Author John Green’s work has once again come under the censorship chopping block, this time in Riverside, California. His award-winning love story, The Fault in our Stars, was taken out of middle school libraries because the novel’s subject matter involves two terminally-ill teens who use crude language and have sex. “I just didn’t think it was appropriate for an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old to read,” says parent Karen Krueger, who initiated the complaint.
The removal comes only months after the film adaptation grossed $48.2 million at the box office in its opening weekend, and Fault is one of the many YA novels to hit the big screen with a robust though foreseeable bang. Doomed teens seem to be the raison d’etre of the literary and movie industry: think Twilight’s Bella and Edward or Divergent’s Beatrice and Tobias. These novels and film adaptations capitulate the minds of young, hormonal teen girls (and boys) into a world of romantic sensationalism where love offers a respite to the reality of death.
Betsy Schmechel, committee member and principal of one of the Riverside middle schools in question, made this statement about the ban: “The thing that kept hitting me like a tidal wave was these kids dealing with their own mortality, and how difficult that might be for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old reading this book.” According to Schmechel and the school board that voted 6-1 to remove the book, middle school students should not have to think about their own mortality. Or rather, as Green aptly responded, the board only wants its students to be presented with ideas of their supposed immortality:
“I guess I am both happy and sad. I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them. But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.”
Green’s response hits upon an important issue. Why do school boards think they need to shelter students from books about death? Most acclaimed literature uses death as a major theme to teach its readers about the importance of life, and for maturing teens, to help them shed their aura of indestructability. Teens may read these books for their romantic plot-lines and rebellious overtures, but authors like Green write these books so that they may impart a bit of humble pie: While you may not be immortal, the books you read and the lessons you learn should live on to educate the next generation. We can only hope that the school boards of the future agree.