February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ Returned to New Mexico High School Classrooms

Neil Gaiman‘s bestselling urban fantasy novel Neverwhere has been restored to the curriculum at New Mexico’s Alamogordo High School (AHS), ending a temporary suspension due to a parental challenge, the district superintendent’s office has confirmed. According to the school’s media specialist, the book remained available to students in the library, although it had been pulled from English classes for several weeks until a review committee found it to be acceptable for classroom study.

“We have decided to continue to use Neverwhere as a supplemental text or material for Alamogordo High School,” district spokesman Doyle Styling tells School Library Journal.  “It did go through a review process and it was found to be educationally suitable, balanced, and age-appropriate for high school students.”

“I agree with that totally,” says librarian Vicki Bertolino. “I’m very pleased that the school district finally did the right thing. It’s a worthwhile book.”

The novel, which had been a part of the AHS English department’s curriculum for nearly 10 years, was suspended from classrooms in early October after a mother complained to the school board about what she characterized as the book’s “sexual innuendos” and “harsh” language—occurring on a single page of the 400-page book.  The district then created a review committee and opened a public comment period, during which they accepted comments from anyone around the world via email.

Both preceding and during the district’s comment period, community members—including Bertolino; AHS English teacher Pam Thorp, who assigned the book to her students; AHS English and film teacher Kathy Wallis; and Ami Jones, youth services librarian at the Alamogordo Public Library—wrote in support of the book’s wide appeal, literary merit, and appropriateness for teens.

News of the book’s challenge also attracted the attention of (and passionate support from) reading freedom advocates, resulting in a Change.org online petition; a call to action from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; a call to action from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC); a letter from the NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project’s coordinator, Acacia O’Connor; and responses from the author himself, who tweeted about the issue and reblogged comments posted on SLJ.com by Wallis.

Adds Bertolino about the offense taken with the book, “it was only that one small little part and they took it out of context. Parents have the right to their opinion but the mother had a choice. Everybody has a choice to read and see what they want. There’s a lot of stuff in this library that I can’t stand but I’m not going to ban it because I don’t like it.”

Notably, the principal of AHS, Darian Jaramillo, supported Bertolino’s decision last month to continue to keep the book available in the high school’s library—even as it was pulled from the English curriculum—until the review committee could be formed and make its final ruling. She visited the library “a week ago and asked about the book, and said that I should have it on the shelf,” Bertolino tells SLJ.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

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

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