A district official in the Mesa County Valley School District, which includes approximately 22,000 students in Colorado, gave an order this week to remove the novel Thirteen Reasons Why from circulation in all schools after a string of teenage suicides. The 2007 book, which was the basis for the popular but controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, has been a starting point for discussions about suicides since its release. Whether those discussions based on that source material are good or not appears to be the main question when it comes to both the show and the book, which center around a high schooler that commits suicide — but not before sending tapes explaining her decision to people that affected her decision to commit the act.
Leigh Grasso, the curriculum director of Mesa County Valley, commented on the decision to ban the book from students even though it has been out for a decade at this point. As The Hollywood Reporter reports, Grasso explained the call by saying,
“It would be hard for anybody who has dealt with suicide to not have a heightened awareness of things, to perhaps be a little more cautious about things.”
After outrage from school librarians that the decision amounts to censorship and input from school counselors about the actual subject matter and depictions in the book, the material was un-banned and allowed back into circulation. It turns out that Grasso never actually read the book or watched the show, and it appears that the decision was made due to a knee jerk reaction about the potential danger the book could cause for already fragile students. She explained,
“I think we were just being cautious until we had the opportunity to look at the book and see how closely related to the movie it was.”
While none of the recent suicides in the area were tied directly to the book or show, this choice is simply a more severe version of other schools and districts sending out letters to parents warning of the content in the Netflix show and offering suggestions of how to talk to kids about the subject matter. One librarian involved in the Mesa County Valley situation expanded on the censorship concerns, saying that there is a process in place to formally review any book with sensitive material and that they “believe it is our duty to follow that process, because censorship is a slippery slope.” Another said that “once we start pulling and censoring books for all students as a reactive measure there is no line to which we follow.”
Strong opinions from librarians and counselors aside, this situation is an example of the need for educators and parents alike to have reliable guidelines and take sensible steps to discuss issues when it comes to sensitive subject matter in youth literature and television shows. Netflix has confirmed a second season of the show, and the showrunners have steadfastly defended their creative decisions so this might not be the end of controversial conversations when it comes to this source material.
(Via The Hollywood Reporter)