Spotlight on Censorship: ‘Looking for Alaska’

ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books, Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, General Interest, National Library Week

By: Ellie Diaz

Some students were restricted from exploring “the Great Perhaps.” John Green’s Looking for Alaska ranked No. 6 on the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016.

Looking for Alaska is told from the perspective of Miles, a teenager who leaves his boring high school to attend a co-ed boarding school and embark on a new adventure, one that is alluded to from the famous last words of authors. At Culver Creek Boarding School, he joins an eccentric friend circle, which includes Alaska, a rebellious, poetic prankster who will alter his life.

The Printz award-winning novel was challenged for a sexually explicit scene that “may lead a student to sexual experimentation.” The scene involves oral sex between two teenagers, which is depicted as awkward as the pair is unsure what to do.

When the Marion County (Kentucky) High School considered removing the book from the library and senior English curriculum, the community fiercely advocated to keep it in the classrooms. Alumni students wrote to the local newspaper, the local public librarian created a display with all of Green’s books, and educators made anti-censorship T-shirts and buttons. Even the author himself got involved, posting on Facebook that he’s grateful to high school staff and students who supported the book and understand the “importance of reading books critically and thoughtfully as a whole, rather than focusing on individual scenes ripped from their context.

The author asked his fans to rally and send letters of support to the teacher who wanted to use Looking for Alaska in the classroom, Emily Veatch. Veatch had been publicly attacked by some community members, with at least one person demanding she be fired. At the school district review committee meeting, Veatch said she received more than 500 encouraging emails, with half of them written by teenagers who had read the novel.

“To claim that our students are not mature enough to discuss grief, forgiveness, and their place in the world is doing them a disservice,” Veatch said in a written statement to the committee. “ … I did not choose Looking for Alaska because I wished to expose my students to inappropriate material. I chose an award winning novel that I knew would engage and inspire my students.”

The book was retained at Marion County High School, and many readers rejoiced.

Lebanon community members support Looking for Alaska in a Kentucky high school.Looking for Alaska isn’t a stranger to ALA’s Top Ten list. The YA novel made the list in 2012, 2013 and 2015, with challenge reasonings listed as “offensive language,” “drugs/alcohol/smoking” and “unsuited to age group.”

Last year, Green made a video about it being the top challenged book of 2015, explaining that teenagers are thoughtful readers and will not be pressured into sexual situations just by reading the novel. 

“If you have a worldview that can be undone with a novel,” said Green,” let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.”

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