Part love story, part historical exploration of a small town in 1930s Texas, the YA novel Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez was originally banned in two middles schools after a now viral moment in which a parent angrily quoted from a passage that references anal sex. To be fair, the book doesn’t shy away from honest depicitions of both consensual and nonconsensual sex, although the parent did seem hyper-focused on a single scene in which a group of white boys objectify the Mexican American main character, to the detriment of her own argument; as others have deftly pointed out, the scene functions more as a denounciation of objectification than as an endorsement of anal sex.
As funny as the clip is, however, it’s a waste of time to focus too much of our attention on the parent; she does, after all, have the right to express herself in front of elected officials. The majority of our anger should instead be directed towards the school board, which, inspired by many other school boards across the country, opted to remove the book prior to a “formal investigation.” In short, they caved to the request of a single individual and pulled the book from library shelves without any input from the broader community, in violation of their own pre-existing guidelines.
It’s not clear how other parents felt, as they weren’t asked. But like the vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions, they probably wouldn’t have supported the removal of any books, let alone Out of Darkness. When asked what she would like to tell these parents, the author of the novel, Ashley Hope Pérez, had the following to say:
“I…want them to understand that what is happening is that teachers’ and librarians’ and schools’ resources are being pulled away from teaching students and being sucked into these manufactured controversies.”
“Manufactured controversies” is right. Out of Darkness calls for us to confront the inequalities that form the basis of our political system; the subsequent removal of the book from school libraries calls for us to confront the fact that these controversies, legitimized in almost all occasions by otherwise ineffectual school boards, mask the continued gutting of public education.
Accolades & Awards
- Booklist’s 50 Best YA Books of All Time, Winner, 2017
- Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award, 2016
- Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, Winner, 2016
- Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2016
- YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, Winner, 2016
- Writers’ League of Texas Discovery Prize, Winner, 2016
- Lincoln Award: Illinois Teen Readers’ Choice Master List, Long-listed, 2017
- Virginia Readers’ Choice Award Reading List Selection, Long-listed, 2017
- Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee, Nominated, 2016
- Michael L. Printz Honor Book, Commended, 2016
- Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Finalist, Short-listed, 2015
“Elegant prose and gently escalating action will leave readers gasping for breath at the tragic climax and moving conclusion.”―starred, Booklist
“This book presents a range of human nature, from kindness and love to acts of racial and sexual violence. The work resonates with fear, hope, love, and the importance of memory….Set against the backdrop of an actual historical event, Pérez…gives voice to many long-omitted facets of U.S. history.”―starred, School Library Journal
“Pérez deftly weaves [an] unflinchingly intense narrative….A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism.”―starred, Kirkus Reviews
“[This] layered tale of color lines, love and struggle in an East Texas oil town is a pit-in-the-stomach family drama that goes down like it should, with pain and fascination, like a mix of sugary medicine and artisanal moonshine.”—The New York Times Book Review
- Washington County School District, Utah: Southern Utah school district bans two historically relevant books after parent’s complaint
- Lake Travis Independent School District, Texas: Lake Travis ISD pulls, will review book deemed sexually explicit; Banned Books Week has new meaning for Columbus author whose novel was challenged
- Yorktown Central School District, New York: Yorktown Schools: ‘No Determination’ Made on Challenged Books
- Delaware Valley School District, Pennsylvania: Book defenders and detractors take the floor as board grapples with lack of high school librarian
- Middlebury Community Schools, Indiana: Illicit young adult books in Middlebury school library now require parental consent
- Orange County School District, North Carolina: Orange County School Board Unanimously Keeps Challenged Books in Libraries
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
Watch Pérez’s video response posted on her website with over 50,000 views.
Michael Kirby is an Assistant Professor/Reader Services Librarian at Kingsborough Community College. He received his MLS from Queens College, the City University of New York and serves as the 2021-2022 Publications and Communications Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table.