Like family heirlooms passed down through generations, the same books are often retained in school curricular for student after student to read and reflect upon. These classic novels undoubtedly serve to develop the mental and emotional capacities of their readers; they are, after all, “classics.” But even the rebellious Holden Caulfield and the daring Winston Smith can fail to transcend some generational gaps, addressing timeless issues but lacking the excitement that comes from a recognition of the present moment.
Students need books that both stimulate educational growth and relate to their own time and place. This is why critically-acclaimed author John Green should be praised by English teachers and parents alike, rather than paraded as the writer of sexually explicit novels too mature for high school students. His books have won a number of awards in the Young Adult genre and The New Yorker hailed him as the “teen whisperer,” going so far as to liken his understanding of the adolescent mind to the great J.D. Salinger.
Yet, Green’s novels, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, were banned in two separate school districts this year. In each case, a parent complained that there was “sexual content not suitable for teenagers” present in the books. While it is easy for School Board Members to kowtow to the protests of a few vocal parents, it is hard—and thus even more vital—to stand up for what is academically and legally right; all the while remembering what is most important in these situations: the students. These books explore themes of friendship, self-discovery, and loss. They are stories engineered to express the “cadence of teenage life” in a way that will matter to teenagers. As Green’s novels have won awards, sat on the New York Times Bestseller List, and even been adapted into a movie, it seems brazen to assume that sex is the only issue students are absorbing. As Green, himself, has said: “I don’t think there’s a single halfway normal person in the world who would find a single thing in my book in any way arousing.”
After NCAC sent letters of dissent to each school, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns were restored to their respective reading lists. This is a huge win not only for proponents of free speech, but for students everywhere. It teaches the next generation that their voice will be heard—and their right to intellectual freedom respected—in spite of the efforts of overprotective adults doubting their strength of mind. Case in point: Green will continue to divulge life lessons to his teenage readers even if they come in shiny, new covers.