If you haven’t heard of the Hamilton East Public Library Board I wouldn’t be surprised. And, no, it’s not the latest work of young adult fiction that’s been sadly overlooked by a reading public in search of the next Harry Potter.
It’s the board that determines library policy for Hamilton East, somewhere in Indianapolis (don’t ask me). And they’re in a culture-war car crash over ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green. It would be absurd, in truth, if it weren’t so fundamentally important.
Mr. Green recently “discovered” (more on that later, in a possibly dastardly plot-twist) on social media that his book had been moved from the youth-section under a new policy from the board which requires sexually explicit youth literature to be hosted in the adult section.
Simply, the board is reflecting the red-hot culture war in the US that’s got parents clutching their pearls over what content their children can and should be exposed to – whether on race, sex, gender. And the other side telling these pearl clutchers that they’re homophobic, transphobic racists.
This is all taking place in classrooms, in libraries, basically anywhere politicians can stir up a fury (they’d love to stir one up over sexually explicit television programming, but they can’t get their grubby little political hands on that one). Because the next presential election is (only my opinion here) going to be fought largely on cultural values, such as (you guessed it) race, sex, gender.
And why? Because with inflation falling, the economy in decent shape, COVID in the rear-view mirror (remember COVID-19 anyone?), and two decrepit wizards dueling for the presidency then there’s a need for some red-meat to rev up the tiresomely apathetic US voter.
Anyway, back in Indiana Mr. Green was mad as hell, calling this “third rate vice-signaling” (which, to be honest, doesn’t entirely make sense) and “political theater of the lowest and most embarrassing order” which leaves no doubt at all about what he thinks.
So, now everyone’s up in arms and the board decides that ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ isn’t sexually explicit after all (it does have one tasteful scene where the existence of sex is acknowledged, but not examined in any kind of detail). The forced exodus of the book to the adult bookshelves was, the board said, “an error” by the library director and her staff.
The implication from the board was that the library staff were deliberately sabotaging the policy by going above and beyond any reasonable expectation. As Daniel Lee put it cleverly in a recent article, “It wouldn’t be the first time that professional staff reacted to unpopular policies by swamping their bosses with a tidal wave of what the bosses thought they wanted.”
In fact, having reviewed only about a quarter of the youth-section some 1,300 books had been force-marched over to the adult stacks. I can only imagine a librarian excitedly holding up a copy of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and the rest of the library staff giggling over their plan to showcase it as an embarrassment for the board (I also have to wonder how much time Mr. Green spends on social media checking out where his books are kept in libraries around the US, or whether “a little birdie” had a word in his ear).
We then have the spectacle of large parts of the youth-section of the library being empty of books – so are these books are in fact replete with sex and racial issues, stories of gays and trans people? Which is totally fodder for the “think of the children” crowd.
Of course, with all this hysteria, the board voted to pause enforcement of the policy. So, inevitably we can look forward to more absurd chapters to come. If you’re a writer looking for a “plucked from the headlines” story, well… look no further. Maybe throw in some sex-obsessed teenagers just for the hell of it.
Absurdity aside, this is actually incredibly important. It's important because as writers we need to write whatever the fuck we want, even if the audience are young adults.
It’s important for parents to know what their kids are reading (maybe go ask them?) and if they don’t like it they should work that through as a family.
It’s important for voters to go out and vote on policies that make this country better, instead of voting on a distaste and distrust of “the other side.”
Go on, write what whatever the fuck you want. Just make it good.