One of the biggest breakout books of the year in the US is about an unarmed black teenager killed by the police. A school district in Texas thinks the language in the book could be too mature for its students.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is a young-adult novel about Starr Carter, an American teen whose best friend is shot to death, sparking a national frenzy about police brutality. Now in its 39th week on the New York Times bestselling hardcover YA list, the novel was long-listed for a National Book Award this year. Last month it was pulled from all the libraries at the Katy Independent School District in Texas. Its return is pending review.
At a school board forum on Nov. 6, a white male parent with two kids at Memorial Parkway Junior High said one came to him with the book. He said he read the first 13 pages and was “appalled” by the language. “My question is, ‘Who reviews the books that goes into our junior high schools?'” he asked at the meeting, where he read aloud some of the passages with profanity. “This is absolutely crazy.” Citing the book’s “pervasive vulgarity,” the district pulled copies from its libraries across 15 junior high schools and eight high schools. It’s still deciding whether to make it a permanent ban.
Maria DiPetta, a manager of media relations for the school system, tells Quartz that pulling a book for review is a common procedure. “It’s based solely on pervasive vulgarity, not based on substantive content or any message that’s been relayed in this book,” she says. DiPetta adds that the book hasn’t been banned from school property. Students can still check the book out elsewhere and bring it to school, or write a book report on it.
After someone claiming to be a resident in the district wrote on Twitter Nov. 17 about the decision to pull the book, the author responded to the incident. “You’re basically telling the kids of the Garden Heights of the world that their stories shouldn’t be told,” Thomas tweeted, referring to the book’s fictional town. “Well, I’m going to tell them even louder. Thanks for igniting the fire.” Her supporters have responded with nearly 8,900 likes.
The book is in fact sprinkled liberally with profanity, a fact Thomas acknowledges on Twitter. “I get it—some educators have an issue with the language,” she writes. “But I wrote it because I have a HUGE issue with how little value is given to black lives. I can only hope that you’ll look past the curse words and see that.”