Update: The Kids’ Right to Read Project is pleased to report that Twisted will not be removed from Downingtown West High School’s reading list after a decision was reached amicably through discussion between school officials and parents. Downingtown district followed policy in addressing the challenge to Twisted and is a model for how such incidents should be addressed.    

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson is being challenged in Downingtown West High School in Downingtown, PA after one parent objected to sexual content in the book and it is not the only book by Laurie Halse Anderson to be challenged this month. Her novel Speak was challenged in a California high school in September 2009.To read Laurie Halse Anderson’s response to the challenges against her books click here. The Kids’ Right to Read Project sent this letter to the superintendent opposing efforts to remove Twisted from the school’s ninth grade optional reading list:

Dr. Lawrence J. Mussoline, Superintendent
Downingtown Area School District
126 Wallace Avenue
Downingtown, PA 19335

September 24, 2009

Dear Dr. Mussoline,

We write to oppose efforts to remove Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson from Downingtown West High School’s ninth grade optional reading list. We understand that some parents object to sexual content in the book.

While no book is appropriate for all readers, the decision to read a book should be made by students, guided by parents, teachers and librarians. Twisted is recommended for many young readers, because it tackles serious teenage concerns about sex, alcohol, grades and family in an honest and realistic way. As the American Library Association has noted, in Twisted Anderson “skillfully explores identity and power struggles that all young people
will recognize.”

The sexual content and themes in Twisted represent small but essential parts of the novel, consistent with the kind of material that high school students frequently read. Indeed, if students were precluded from reading literature with sexual content, they would be
deprived of exposure to vast amounts of important material, including Shakespeare, major religious texts such as the Bible, the works of Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, and Nabokov, contemporary books such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and many of the texts regularly assigned in high schools throughout the State of Pennsylvania. The district would potentially put its students at a disadvantage in college if it did not permit them to read literature of this sort in high school.

The view of the parent who objects to Twisted is not shared by others, and they have no constitutional right to impose their judgments on all students. As many courts have observed, public schools have the obligation to "administer school curricula responsive to the overall educational needs of the community and its children." Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). No parent has the right "to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught." Id. Any other rule would put schools in the
untenable position of having "to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter." Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. School Dist., 135 F.3d 694, 699 (10th Cir. 1998); Littlefield v. Forney Indep. School, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001).

Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials will be to invite others to demand changes to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.

Some parents prefer to keep their children from reading about sex while others may appreciate books like Twisted, because they can create opportunities for adults and teens to talk about sensitive topics. Even if the novels’ themes are too mature for some
students, they will be meaningful to others. No book is right for everyone, and an optional reading list allows students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences and family values. No one has to read something just because it’s on the
reading list.

We strongly urge you to keep Twisted on the optional reading list in Downingtown West High School. Those who object to these books are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. We urge you to stand by principles of individual freedom, democracy, and education.


Joan Bertin
Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship American Booksellers

Chris Finan
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression