Just in time for Banned Book Week, a middle school in Riverside Unified School District has announced they’ve banned The Fault in Our Stars.
Only 37 books have been challenged in the district since 1988. Until the decision on Monday, only one book had actually been banned: Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War was removed from middle school shelves in 1996 because it contains profanity, sex and violence, according to the Los Angeles Register.
While we agree that there are some more mature themes in The Fault in Our Stars that parents must consider, there is something profoundly unsettling about the idea of the book being banned entirely, and we think there are some key points to consider that weren’t made mention of in the Los Angeles Register‘s article or from any of the statements we’ve seen from the committee members who made the decision.
Perhaps these points could have swayed their decision.
1. How young is too young to face your own mortality?
Death is a big part of life and, yes, it can be a scary part, but one that is extremely prevalent. Children are not immune to dealing with the issues. They most likely have friends or family facing illness.
According to the Los Angeles Register‘s article, Arlington principal and committee member Betsy Schmechel’s big problem with the book was that it dealt with terminally ill teens.
“The thing that kept hitting me like a tidal wave was these kids dealing with their own mortality,” she said, “and how difficult that might be for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old reading this book.”
Yet, it’s acceptable for a child to attend church and listen to a priest go into detail about death and the afterlife. Death and mortality only become terrifying when you perpetuate it as so because it forces you to consider the unknown.
This is a constant topic in literature and The Fault in Our Stars is certainly not the first or the last on this subject. It just happens to be one of the most trendy and popular books dealing with these issues in the current time. So then, can’t we conclude that what the school is really punishing the novel for is its popularity?
2. Why is violence OK but sex is not?
The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter have not been banned from the school, and we would say it isn’t a stretch at all to assume multiple copies of these series are sitting happily on the shelves — though not for long, since we assume kids are excitedly reading them.
The Hunger Games is an especially poignant book to bring up in this debate. Anyone who’s read it knows how brutal and terrifyingly violent it is. After all, it’s about teens slaughtering one another for sport as the country watches for fun. If you think cancer is terrifying, just wait until you read about this dystopian society. I’ll take the cancer, thank you very much.
More than that, The Fault in Our Stars is a beautifully written love story about two teens who find each other and connect despite everything going on in their messy world. The novel depicts a healthy and respectful relationship that grows and develops appropriately. Children are facing examples of sex at younger and younger ages these days. Not always good examples. And we need stories like The Fault in Our Stars to encourage these young adults to seek healthy and stable connections.
3. Given technology, does banning the book make more of a societal statement than one about protecting children?
Of course, parents must use their own discretion monitoring what their child reads, but to not even afford the children the opportunity seems archaic, especially considering how easy it is for a child to simply download the book with one click, thanks to technology these days.
By banning the book from middle schools, parents and teachers aren’t eliminating the possibility that the child will gain unsupervised access to the novel if they want to read it. After all, eReaders and iPads make it so easy to have instant access to any and every form of literature, which makes us think the school was looking to make a statement rather than actually protect these children from the so-called horrors of The Fault in Our Stars.