Challenges to ‘Just Listen’ by Sarah dessen in Tampa, FL


UPDATE: Just Listen approved by review committee (1/10/08)

Objecting to sexual themes and language in the book, some parents challenged Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, requesting that it be removed from the library at Armwood High School in Tampa, FL.

Below is NCAC’s Letter to the Tampa Tribune.

To the Editors:

We urge Hillsborough County school officials and Armwood High School book review committee members to stand by First Amendment principles and keep the book, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, in school libraries.  While many parents support the book, some have objected to its sexual themes and language.  Without questioning the sincerity of those parents, their views are not shared by all, and they have no right to tell other people what their children may read.

Just Listen is a work of fiction written for teens that addresses real-life issues like rape, eating disorders, and alcohol use that students often confront.  The book is recommended as part of the Florida Teens Read list and is reportedly popular among students. Just Listen is clearly exciting young readers in the community; the school should encourage this impulse to read and keep the book in school libraries throughout the county.  Moreover, efforts by the Alley Cat Players to stimulate discussion about Just Listen take advantage of this interest and help make reading the book a valuable learning experience. 

While no book is appropriate for all readers, the decision to read a book should be made by students, guided by the values embraced by their own families.  No one has to read a book simply because it’s on the library shelf.  Some parents may prefer to keep their children from reading about such issues, while others may appreciate the opportunity for adults and children to discuss these difficult but important subjects.  The First Amendment gives all parents the opportunity to make choices about their children’s education.

In our experience, book challenge controversies are best handled by enriching the array of library materials available, not restricting it, and by including additional voices rather than silencing any.  These critical educational goals – the goals that inspire the First Amendment – cannot be achieved by modifying the library holdings to reflect specific beliefs or sensitivities. 

We urge the book review committee to keep the book in the school library and to uphold the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.

Rebecca L. Zeidel tracks book censorship incidents for the National Coalition Against Censorship ( ) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression ( ), both located in New York, NY.

CC:      Hillsborough County School Board

Read local news about the controversy

Local theater group hosts discussion