SOME GIRLS ARE, Censorship, and School Reading Lists

6624871Did anyone else start seeing the book Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers, pop up all over their social media yesterday? I saw facebook articles posted about censorship and a plethora of tweets where people said they were buying the book … and then I got curious. Here’s what I found out. Incoming freshmen at a South Carolina high school were given the option of choosing this book or Riker’s High, by Paul Volponi for their summer reading. After one parent complained (that’s right just one parent) that she didn’t want her daughter reading the former, the school ended up pulling the book from the list and adding both Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (a bold choice since it is so frequently banned), and classic A Tree Grows In Brooklyn as options. I’m not a parent and I haven’t read the book so you can definitely take my ramblings with many many grains of salt – but I thought I’d share them anyway. 

First, just to catch myself and everyone else up, here is a short description of Some Girls Are, from goodreads: Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around.  Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge.  If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day.  She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully.  Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

It seems to me that by the time a kid is in high school they should have the maturity/ability to pick what books they read. At the same time, I love that my mom was so involved in the media I consumed as a child and teenager. She would often tell me she thought something was too violent or scary for me to watch/read. I almost always listened to her, because I trusted her judgement (I also appreciate that she thought it was more important to shield me from violence than from sexual content). But I don’t remember ever being not allowed to watch/read something if I decided to. If she thought it was controversial then we would usually have a conversation about it afterwards (thank you Corey and Topanga booking a hotel room on prom night, Julia Roberts for smoking cigarettes in “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, and Forever Amber for 17th century prostitute). But very little, if anything, was off the table.

I do recognize that not everyone is so lucky to have parents who strike the right mix of staying involved and giving their children the right about of freedom. I feel differently about homophobic parents keeping their potentially LGBTQ kids from reading LGBTQ books or parents who might not don’t know about a child’s assault trying to protect them from books like Speak or Some Girls Are than I do about my mom helping me decide what to read.

I think it’s probably better to air on the side of caution to protect those kids who need to see themselves reflected in books even if their parents don’t want to see them that way or society wants to pretend difference and darkness and things like drinking/sex/bullying/poverty/etc. don’t exist. I think it’s ridiculous that one parent complaining means that the option was taken away from the whole class. I think it’s ridiculous to call a book about bullying and sexual assault trash (which is this parent did).

But I’m also curious to see what other people think. So if you have any thoughts please share them in the comments. And if you want to read more here is an article on BookRiot about the whole incident and here is one of the best things I’ve read about why it’s vital not to censor books for teens written by the great Sherman Alexie.

8 thoughts on “SOME GIRLS ARE, Censorship, and School Reading Lists

  1. I don’t like to read books where life in so sanitized that it’s not believable anymore. I think there are probably a lot of teenagers who feel the same way. So I have to wonder if trying to ban teenagers from reading books that deal with difficult issues will make them shy away from reading altogether. Why would they want to read books that don’t accurately represent real life?

    My parents never censored what I read when I was in high school. They wouldn’t let me read certain things when I was younger (for instance, I got in trouble for trying to read Lady Chatterly’s Lover when I was 11. And I completely understand why they were upset.) But by the time I was in high school, I was allowed to read anything I wanted to.

  2. My parents stopped telling me what to read at a young age. They trusted me. Granted, they cared what I read. But they knew I was a curious reader. They taught me to use the library and to talk about what I read. I learned about many different types of people through books. I also read books for adults when I was a kid. 🙂

  3. My parents didn’t tell us what to read either. They trusted us, and I think they trusted the school system to select books with both content and literary value. They were pretty vocal about which TV shows they preferred we not watch, and that translated to reading as well. Graphic or senseless violence, sex for the sake of sex, etc. was heavily frowned upon. But – they didn’t forbid it.
    Two things about this bother me. As you said Alison, first, that one parent could dictate the reading list. I’m assuming it didn’t reach full censorship level – that the school didn’t proclaim the book to be forbidden, they just removed it from the list (hopefully, though that was bad enough). Second, it sounds like the book (haven’t read it) may be an excellent way for teens to put themselves in the place of a bullying victim, and bullying is an epidemic among teens today often with devastating outcomes.

    I imagine schools are always trying to find the right balance – safe to say many would agree with you and think this school missed the mark.

    1. Thanks for commenting Patrice! My only comfort in this (and I will admit again that I haven’t read the book and obviously don’t have all the facts) is that the book was replaced with Speak, a book also featuring sexual assault and bullying as themes (albeit perhaps less graphically).

  4. Let me start by saying I am a huge Summers Fan. I talk about her books in my blog all the time – ALL THE TIME. I was livid when I saw that this had happened to her book.
    My parents were also very open about what we reading. Reading was encouraged. I was friends with a girl with super, super strict parents. I used to tape (the original) Degrassi so she could come over and watch it on the weekends. My mom always said that she would rather I was exposed to confusing/sensitive subjects in fiction so that I could ask about them instead of confronting them for the first time when confronted with them in real life.
    Some Girls Are is more than a book about sexual assault. It is a hugely important statement about modern rape culture, especially among girls, but it is much more than that. There are reflections on bullying, friendship, and self-loathing. Summers takes all those elements and shows how a girl can turn on herself. How the acts of friendship can simply be a vehicle for power. And how the social structure we created among girls can cause them to act in a way they know is wrong in order to fit into the ‘right’ social circles. There is nothing in here that a girl in high school hasn’t already experienced/seen/practiced/fought against. The people who trash these books and try to ban them are the same ones who help create the structure that drives teens to the actions in the book. (
    If you like contemporary YA, I would highly recommend giving this (and all Summers novels) a read.

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