience, Exline said.

Green also said the book is intended for high schoolers in a previous interview.

“Looking for Alaska” was named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Best Young Adult Books of All-Time and won the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in adult literature.

The book was not required reading for classes.

“It was really just driven by the review that it wasn’t a book appropriate for middle schoolers,” Exline said.

The book was taken off the school curriculum in Sumner County, Tennessee, in 2012. It also faced review at Marion County High School but was ultimately not taken off the curriculum or the library. It has been on the American Library Association’s Top-Ten Challenged Book lists in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Bruce DeLaney, co-owner of downtown Boise’s Rediscovered Books, believes the book is an important story dealing with the challenges of being a teenager. DeLaney said “Looking for Alaska” is his favorite book by Green, who also authored the bestseller “The Fault in Our Stars.”

“This is something that we run into with books about teenagers. Teenagers experiment,” DeLaney said. “Kids deal with tough subjects. Just look at the kids with the school shooting (in Parkland, Florida).”

Reading about a teenager smoking, doing drugs or going through tough moments allows readers to experience the series of emotions without having to physically do so, according to DeLaney.

“Wouldn’t you rather have your kids read about it ... than try it?” DeLaney said.

This is not the first time West Ada School District has dealt with controversial literature. Back in 2014, the school district pulled Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” from its supplemental reading list for 10th graders because, “parents called the book anti-Christian and complained that it mentions masturbation and contains profanity.”

Pulling Alexie’s title was completely different than pulling Green’s, Exline said.

“A library book is a book that students just choose to select,” he said. “That kind of puts it in a different circumstance.”

Michael Katz: 208-377-6444, @MichaelLKatz

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