In June 2018, I found myself frustrated with my then current research, an article on free speech law in Oregon. I needed a distraction and turned to books. As I had recently watched and loved the film Love, Simon, my partner suggested reading Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda, the basis for the film. From there I was hooked on Young Adult (YA) literature. Over the next few months I did little else, reading dozens of YA across all types of genres. The genre that I gravitated towards most often was queer YA. I was amazed by the modern representation of the queer identity spectrum and, like any good social scientist, I became curious about the historical development of queer YA. This brought me to Nancy Garden’s seminal Annie on My Mind, published in 1982.
Finding Annie on My Mind led me immediately to the famous case of censorship when a Kansas City suburb removed it from their school libraries. In 1995, a federal court ruled that this removal violated the First Amendment (I’ll blog more about this later). As a law and courts scholar, this dynamic fascinated me and I began poking around book challenges. Beginning in January 2019, I started sending out dozens of freedom of information (FOI) requests to schools and libraries around the county. I seek the formal challenges to better explore the dynamics of why books are challenged. While I will spend years writing articles and, I hope, a book, I decided to start this blog as a means of publicizing interesting findings and stories as I work. Though I’m sure I’ll delve into other topics as well.
As a free speech scholar, I’m predisposed towards supporting a broad right to read. After all, without the ability to freely acquire information, how are we supposed to participate in the marketplace of ideas? My interest, however, is deeper than purely academic. At some level I’m a little jealous of the wealth of representation in modern YA literature. When those stories are challenged, the effect is to marginalize narratives that were once hidden from view. As Kate Messner wrote, “[w]hen we say, ‘This book is inappropriate,’ we’re telling those children, ‘Your situation…your family…your life is inappropriate.’ This is harmful.” And yet challengers all across the country picture a different world, one where the state has a duty to preserve moral purity. Understanding these competing narratives illuminates a fundamental discord in American society.