Book reconsideration: First of many?
A number of Ellen Hopkins books, some of which were under reconsideration by the Boundary County Library board.
Staff Writer | June 22, 2023 1:00 AM
BONNERS FERRY — Boundary County Library trustees voted to retain three Ellen Hopkins novels in the young adults section after a reconsideration hearing on May 18.
The board also moved for library staff to search for newer novels also covering similar topics, such as fentanyl drug abuse and online safety, due to many of Hopkins books being older and covering outdated drug use.
The three books, “Crank”, “Impulse” and “Perfect”, written by Ellen Hopkins were submitted for reconsideration by library patron and Bonners Ferry resident Gregory Lamberty on April 11.
Hopkins is known for novels, written in verse form, that focus on teenage characters dealing with abuse, trauma, addiction and physiological conditions. Writing on such dark themes has led to backlash, with many of Hopkins’ books being banned from schools, all while being on the bestseller list.
At the May 18 meeting during public comment, patrons and community members spoke for and against the books. Although the three books cover themes of drug abuse, mental illness, suicide and more, which may not be suitable for children, some patrons gave testimonials that young adult readers suffering from these same issues have realized they are not alone after reading Hopkins’ books.
Lamberty, who requested reconsideration, spoke against the books saying they encouraged vice and gave children ideas on how to harm themselves.
Library trustees checked out the books submitted for reconsideration and read them.
Trustee Aaron Bohachek read “Impulse”, which is about a teenager in a mental hospital struggling with suicidal thoughts.
While the book doesn’t leave readers with a pleasant feeling, Bohachek said he’s met people like the characters in real life who struggle with mental health. For them, this is their reality, he noted.
“The problem with these books is they are a little too real,” he said. “It is a dangerous thing for teens to read, it makes you think deeply.”
He recognized that the argument could be made that by reading these books, the reader could follow in the footsteps of the characters.
Trustee Lee Colson reminded those present that the BCL teen section is separate from the children’s section, and is for those 14 years old and older. The children's section is for those 13 and under.
In the young adult section, between the Y and A signs, BCL has a notice listed that the section is for 14+ year-olds and may contain more adult language and content.
Board Chair Bob Blanford noted that after reading online comments and reviews of the book by readers, many said they had decided not to harm themselves and that they realized there was a lot more to life. By reading the comments, people benefited from the book, he said.
“Impulse” has only been checked out about five times in the past four years. When the books first came to the library, director Lynn Silva said they were regularly checked out, but that has not been the case in a few years.
“Crank”, a book focusing on a teenage girl's drug addiction to crystal meth, is loosely based on the Hopkins’ daughter's turbulent life after taking up the drug and was published in 2004.
Colson called it a “cautionary tale” that tells readers if they get into drugs, terrible things can happen, rather than being a “how-to manual.” It is a story he wishes did not happen, but does happen to many people as their addiction changes their lives for the worse. He didn’t like the book and didn’t like the world it portrayed, but knows there are kids in the community who experience the themes explored by the novel.
He said the book reflects a world and relationships drastically different from how he was raised and how he raised his children, but that it is a reflection of society today. There are three ways to handle these situations: confront them head on, pretend they don’t occur or manage information, so it appears to be a secret, Colson said. He favors addressing the situation head on, but added that if parents don’t want their children to read these books, that is their option.
“Our library is 100% behind the idea that you as parents and guardians are able to pick for your children,” he said. “I pick for my children, but that doesn't mean [the board] picks for the children of others.”
“Taking these books away isn’t going to take away the risks our children face,” he said.
When it came to his turn to speak, Lamberty said he was concerned that a kid raised in a “good” family would, if exposed to Hopkins’ books, could be encouraged to go down a path of drug abuse.
Colson said a parent, as their child’s supervisor and the family card holder, can say “no” to their child checking out any of these books, or books with similar themes if they desire to.
Bohachek said the library has family cards, noting that children under the age of 18 do not automatically have a card. Instead, parents have to give permission to add their children to the library card. This allows them to check out books but allows parents to see what books have been checked out.
“Impulse” has only been checked out a handful of times in the past three years, Bohachek said and although there are positive lessons in the book that can be talked about all day, no one is checking it out. He said the issues brought up in the books need to be addressed in the library’s collection.
He suggested if these three books are taken out of the collection due to not being checked out, then the library should find more recent materials that tackle similar subjects.
“In a way, maybe less abrasive,” he said, commenting on the angst found in Hopkins’ writing.
Colson agreed with keeping the books until they can be replaced with newer materials covering current issues.
“Meth was the boogeyman in the past, now we need to talk about fentanyl and online catfishing,” he said. “If [we’re] trying to arm kids, we need to be more current.”
At the June 15 regular meeting the board approved a former header be added to the reconsideration form. “The Supreme Court has ruled that all material must be considered, read, viewed and listened to in its entirety and may not be ruled obscene by selective excerpts.” The form can be found on the library’s website.
BCL has another book reconsideration scheduled at the July 20 meeting, for the book “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.” At the June 15 meeting the board decided to not have a separate evening meeting for the book reconsideration due to only one book being reconsidered and because at the last meeting few patrons were attending and the meeting ran short.
“Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” was written by Jesse Andrews in 2012. The novel is about a teenage filmmaker whose outlook on life is forever changed after he befriends a classmate who was just been diagnosed with leukemia. It was adapted into a major motion picture in 2015, rated PG-13. The screenplay was written by the author.
Although critically acclaimed, the book has been challenged and banned for vulgarity, offensive language, sexually explicit content, and for being degrading to women.