Banned Books Week 2013: Eleanor and Park?!?!

September 23, 2013 Banned Books, Coming of Age, Family, Young Adult Fiction 61

Hey Bookworms!

It’s time to celebrate Banned Books Week. Every year the national book community sets aside a week to celebrate FREEDOM!!! (I hope you imagined me bellowing that a la William Wallace in Braveheart because that is how it sounds in my head.) There are few things that raise my hackles the way banning books does. Of all the crazy shiznit that goes down in The Handmaid’s Talewhat has always bothered me the MOST is the prohibition of women reading.

The American Library Association doesn't want you to ban books either. (Image courtesy

The American Library Association doesn’t want you to ban books either. (Image courtesy

Books are banned and challenged by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. They’re banned by governments for spreading subversive ideas. They’re banned by religions for containing content they find offensive. Lately though, the groups that seems to be getting the most press for trying to ban books are parental groups.

Most of the time, I try to keep my nose out of the Mommy Wars or any debates on parenting. Sure, I have opinions, but as I do not yet have any progeny, it seems ill advised to wade into those waters. HOWEVER… Some yahoos in Minnesota tried to have Eleanor and Parkthe brilliant coming of age novel penned by the ridiculously talented Rainbow Rowell, banned from their schools’ reading lists.

Yep. This is happening right this minute. A group of parents in the Anoka-Hennepin school district has chosen to wage a war against my beloved E&P. If you feel like raising your blood pressure, you can go ahead and take a look at their list of complaints on the Parents Action League website. What’s got these parents all riled up? Profanity mostly. Because, you know. Middle and High School aged children have never heard a bad word. They’re certainly not using them either (GASP.) Also, it’s chock full of “crude and sexually charged material.” Sure. For a book where no actual sex takes place. Hand holding is described in all its intensity. The characters in this novel never graduate beyond some making out and minor groping! But of COURSE normal teenagers wouldn’t know anything about THAT either. 


In fairness, I wouldn’t recommend reading Eleanor & Park to a young elementary school student, but we’re talking about teenagers. I’ve been a teenager. They’re a heck of a lot smarter than groups like Parents Action League ever give them credit for. I’d think parents would be stoked at the idea that their kid was assigned a book in school that they ACTUALLY wanted to read. Dismissing the messages presented in Eleanor and Park based on concerns over naughty words and heavy petting is a ginormous mistake. There’s so GOOD to be had in E&P!!! It addresses bullying, abusive home situations, first love, body image, being different, and GYM CLASS. I’m positively flabbergasted that anyone could object to this book, it has ALL THE LESSONS!

Of course, the Parents Action League also promotes an aggressively anti-gay agenda, so I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this… My only hope here is that the kids in this district decide to rebel against their parents. I came of age when “explicit lyrics” labels began being posted on the outside of CDs (remember CDs, guys?!) All those warning labels did was make it easier for me to decide what album to buy next. Explicit lyrics meant the album was going to be edgy and cool and everything rock was supposed to be. I can only pray that teenagers do as they’ve done for centuries and come to the same conclusion about Eleanor & Park. 

So, Bookworms. I suppose it’s stupid to ask if you agree with me about Eleanor & Park specifically, because differing opinions obviously won’t sway my beliefs. However. I am curious. How much say do you think it is appropriate for parents to have in the curriculum assigned to their children? We’re talking public school here. Weigh in y’all. What do you think?

61 Responses to “Banned Books Week 2013: Eleanor and Park?!?!”

  1. Amanda

    I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while with all of the praise for Rainbow Rowell going around. Being “banned” makes me want to read it that much more!

  2. Ashley Z

    WHAT? Oh my goodness. As a parent, I understand the need/ Want to filter your children from certain books, shows, movies, music and what-not. I mean I wouldn’t go handing my middle school aged kid 50 Shades of Grey (or a high school kid for that matter) but Eleanor & Park? For sure I would! Its a real, coming-of-age book that deals with some real issues. I think its far from profane or sexually charged. Come on people! Most teens have read/seen/heard/experianced far more than what this lovely book entails!
    Side note-just finished Fangirl. LOVED IT!

  3. Megan M.

    I read an AMA on Reddit with Judy Blume, and she was asked what’s the best way a parent can get their child to read a book. And her answer was basically, leave it laying around and tell them something like, “I don’t think you’re ready for that yet.” Making a big deal about E&P (or any book) is only going to make their children want to read it more. That’s a good thing.

    If a book is truly not age-appropriate, then I think parents should say, you need to wait a few years before you read that. I had to tell my six year old that when she wanted to check out some chapter books that were aimed at tweens. I read the first few pages and I knew that it was too mature for her, so I said we needed to wait before we got them.

    On content issues, I think the parents should read the book, too, either before the kids do or at the same time, and then talk about it together. Like a book club. Talk about the characters decisions and how they turned out, talk about why they think the author decided to include profanity or drug use or sexual content in the story. It really all boils down to communication. I remember a parent at the library asking me about a set of books that her daughter wanted to read, and she was worried because they were about teens and drugs. I had read a few of them as a teen, and I have never even so much as tried to smoke a cigarette. Reading about someone ruining their lives because they got addicted to smack was more than enough for me! LOL

    I don’t think those parents are readers, because a true reader would never “ban” a book.

      • Megan M.

        Lord, I hope so! 🙂 Really this is just an excuse for me to read more. If my kids have discovered a great book then I want to read it too!!!

    • Heather

      I do the same thing. If I think my daughter is a bit too young/whatever for something, I just say, “Oh, you’ll probably love it in a few years, but it’s just a bit too [whatever] for you right now.” She understands and is grateful to have someone to ask.

  4. Ashley F

    I totally have an issue with the fact that these parenting groups are always trying to impose restrictions on adult aged literature.

    I mean you want to rip into Harry Potter saying kids are impressionable and it talks about witchcraft and you have religious issues with it, that’s a debate that I think is reasonable to an extent even though I think it’s stupid. It also doesn’t impact my religious beliefs personally but I get that someone out there’s going to be pissed.

    But when you start to limit books geared towards adults I have an issue with that. Even though E&P is about teenagers, it’s not marketed as Teen Fiction. End of discussion. When kids start reading adult novels I think it’s up to the parents discretion what they want their kids to read or not. I mean my mom let me read Stephen King’s IT when I was like 14. Smart idea? Probably not. But it was her choice as a parent.

    • Words for Worms

      It’s so sticky when it comes to kids, isn’t it? But I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of banning adult books. Not sure there are a whole lot of groups trying to do that these days, but if they were, I’d be EVEN MADDER! GRRRRRR!

  5. Charleen

    If there are parents who don’t think their child is ready for a particular book… fine, whatever. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but it’s their child and their decision. It’s when they start dictating that OTHER people’s children can’t read the book either that it becomes an issue. Amazing how many book-banning issues would go away if people just worried about their own kids and stopped trying to enforce their personal beliefs on everyone.

    Not to mention, there’s really no true way to keep your kid from reading a book (or seeing a movie, or whatever) if they’re determined. And making a big fuss about it is only going to make them more determined.

    • Words for Worms

      All of this. I completely agree. I mean, your kid your rules… But don’t deprive everyone else’s kids. I can only hope the kids of militant crankypants parents get all rebellious and read the banned books!

  6. middleagebutch

    This post made me think of the “I Read Banned Books” sweatshirt that I used to wear in the 80s. I used to think that the shirt made me a rebel of sorts. Like a very geeky bad girl reading Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn.

    • Words for Worms

      Geeky rebels are the best! I read Catcher in the Rye and Huck Finn as assigned reading in high school. I enjoyed them both, but I probably would have been more jazzed to read them if I’d known how challenged they were. REBEL!

  7. Rhian

    I do believe that parents have the right to choose what their children read (or view or play or listen to). But only their *own* children. I have a real problem when people try and impose their values/morals on others.

  8. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    I figured it would happen eventually that this book would be challenged, but it’s a total crock. I wish parents who think this age group is immune to bad words would get their heads out of their respective…sandboxes…and wake up! Better to have a dialogue than rip the book off the shelves. And I echo what others have said. Parents certainly have a right to choose what their own children read, but when they try to impose their ban on the community as a whole, I get irked.

  9. Eagle-Eyed Editor

    I’m of the opinion that if you raise your kids right (demonstrating virtues such as kindness, courtesy, respect for the law, etc.), then what they read in school won’t have the corrupting effect that others fear. Granted, there are books and movies that I would be reluctant to show some kids (such as Schindler’s List) but it doesn’t seem quite right if a small number of people make a curriculum decision for everyone else. I think it should be a decision between parent and child.

    Banning books only arouses curiosity because readers then want to find out why those books were banned.

    • Words for Worms

      Yes! I mean, kids are impressionable, but parents are a MUCH bigger influence than books. I agree that there are certain books or movies that might not be appropriate for every kid, but blanket bans are no good.

  10. ianexclamation

    I wonder how many parents in this Parents Action League (which sounds like a really bad superhero group) have actually READ the book that they’re all railing against. It seems very likely that, in these kinds of groups, one or two people raise a big stink and then the rest follow off the cliff like angry lemmings.

    In my opinion, there was no ‘crude’ material in E&P at all. It is a fantastic book that deals with issues that many kids will probably face. If anything, I think worried parents should read it themselves first and have a discussion with their kids about it if they want to read it. They’re going to deal with these kinds of things sooner or later. Or would talking to your child be too cuh-razy? I’m not a parent, so I don’t know.

    Like you said, kids are definitely smarter than people give them credit for. As a teenager (and even now), the fact that a book is banned would make me MORE inclined to read it.

  11. Monika

    I’m okay with parents deciding what their children should or should not read, though I’d hope that they explain why and keep the lines of communication open about it. What I’m NOT okay with is people dictating what OTHER people’s kids should or should not read. This quote really angered me:

    “…this book is littered with extreme profanity and age-inappropriate subject matter that should never be put into the hands and minds of minor children, much less promoted by the educational institutions and staff we entrust to teach and protect our children.”

    Well, then. Obviously they are the morality police for all of us. They know what’s best for everyone’s kids! I’m going to be sure to talk to this group before making my own decisions for my own child. /sarcasm.


  12. Samantha

    I’m agreeing with “you can ban whatever you want with your own children, but don’t try to decide for others”. Although I think it’s a travesty to ban a book like Eleanor & Park. But, I also don’t have children, so. But I mean, my cousin that’s like my little sister, who just turned 15, I would be totally okay with her reading Eleanor & Park. Because she’s FIFTEEN. I don’t know. 😛 I hate stopping anyone from reading anything. The only thing my parents ever fussed about was when I read the V.C. Andrews Cutler series, but I think that was more because I was hiding them in my closet than because they told me not to read them. They were always in awe of my reading because neither of them are, and didn’t want to discourage me from it. (Wouldn’t have worked anyway).

    • Words for Worms

      LOL oh man- I used to randomly borrow my mom’s books when I wanted something to read. I remember her seeing me with a Sandra Brown novel as a teenager and she was all “oh my, that’s a little smutty isn’t it?” And I was all “Meh.” She didn’t tell me not to read it or anything. She probably figured it was pretty low on the list of possible rebellious activities and was just grateful I wasn’t doing drugs. (Although she did think I was doing drugs every Friday evening for about an hour after she finished watching 20/20.)

  13. Wayne

    I am truly surprised that one of my high school teachers assigned us *The Catcher In The Rye* looking back on it. It had a young hooker in it and the usual adolescent prurient interest in sex. Maybe he was a horn dog himself, I dunno. Nowadays the helicopter parents would be all over his ass.

  14. Kelly from

    very impassioned and sound argument! I haven’t read E&P (I know, I know) but I just finished the upcoming Ann Patchett collection, where she says Truth and Beauty was fiercely protested against by the parents of college freshman! So, it doesn’t end in HS, surprisingly. Happily, none of the college kids listened (though the institution got some serious slack for it) and it remained on the syllabus.

    • Words for Worms

      College Freshman?!?! Seriously?!?!?! Oh for heaven’s sake. Those kids are LEGAL ADULTS! If you’re old enough to join the military, you’re old enough to read whatever the frick you want!

  15. PinotNinja

    My rage level is through the roof.

    What’s a major purpose of teaching literature to kids? Exposing them to new places and viewpoints. Allowing them to experience situations, often difficult ones, for the first time from the safety of their choice. Giving them a chance to reflect on and discuss how certain characters acted and whether they would choose to act in that way. Teachers aren’t there to “protect” kids from the world, they are there to “prepare” kids for the world. And that can mean showing them what’s out there, both good and bad, as long as their is a valuable lesson to be learned from it.

    By limiting what kids read and learn, you are limiting them! Isn’t it better they be exposed to something — such as profanity, brutality, race issues, gender issues, or sex — through the written word and not through first hand experience?

    • Wayne

      It ain’t so much the teachers. It’s the chicken shit administrators and helicopter parents that are causing this problem.

      • PinotNinja

        Completely agree and I didn’t mean for my comment to come off as blaming the teachers. They are almost always the heroes in these situations.

    • Words for Worms

      I love this comment. I feel that literature is a great way to experience things and learn about them without having to suffer all the consequences. I never really had the inclination to go on a mescaline fueled joyride through Las Vegas, but if I had, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would have changed my mind!

  16. Sarah Says Read

    Oh man, these parents are stupid. There’s really not a nicer way to put it. I mean, yay for at least paying attention to what your kid is reading, but if it contains things in it that you think are worrisome, just talk to your freaking kid about it. “Hey, there might be bad words in that book, but don’t use them, okay?” Don’t raise a huge stink and try to get it banned from ALL the children. They’re just embarassing their children to the point that they’d WANT to get stoned or something, just to deal with their crazy-ass parents. Did that group fail in having it banned? Man I hope so. I hope that school/teacher fight like hell to keep E&P on the reading list.

    • Words for Worms

      I don’t know if a resolution has been reached in this case yet. Profanity has got to be the stupidest thing to get worked up about. It’s not like they’re 3 year old mimics- teens know the words and they know how their parents feel about them using profanity. Books aren’t going to make a kid who doesn’t swear start swearing. Seriously. Gah!

  17. Leah

    I love your use of the word “progeny” 😛

    I think Banned Books Week is my favorite bookish week of the year. I love reading everyone’s fired-up posts about the insanity of censorship! But ughh, this E&P banning hurts my soul, for all the reasons you mentioned. This is a GOOD BOOK that teens can RELATE TO. And how often do YA books have a hefty heroine that the hero finds incredibly attractive? I guess I can understand parents not wanting to read things they think are inappropriate, but I mean… their teens are way less innocent (and much smarter) than the parents think they are. They can handle a few swear words and sexual content.

  18. Heather

    I think parents should reserve the right to contest certain books they’re not comfortable with their children reading, emphasis on THEIR CHILDREN. Most teachers will provide an alternate book for a student in that situation.

    What I’m NOT down with are parents who also want to contest what MY children are reading. No. That is not okay. I can parent just fine on my own, thank you.

    To take a book entirely off a reading list just because you don’t want YOUR kid reading it is ridiculous. You worry about your kids, and I’ll worry about mine. Thanks.

    (Not you, but the broader “you,” obviously.)

    • Words for Worms

      I never thought about the alternate book thing! Because really, these parents are a teeny tiny minority. Two parents got this whole thing started about E&P out of a whole class. I remember a kid who didn’t celebrate Halloween got to make slightly modified arts and crafts for autumn when I was a kid, and it wasn’t a big deal. Harumph. Parents trying to parent other people’s kids. Grrrr….

  19. Cindy W

    I agree that each parent has the right to decide if their child is ready to read a specific book or not, even if I think they’re wrong. But yeah, don’t decide what my child can read! I’ll do that, thank you!

    When I was a kid (11 or 12 probably), I picked up a Stephen King book at a garage sale. The lady running it told me I was too young to read it and my dad let her have it & I got the book. My dad was the best.

    Now, I may have done the same when I held a garage sale. But, in my case it was a 5 year old walking off with Valley of the Dolls! I was okay with her shoplifting a book, but not that one! I think it was the pretty pink cover. I gave her Ella Enchanted in its place. 🙂

    Oh, and I totally bought 2 Live Crew’s album just because it was banned. Note to self – banned does not always equal good.

  20. marctr

    Let me be clear that I don’t think that banning books is a helpful process. Mostly because it is pretty arbitrary, if it were standardized and every book were held to the same criteria, every book would be banned for one reason or another.

    However, I think it is important to recognize that some parents object to the books their child is REQUIRED to read for school. Usually, that is what it is called: required reading. Choosing an alternate book isn’t always an option (speaking from experience). Isn’t requiring a book to be read just as problematic as banning a book? Either way it is removing the process of choosing a book from parents and children.

    (By the way, this original post was about E&P, which I have not read, so I am in no way implying any judgment on that particular book.)

    • Words for Worms

      Interesting point, Marctr, but I have to respectfully disagree with you. Required reading is part of school- you really can’t get around that. Virtually every classic I read in high school has at some point been challenged. If we removed everything that someone could theoretically take issue with, there wouldn’t be anything left to read. I don’t have all the answers, naturally, and any stance I take on the educational system will sound flippant as I’m not a parent. However, I don’t think banning books is the answer, and I don’t agree that the institution of “required reading” is in any way as problematic as the systematic banning of books.

      • marctr

        I agree, banning books isn’t the solution, like I said in the first paragraph. Especially done in a spirit of attacking books and other people who want to read them. Universally banning a book doesn’t make sense, but I also think universally requiring a book also doesn’t make sense. However, like you point out, required reading is a part of school, and even though school is required, one particular school is not required, so choosing a school and a program that works for your own (and just your own) child is a parent’s job. Just like talking to your kids about what they read in class is a parent’s job. Banning books (and you added the adjective “systematically”–that would be scary not to mention reminiscent of many of said banned books) is not a parent’s job, except perhaps in their own home if they feel the need.

        So while I do not support banning books, I also don’t defend required reading. There is no shortage of books, why limit students? Why can’t they choose?

        Here is something I KNOW you’ll agree with me on–my 6th grader has four books on his reading list this year. FOUR. For the entire YEAR. A 6th grader can and should read double, triple that!!! What especially gets me is my 4th grader also has four books on her list. Apparently you max out in fourth grade???

        • Words for Worms

          I feel like I’ve been hearing about more and more homeschooling lately- I know it’s not a solution everyone can actually implement, but it would solve that pesky required reading problem. It would be wonderful if curriculum could be tailored to each individual student/parent’s interest, wouldn’t it? And 4 books in 6th grade? I sadly shake my head. Sad, sad head shaking all over the place.

          • marctr

            When I was a teacher, “literature circles” were very fashionable and I did a lot of that. It gave the students choice to a certain extent but not so much that it made it unrealistic for a teacher to manage. And there are many other teaching strategies that would also foster choice–and in fact TEACH kids how to think and choose books for themselves. Banning and requiring both take that away from kids, either way they are told what to read. Like you say we can’t expect the school to tailor curriculum to each student and parent, but I think we’re sort of stuck in default mode, that the way to teach literature is everyone read the same book and write an essay. Getting more creative in the delivery would not only provide options for people with objections, but it exposes kids to more books. Instead of reading one novel in a certain theme or genre, a student can read one, hear about three more, and discuss and compare and even talk about the things people have objections to, why they might have objections, think about whether or not they have any merit, how that may or may not fit into each person’s personal life and belief system, see another point of view, and everyone comes away enriched. And lives happily ever after, haha.

            So I guess where I come out is banning books is not okay, but having objections to books is. I would hope that there could be more ways in schools, homes, and on the internet to have productive discussions about that. You have done a much better job of that than the Parent Action League.

  21. bybeebooks

    Since I heard this news, I’ve been going between heartbroken and enraged. I can’t say enough good things about Rainbow Rowell and Eleanor & Park. I can’t say enough bad things about the Parent Ass League. It would be so difficult for me to be a teacher in this district and remain silent. I’d explode.

  22. Naj

    this book is AMAZING. Anyone who reads this book can relate to at least something it talks about. This story talks about real situations that happen EVERYDAY in people’s lives that people do not take serious at all. Bullying, name calling, love and a bunch of other things. This book talks about how to handle and get through these problems. Everyone saying they aRE “disappointed” and all this other stuff is obviously looking waaaaaaaaaay too much about the little details like race, and curse words instead of what this book is really showing. It doesn’t matter how old you are, anyone can read this book. I could literary spend hours talking about how such an amazing book this is and why it should be read in schools and kept in library’s all over the world. You need to put yourself in the characters shoes to understand more about the story. It kills me that people are being to hard headed instead of trying to understand why this is such an amazing book to read and parents instead of trying to ban the book READ IT and maybe then you’ll understand a few things your child might be going through right now. NO BOOK SHOULD EVER BE BANNED THATS JUST CRAZY.

  23. suburbanprincessteacher

    That is so sad! Eleanor and Park is a great book. As soon as I finished it, I gave it to my 17 year old. He didn’t read it though. He was too busy reading Richard Dawkins. As you can see, I’m not too big censorship. p.s. He also told me he read “50 Shades of Grey”. “What did you think,” I asked. “It was ridiculous and really badly written.” Good job, son.

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