An Elizabethtown Area School District review committee recently denied a parent’s request to remove the best-selling novel “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” from the district’s high school and middle school library.
Elizabethtown parent Tina Wilson filed a formal request to review and remove the coming of age novel April 13 arguing “there is very little of value in this book.”
The book by Pittsburgh-native Jesse Andrews was previously flagged because of its “use of multiple vulgarities, obscenities and content that is sexual in nature,” according to a response to Wilson’s request from Assistant Superintendent Karen Nell and the committee.
The book remains on the district’s flagged book list, which allows parents to opt their student out of accessing material that is deemed by the administration as more mature or obscene.
District spokesperson Troy Portser shared the committee’s decision with LNP | LancasterOnline Thursday, saying Wilson could appeal to Superintendent Michele Bailiet, and again to the school board if she is not satisfied with Bailiet’s response.
So far, such an appeal has not been filed, Portser said. And, the district doesn’t have any other ongoing challenges to books in its curriculum or libraries.
For the time being, however, community members like Judi Grove are satisfied with the committee’s decision not to pull the book from library shelves. Grove is the founder of Freedom Readers, an Elizabethtown-based group opposed to the indiscriminate banning of books like “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
“I believe that whoever read it or whoever was on the first committee feels that there was value to the book,” said Grove. “The vulgar conversation really had nothing to do with the purpose of the book. The purpose of the book was that kids know or readers know about dealing with the death of a peer and how that age group handled it, or how they were able to process it.”
The review committee for curriculum challenges that denied Wilson’s request is composed of educators including guidance counselors, librarians, principals and teachers. The committee was tasked with reading the entire book, including the “vulgar conversation” that had first been brought to the district’s attention at a November school board meeting.
A man who identified himself as Dan Matthews, but whose identity and association with the district cannot be confirmed, read a passage of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” describing oral sex at the November school board meeting. Several lines from that passage were highlighted as particularly objectionable in Wilson’s challenge request.
‘The freedom to read’
Conversation surrounding the book has been frequent in the community since the book was first mentioned in November.
And, on Tuesday, Elizabethtown-based Common Sense 2.0, hosted a community discussion of the book at a coffee shop at Elizabethtown Public Library.
The grassroots organization formed in 2021 with the mission statement of ensuring “school policies come from a place of inclusiveness and understanding.” It is the parent organization of Freedom Readers.
Approximately 30 people – including Andrews’ parents, Roye Werner and Reid Andrews – filled the coffee shop to share their thoughts on the book. The coffee shop created a special drink – “Me and Earl Grey” – in honor of the event.
Werner and Andrews drove from their hometown in Pittsburgh to show their support for the group. The couple had learned of the challenge to their son’s book within the Elizabethtown Area School District and the Freedom Readers through an article published by LNP | LancasterOnline.
Werner, a retired librarian, said she has a Google alert to notify her when something comes out about her son’s book. While she and her husband had only recently learned of the Freedom Readers, they both expressed their appreciation for their group’s defense of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
“I’m extremely in favor of the Freedom Readers,” Werner said. “We are very much in favor of the freedom to read in general.”
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” landed on the American Library Association’s list of the top 10 most challenged books in 2021. Werner said the challenge to the book in the Elizabethtown Area School District is the only one she knows of aimed solely at her son’s book. Other challenges lumped the book into a list of dozens or sometimes hundreds of other books, she said.
“If a young person wants to read something, go at it,” Reid Andrews said. “The idea of barring them from reading is problematic. We should be happy for any book they want to read.”
Their sentiments weren’t vastly different from those of his son, who addressed a letter to the school board and shared it on his Twitter account @_jesse_andrews_ in April.
i wrote a letter to the elizabethtown (pa) school district, who is considering a request to remove my book pic.twitter.com/CPH1dwttzc— jesse andrews (@_jesse_andrews_) April 28, 2022
“Every ban creates one less opportunity for a child to find a book that speaks to them and makes them fall in love with reading,” Jesse Andrews wrote. “Then again, every ban creates one more book that kids become way, way more interested in getting their hands on. So maybe all of this is moot.”
Werner said her son likely won’t be able to make the trek to Lancaster County quite as easily as they did because he lives in California and is expecting a new child soon.
Most of the attendees Tuesday who had read the book were in favor of keeping it on the shelves, even if they didn’t particularly like the content.
“My favorite takeaway was a woman who said that she didn't enjoy the book,” said Common Sense 2.0 School Board Committee Chair Kristy Moore. “She didn't enjoy the language in it. But she also realized that the book was not written for her. … So, a lot of us came to this conclusion that it's OK to not enjoy a book and for it to still be a valuable part of a library.”
Moore said the discussion, led by two former educators, had been respectful and productive. The hope is that the group doesn’t have to organize a meeting to support a challenged book again anytime soon though, Moore added.
“We said at the end that we hope we don’t have to meet for this reason again,” Moore said. “But part of what the mission of the Freedom Readers is for us to be ready.”