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Author John Green speaks out against school board candidate's push to ban his novel in his hometown

Green posted a video critiquing a school board candidate's comments suggesting his novel "Looking for Alaska" be pulled from library shelves.
John Green is pushing back against a proposal by a school board candidate in his hometown to ban his novel "Looking for Alaska."
John Green is pushing back against a proposal by a school board candidate in his hometown to ban his novel "Looking for Alaska."John Green / Penguin Random House
/ Source: TODAY

Author John Green responded to a suggestion by a school board candidate in his hometown that his first novel, "Looking for Alaska," be pulled from public school libraries.

In a TikTok video posted Sept. 11, Green shared text from a local news story published by Orlando, Florida, station Spectrum News 13. The story reports that Orange County school board candidate Alicia Farrant, a member of the conservative Moms for Liberty group, believed Green's book, as well as "Let’s Talk About It," a sex and relationships guide for teenagers written by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, should be considered too "explicit" for school libraries.

“We have morals and values,” Farrant had told Spectrum News 13. “There are thousands of parents with high standards who try everything that they can to make sure that their kids that don’t have access to things that are encouraging them to go and have sex.”

Green said in his TikTok video that Farrant's position "is weird on a few levels" and that he didn’t agree.

"There's this reality of the organization in question being called Moms for Liberty, when what they're trying to do is restrict the liberty of other people's kids to read what librarians and teachers deem appropriate for those other people's kids to read," he said. "Also — I mean, of course I might be wrong, books belong to their readers — but I just don't think 'Looking for Alaska' is pornography. And I think reading it that way is a little weird.

"Please don't ban my books in my hometown. It's really upsetting for my mom — she has to deal with all these people talking to her on Facebook now."

“Looking for Alaska” has been the subject of several other attempts to ban it from school shelves since its debut in 2005. Districts in Tennessee, upstate New York, Idaho and Kentucky have all previously considered removing the book from school libraries.

Controversy around "Looking for Alaska" seems to stem from two pages that describe a sex scene between minors. Green has previously said that readers might be misunderstanding its meaning.

“The whole reason that scene in question exists in 'Looking for Alaska' is because I wanted to draw a contrast between that scene, when there is a lot of physical intimacy, but it is ultimately very emotionally empty, and the scene that immediately follows it, when there is not a serious physical interaction, but there’s this intense emotional connection,” Green said in a video titled "I Am Not a Pornographer" shared in 2008.

He added that his teen readers will be able to discern that the book's message is that "physical intimacy can never stand in for emotional closeness."

"Shut up and stop condescending to teenagers," he said in the video from 2008. "Do you seriously think that teenagers aren’t able to read critically?"

In a statement to TODAY on Sept. 12, Farrant said she hadn't intended to "single out a particular author" with her comments and defended her stance.

“I’ve brought this topic to light because I believe that our public school system’s duty is to provide a foundational education rooted in academics," she said, in part, via email. "There are dozens of books on our library shelves at this very moment that are too graphic to be shown on television or read aloud to a group of adults at a school board meeting; this alone should tell us that something must change."

She added that while she believes "individual households have (and should have) the personal freedom to provide whatever types of books they believe are best for their children, we as a public school system must hold ourselves to a standard of decency and appropriateness for ALL."

2017 law in Florida allows parents and any residents of the state to object to instructional materials and provide evidence for why they believe the material is inappropriate. 

Farrow's latest efforts are one of many across the United States in recent months to restrict books in school libraries.

An April report from PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, compiled data on such bans from July 2021 to March 2022 and found that 86 school districts in 26 states have banned or opened investigations into more than 1,100 books.

PEN America found that only Pennsylvania and Texas had more book bans or attempts than Florida. Combined, the three states have had more than 1,300 instances of book bans, or 87% of the country’s roughly 1,500 banning incidents.

In a statement emailed to TODAY on Sept. 13, Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, the co-founders of Moms for Liberty asked to "take a step back for a moment."

"Parents are upset about what is being taught to their children because unions have made their social agenda in the public school classroom more important than actually educating children. Study after study shows that in the last two years, reading scores nationally have plummeted MORE than in the 30 years prior. Math scores even declined for the first time since they were created in the 1970s," the statement reads. "But, unions don’t want us to notice — so they say that parents are the problem, because they don’t want their kids reading a sex scene at a young age, or they don’t want them being taught that they get to choose whether they are a boy or a girl. It’s an upside-down world for them. Parents are the solution, not the problem. The unions think that we don’t notice, but the educational losses are so severe that no made-up fight over inappropriate book content is going to distract us."

Farrant’s District 3 opponent in the upcoming runoff election, Michael Daniels, told TODAY he is married to a media specialist and he believes there is already a robust library screening system in place.

"Our children deserve the freedom to learn: to develop knowledge and skills, to evaluate our past, to shape a better future, and pursue their dreams," he said in an emailed statement to TODAY on Sept. 12. "Let’s think this through with common sense. We should trust our professionals to choose appropriate resources for our public school children."

He added that parents already have the ability to review books in question.

"So let’s spend our time focusing on real issues in education. Teacher/ employee retention, mental wellness, recovering from Covid learning losses, school safety and building community," he concluded.

Editor's note (Sept. 13, 2022 at 4 p.m. ET): This story has been updated to include a new statement from the co-founders of Moms for Liberty.