Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Ironic Cherry Reads...

...Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Two decades after I graduated high school, I ran into one of our class's popular girls.  She was well-liked, a cheerleader, and academically successful.  In our short conversation, she commented on how horrible high school was.

Dave Barry has facetiously said that when an adult of any age commits suicide, it is because he can't get out of his mind some dumb thing he did when he was a teenager.

The young adult book, Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers, was one of the choices on the 9th grade honors summer reading list at West Ashley High School this year.  Thanks to a single parent's protest, it was removed.  I happened upon it at my branch library, where free copies were made available and displayed during Banned Books Week.

And I read it.

I was astonished at just how good the book was.  Yes, parties with drugs and drinking.  Sex, including attempted rape.  Smut, as this horrified West Ashley parent called it.

But that is not the point of the book.

Teenagers, trying to grow up, facing pressure from peers and teachers, and oh, clueless parents, all while trying to excel:  at academics, at sports, at popularity, at love.  Given the incredible mistakes adults make in their lives, it is no surprise that teens will make big mistakes.  And suffer for them.

I identified with this story on so many levels.  As a former high school psychologist.  As a parent.  And yes, friends, as a former high school student.  Because the conflict was there, the longings and the hurt, the striving and the feelings of failure.  All those hormones don't just go into the drive for sex, although they do indeed go there.  The passion for wanting to be a part of what is going on, while never really knowing what is going on, or what it is you really want, who can forget that?  How many people do you know that honestly enjoyed those school years?

And don't forget those clueless parents.  Parents who are proud or disappointed, who ask the wrong questions and hear what they want to hear.  Parents who have somehow blocked the pain of high school society from their memories and have no idea what their kids are going through.

Parents like this helicopter mom at West Ashley.  Who reads along with her daughter's summer reading assignment, but just can't handle the material.  Who can't deal with the discomfort of the bad things that do happen in high school.  Who was so blown away by scenes that reflect the reality of drugs and sex that she wasn't able to see the fear and pain that floats under the surface, under the facade of confidence, throughout every school day.

Who saw to it that if she couldn't handle it, no one else would get the opportunity.

I thought it was interesting that she took the book away from her daughter, got it banned from the school, but finished it herself.  Proclaiming about its indecency all the way through, while having her moment of fame and power.  Almost as though she were still there, in high school.

Of course, there is no excuse for the actions of the principal.  Except that is exactly what the principal at the fictional high school would have done.  We will have no controversy in our schools.  We will cover over the problems with a poor paint job, censorship, and detentions.  We will not defend our teachers' professional decisions, because we are afraid of creating a controversy.

Meanwhile, our students are dealing, every day, with tough decisions about conformity and rejection.

The banning of this book is exactly what the writing of this book illustrates.

The alternative would be letting teens know that they are not alone, that adults have been there and will be there for them.  Opening the discussion about how it feels to be afraid of making the wrong choice, of being rejected, is the way to give our teens real options.  Banning the discussion is the way we perpetuate the tyranny of high school.

And by the way, the educator that put this title on the summer reading list had intended that it would pave the way for the reading and discussing of books like Lord of the Flies, also banned in its day.

Some Girls Are is a quick read, and a page turner (I don't blame that West Ashley mom for not wanting to put it down), and the characters are intense.  In a very real sense, they are alone on an island, with the grown-ups far away and unreachable.  I urge you to give this book a try, and then pass it on to your teens.  


  1. Excellent analysis. For 15 years I taught the graduate course that certified AP English teachers in SC. The failure to teach the depth of human experience, especially any work that deals honestly with sex, puts students at a disadvantage when they face the AP test, which uses sexual passages that too often put the students completely at discomfort and uncertainty.