Today is Gayle Forman’s 52nd birthday! Forman is the bestselling young adult author of 11 novels and several anthology contributions. She is best known for her award winning book, If I Stay.
Forman was born on June 5, 1970 in Los Angeles, California. Though she says she’s been a writer since she could form her letters, she began her formal writing career as a journalist for Seventeen magazine, then moved on to freelancing for several other major magazine titles. She began writing novels when she was 34, and published the award winning If I Stay in 2009. The book catapulted her into the spotlight, earning a spot on the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List, and winning the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) award in 2009 and the Indies Choice Book Award in 2010. If I Stay went on to be made into a movie in 2014, starring Chloë Grace Moretz. Forman has gone on to write several more YA books that deal with complex and mature themes, such as sex, suicide, and death of a family member. Ultimately, Forman’s stories weave together the often painful process of finding out who you are and learning how to be that person, even as important relationships come in and out of your life.
As is common with young adult books that deal with mature themes, not everyone appreciates these novels being labeled as YA. In 2015, parents of a sixth grader at Rosemount Middle School in Minnesota, challenged the presence of the 2013 novel Just One Day in the district’s libraries. The novel tells the story of Allyson, a girl who travels to Europe in the summer after high school graduation. There she meets an actor named Willem, and the first half of the book details the one day affair they have together in Paris. The novel then follows Allyson, as she processes the consequences of that one day, and as she goes off to her first year of college. The parents claimed the book included a “graphic sex scene, underage drinking, and date rape” and stated that it was inappropriate for middle and high schoolers. They also rejected the offer that the library restrict the book from just their daughter. In their complaint, the parents wrote:
“As a whole this book’s content is not appropriate for middle school, or we believe, even high school students. It covers adult themes … that most students have not been exposed to and should not be provided by the school. It is a novel that has no life lesson to be learned.”
The district followed policy, forming a committee of teachers, students, and parents to formally decide whether or not to retain the book. In a 7-4 vote, the committee voted to keep the book on the districts’ libraries shelves.
Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide what their child should or shouldn’t read. However, it is only for their child. They don’t have the right or option to dictate what other students in the district should read. Additionally, while the novel does include a sex scene, which a parent may consider inappropriate for some middle school students, it is one short part of the book (as in, only a couple of pages), and should not detract from the value of the book as a whole. One of the students, a high school senior, who participated in the committee agreed, saying that she didn’t fixate on the sex, drugs, or language present in the book, but on the main character’s journey throughout the story. “I see it as a learning experience…I look at it as finding yourself and seeing yourself in a different way.” So clearly, there is a life lesson to be learned here, especially in the tumultuous teenage years. I also think that learning to view a book as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts, teaches teens to do the same with their classmates. We can’t judge others based on a snippet of their day or one mistake. Everyone is a sum of good and bad choices, and it is important, especially in our society of “cancel culture”, to understand that one interaction with a person is not enough to truly know someone.
If readers walk away from Forman’s novels with a better understanding of who they are, as well as who others might be, I think they are well worth reading indeed.
Happy Birthday, Gayle Forman!
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.