April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ Banned at New Mexico High School

Neil Gaiman‘s dark urban fantasy novel Neverwhere has been removed from both the school library and the required reading list at Alamogordo (NM) High School this week following the complaint of one parent, who objected to its sexual innuendos and “harsh” language, according to a report by New Mexico’s local KRQE news station.

The mother said she was shocked that her daughter was asked to read the book, and her complaints last week to the school board led to its removal, KRQE reported. According to KRQE, this is the first complaint that Alamogordo school officials have gotten about the book since it was added to the school’s curriculum in 2004.

After hearing news of the ban, author Gaiman asked on Twitter: “Is anyone fighting back?”

Gaiman originally wrote Neverwhere as a BBC TV series, which aired in 1996, and adapted it the following year into a novel. It was recently broadcast as a radio play for the BBC’s Radio 4.

In its original review of the book, Library Journal said, “Gaiman’s gift for mixing the absurd with the frightful give this novel the feeling of a bedtime story with adult sophistication. Readers will find themselves as unable to escape this tale as the characters themselves. Highly recommended.”

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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  1. Elizabeth Moon says:

    It always amazes and angers me that one parent can get a book banned that has been in the library for years, being read without a problem, that other parents aren’t bothered by…why does that one person have so much power? Granted, I read Neverwhere first as an adult–but had I read it in high school, it would not have done me any harm. (I read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet in high school–on my own, not an assignment–and that one was…far more shocking than Neverwhere.)

    Libraries should be protected from these book ban bigots.

    • I would like everyone to know that the teachers in the English Dept at Alamogordo HS do not agree with the knee jerk reaction of pulling Neverwhere from the Dept. library. It has been successful as a supplemental novel and since our goal is to get students engaged and encourage their thinking, this novel is a keeper — the students love it. The passage the parent is referring to is not graphic, but it is an adult type situation…a very briefly visited one.

      I am sorry our school administrators did not stand up and support the material the way we all would have expected them to do. Also, as much as we hate to expose anyone for not speaking the truth, this parent had publicly stated that the school was “forcing” her student to read the novel (not true), and she also stated that the school never offered her daughter an alternate selection when she objected to Neverwhere. This statement is one that we will vehemently deny. The mother is stating inaccurate comments publicly. I work with the teacher in question – a very capable and intelligent young woman that is an asset to the English Dept.- and she immediately provided an alternate novel to the student as soon as the mother made the first known objection to Gaiman’s novel.

      We simply cannot stand for banning a book for hundreds of students this year and in the years to come because a single parent objected over one brief passage on ONE page. Making inaccurate comments about the teacher (whom the parent chose not to even meet, but publicly disrespected her and questioned her credentials in spite of that), saying we forced anyone to read a text she objected to, or stating that no alternative assignment was offered is absolutely false. Teachers are sensitive to the needs of their students.

      Our students have enjoyed Gaiman’s novel for almost ten years, and it saddens us to think that our future students will not have the same opportunity.

      The teachers in the English Dept are opposed to any form of censorship. This situation is being handled incorrectly, it makes our school and our town appear as if we are fine with suspending the use of a book that is used by middle and high schools across the country and around the globe. We are not fine with it, and we want people to know that.

      • Bravo. *claps* Well said. Thank you for speaking out publicly about this.

        • Karyn M. Peterson Karyn M. Peterson says:

          Yes, bravo! Thank you so much for providing us with additional details and for your efforts to support the free access to good books. I tried to reach the principal for comment, but I was told that all calls regarding book selection (most likely due to the publicity surrounding the decision) are now being routed to the district representative. They have not yet returned my call. Here’s hoping!

      • MaryEllen says:

        Well said!! I hope your administrators listen to you and reverse this stupid decision. Clearly this parent is engaging in some sort of vendetta and a clear message needs to be sent that publicly lying about the teacher and the policies will not be tolerated.

      • Please tell us who at the school we can call to urge them that this was a dumb decision playing to the bigots of the area, and to immediately put the book back on the list? I would love to promote this agenda, like this insane parent promoted her censorship agenda. Thank goodness for novels like Beloved, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d love names and numbers and email addresses. I have dozens of people willing to do the same all over the country. The Bible is less appropriate reading than this book. I bet this parent let’s their kids read that one…

      • Thank you, Kathy! I was wondering if there’s any way that those of us outside the community can constructively communicate with your school’s administration about this. (I suspect that simply calling and criticizing from across the country is not the most positive way to effect change here.)

        Meanwhile, I encourage the teachers and parents in your community to pass around the link to All Hallow’s Read- http://www.allhallowsread.com/
        If you haven’t already seen it (chance are, you have), it’s a fun way to promote reading, and it’s just a little naughty (I know that the conservative school I attended was very cautious about doing much with Halloween!), so it might be a fun thing to do!

      • I would love to find out as well, any way to contact the school and help in fighting back! No one parent should have this kind of power, and especially to do something as ridiculous as to ban a book!! I am just horrified to learn of this, and not only because I love Gaiman’s novels! Any instance of book banning or taking away any reading from anyone is a crime as far as I’m concerned! I hope there is a way that we could take on an email or phone campaign, I know many who would be willing to write out a quick note or would be happy to make that phone call! I wouldn’t want such a reading opportunity taken away from my children, and I don’t want it taken away from other children as well. It’s really too bad that this parent has resorted to lying, disrespect, and being close-minded about literature. I hope that at the very least, it sparks more interest in her child’s mind about reading such amazing books! :) If there is anything we can do, please don’t hesitate to say something!

    • My parents would have raised hell.

    • Bev Meier says:

      To ban something from a curriculum is different than banning it from a library.

  2. If the parent is, indeed, blatantly lying about being offered an alternative book and that they forced her to read the adult book, then that parent is an unfit parent and should be investigated for that. Lying is immoral, and lying in a way that damages someone else’s reputation is extremely immoral, and why is this mother modeling that for her daughter?

  3. Dina Pearlman says:

    Well, in my experience – as a retired teacher – telling a kid that they CAN’T do some or read something is a guarantee that they will immediately go do so. Therefore, I hope the local library has plenty of copies of Neverwhere on hand and is ready for the rush. Go for it kids.

    • Local YS librarian here – we did not have any copies in our collection, although we do have many other Neil Gaiman works. Two copies of Neverwhere are on order, and there is already a list of holds on the title. Nobody had asked for it for years, so this was indeed good publicity for Gaiman!

      It is also important to note that the book was NEVER taken from either high school library. I do know the one copy at our smaller HS is unavailable right now, because this afternoon I was chatting with the person who has it checked out. She was very disappointed when she got to the page in question and almost missed it, it was so brief:)

      • Carrie Ann says:

        I’d be more than happy to donate a copy if that would help the cause…I’ll even send my own (I have two…it’s one of my favorite books).

        • Thanks, but I think two will be good – like many, we have space constraints. It arrived yesterday, and I immediately catalogued it, so it will be going out soon. I also made copies of pg. 76, so if anyone just wants to read the ‘naughty’ parts…that’s pretty much it. :)

  4. Marie Rossi says:

    Even though the article states that the book was banned from the school library also, there is no mention of the role the librarian played in this. As a high school librarian, it is my job to fight censorship on all levels and to work with those who feel a book should be removed from the library. No one is ever forced to read a library book. Furthermore, every school district should have a library collection policy that speaks to book selection as well as the request to remove a book. Thankfully, the district I work in has one and the process clearly states the first person a concerned parent must speak to is the school librarian! (We are trained in dealing with this!). We have a form the parent fills out, stating whether they have read the book in its entirety and why they want it removed. It then goes to a committee of representatives including parents, students, teachers, librarians and administrators. The decision of the committee cannot be overruled by anyone. That is true democracy! In my 24 years in the district, we have only faced this one time and the committee ruled that the book remain on the shelves! I am happy to share more about this if anyone is interested. The American Library Association is also an invaluable resource when dealing with censorship issues.

    • She was not aware of most of this until NPR called asking her for a quote! I would hope she will be included on the review panel. It is important to note that the books are still in her collection, have never been removed, and as of this afternoon when I last heard from her, no one has told her to do so.

  5. Oh, America. I love you, but when are you going to stop letting raving bigots make life unpleasant for everyone else inside your country. Just ignore them. You might want to think about including “possession of a backbone” on the list of favourable attributes when you’re recruiting school administrators and the like, too.

  6. The administrators are catching a lot of flack at the moment for ‘caving’, but please keep in mind they are just reviewing the book – part of the process many schools have in place when a book is challenged. They have to balance rights and concerns of parents with the needs of students and educational merit. The book has not at any time been removed from the school library. Let the process run its course, and THEN react accordingly:) News media is making it seem like one teeny passage reflects the entire book, when it is really just an illustration of people behaving badly when they think no one is watching, and those characters are never seen again. I have high hopes that the reviewers will quickly see that and choose to keep the book in the curriculum as well.

  7. Is there anywhere we can send copies of Neverwhere in Alamogordo where they can be put to good use??

  8. Mr. Martin says:

    According to the Alamagordo HS website:

    Review Committee Accepting Comments for Neverwhere

    Recently the District received complaints concerning the use of the book Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, as supplemental instructional material. Pursuant to Board Policy, this material was temporarily removed pending a review. A district committee will be convened to review the book using criteria established by Board Policy. Public Comments concerning this literary work can be submitted for consideration, in written form, no greater than 300 words, by e-mail to: review@aps4kids.org. Comments will be accepted until 4:00 p.m. on October 25, 2013.


    The announcement says “complaints” but it seems to me that there was only one complaint.

  9. LOL, all this parent has done is insure that her daughter, as well as every other self-respecting teen at that school, will now seek out and read this banned book WITHOUT critical guidance. You can’t make anything more enticing to a teenager than by forbidding it. And Neil Gaiman doesn’t have to worry. It turned out well for J.K. Rowling (can you say Harry Potter?), and it’ll work out well for him. Thanks, mom!

  10. I remember my mom being concerned that I was too young to read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN–not that we were reading it in school, but it was available at the library–and as I recall, it had one section that probably would raise alarms for the mom in this story. But guess what? I survived! And went on to enjoy many, many books over the years, which is, of course, the whole idea behind reading…