Happy Birthday Simone Elkeles
Today is bestselling author Simone Elkeles’ 52nd birthday. To date, she has penned 11 novels, including the award winning young adult Perfect Chemistry series. She is also a dog lover, former hockey and Girl Scout mom, and Chicago native living in Florida.
Elkeles was born in Chicago on April 24, 1970. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois, and then her graduate degree in Industrial Relations from Loyola University-Chicago. She went on to work in a manufacturing company, until her first novel, How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, was published in 2006. She currently lives in Florida with her family.
YA novels are a frequent victim of attempted book challenges. The young adult years are a time fraught with struggles and difficult issues: sexuality, gender identity, drugs and alcohol, religious questions, bullying. The list goes on, as this time period is when pre-teens and teens are beginning to discover who they are and what they want to do in life. Many of these issues present themselves in Elkeles’ trilogy, Perfect Chemistry. The first novel, Perfect Chemistry, follows main characters Brittany and Alex, two teens who come from completely opposite lives. Brittany is the “perfect” cheerleader, daughter, and friend. Alex is the bad boy, a gang member from the wrong side of town. On their first day of chemistry class, the two are paired up as lab partners. As the two get to know one another, they start to see one another under the surface, where they discover that each other’s lives may not be as they seem. Perfect Chemistry is a YA romance that also explores issues like sex, gang violence, and drugs and alcohol.
In 2017, Perfect Chemistry faced a book challenge at Academy School District 20’s Challenger Middle School Library in Colorado Springs. A mother of a 6th grade student found the book amongst her child’s things and, after reading the book, objected to its place at a middle school library due to profanity, alcohol use, gangs and gun violence, and sexual situations. The book was labeled YA and recommended for more mature readers, typically age 14 or older. However, the parent filed a formal complaint with the school, stating that “no middle school student should be exposed to this book no matter how mature they are.”
The book followed the challenge policy in place at the school: a committee (parents, teachers, the librarian, and an administrator) review of the book, an appeal to the superintendent’s office, and an appeal to the school board. At each step the book was retained, until the filing parent made an appeal to the school board. The superintendent then reversed their decision, and Perfect Chemistry, along with the other two books in the series, was pulled from the shelves.
(You can read Intellectual Freedom Blog’s interview with Challenge Middle School librarian, Gina Schaarschmidt, about her experience with this challenge, here.)
Librarians are told one of the best ways to fight against challenges such as this one is to have a clear selection policy and challenge policy in place. Challenger Middle School had both of these. The librarian, along with a review committee, was able to explain both why the book was originally selected for the library and why it was retained over the years. The challenge policy was followed through to the end. Though the process, in the end, was circumvented and resulted in the books’ removal, it is important that censorship was fought at every step. It reminds us that we may not succeed in combating every single challenge. However, even one victory is a step towards intellectual freedom. Perhaps the victory here was the widespread community support and the lessons learned to support librarians in the case of future challenges. Elkeles, after the community appeal was rejected, tweeted out her support of the efforts taken to retain Perfect Chemistry.
It must be frustrating for authors when their work is cited as inappropriate or unacceptable for the intended audience. Luckily for us, Elkeles hasn’t let that stop her. She continues to write poignant and relevant novels for teen readers.
Happy Birthday, Simone Elkeles!
Rebecca holds an MLIS from the University of North Texas and is a former teacher and school library consultant. Though not currently working in a library, she continues to fight against censorship and advocate for intellectual freedom rights, especially for children’s literature. When she’s not wrangling her three children, Rebecca enjoys reading, running, writing, and roaming the world.