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At a Monday meeting, the Oconee County Library Advisory Board heard public comment over requests to reconsider four books’ classifications and approved the committees’ recommendations to retain the existing classifications.
A subcommittee called Book Action Committee recommended to not reclassify four books: “Different Kinds of Fruit” by Kyle Lukoff, “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, “Man O’ War” by Cory McCarthy and “Tomboy” by Liz Price.
Inclusive Recovery Athens Executive Director and President of Athens Pride and Queer Collective Danielle Bonanno said the library had a responsibility to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Every person, irrespective of their past or path, should have the freedom to learn in an environment that not only ensures their safety, but also celebrates and reflects their diverse heritage and life perspectives through the books they read,” Bonanno said.
Suzannah Heimel, who last year submitted a request to reclassify “Flamer” by Mike Curato that was moved from the Young Adult to Adult section, asked if the board would verify speakers were residents of the county and said anyone who’s looked into the issue knew it wasn’t a book ban. She explained that the issue was about the appropriate placement of books.
“I’m not talking about LGBTQ,” she said. “I’m talking about sex and profane language and inappropriate pictures and graphics.”
Julie Mauck also claimed that the requests weren’t about challenging LGBTQ content.
“We’re debating sexually explicit material, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual, does not matter,” she said. “It’s about adult language, themes and sexual content being kept for adults or children whose parents think they should access it.”
However, most books requested for reconsideration since July 2023 have had LGBTQ+ characters and themes.
Former Watkinsville City Council member Dan Matthews said the books shouldn’t be moved. The books that have been challenged, he said, have also been placed inside a Little Free Library near his residence on Katie Lane in Watkinsville.
Thea Canby—a trans woman, veteran and teacher outside of the county—said she found a safe haven in the library.
“These stories that we’re talking about aren’t telling them who to be; these stories tell them that it’s OK for them to be who they are,” Canby said. “Stories show us that it’s going to be OK, that we’ll be OK because we’re not alone, and queer kids feel alone enough without these attacks on their book[s].”
Stephen Aleshire, who submitted the request for reclassification of “Different Kinds of Fruit,” said it was based in behavioral and psychological science, 40 years of medical practice and an upbringing from a child psychologist.
“These books have…forced children under the ages of puberty to confront and incorporate developmental tasks for which they are not ready physically, developmentally or psychologically,” he said. “The adults advocating for these seem to be forcing children to confront images and concepts that are not appropriate for their age.”
Andrea Wellnitz listed awards library staff have won and said she’s frustrated a small group of people in the county wanted to make their job harder.
Victoria Cruz submitted the request to reclassify “Man O’ War” and said it was inappropriate for young adults because it dealt with aspects of “gender confusion” and undermined the role of parents.
Gregg Hagedorn noted that when he was in high school in Ohio, adults banned Henry Miller’s “The Tropic of Cancer,” which made students want to read the book.
Rebecca Billings asked why her reconsideration form wasn’t on the list. Athens Regional Library System Executive Director Valerie Bell said the entire region can only accept five challenges per quarter and will review it next quarter.
Billings said she felt that in today’s society, the line has been blurred between content appropriate for adults and content for minors. She said she was disappointed in the library board.
Rue Haight, whose mother is a young adult librarian, said the book “Tomboy” helps children who are feeling disrespected by their peers and are searching for acceptance.
“I wish more than anything that I had the opportunity to read this when I was growing up instead of as an adult,” Haight said. “I would’ve been able to see that I wasn’t completely alone.”
Chair of the Library Board Mark Campbell said the reconsideration process starts with a request before a review packet is created by the professional Reconsideration Review Committee, which has at least one person with a master’s of library science information degree.
The packet includes each book’s intended audience, merits, reviews and a recommendation about whether the book should be retained as classified, reclassified or removed. Then, the Book Action Committee uses the request, packet and recommendation to make their own recommendation after having read and discussed each book.
“The final decision for Oconee County and Oconee County only is made by this board,” Campbell said.
Aleshire requested “Different Kinds of Fruit” to be reclassified from the Juvenile to Adult section of the library and cited discussion of sex throughout.
According to the packet, “Different Kinds of Fruit” follows a fifth grader who makes a friend that identifies as non-binary at school, learns her father is trans and gave birth to her and navigates her attraction to her friend while dealing with injustices at school. The review committee found no discussions or descriptions of sex and no coarse language that would make it “unsuitable” for any age group.
Laura King requested reclassification of “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” from the Young Adult to Adult section for discussions of sex, underage drinking, profanity and pedophilia among other things.
According to the review committee, the book is about a 17-year-old girl whose girlfriend keeps breaking up with her. The protagonist ultimately finds the strength to end the relationship and focus on being a good person. The review committee found that although the book’s main character is a lesbian, the themes of difficult and harmful romantic relationships appeal to a majority of teens, and the book represents an LGBTQ+ teen dealing with normal teen issues.
“Man O’ War” was requested to be reclassified from the Young Adult to adult section due to gender re-defining terms, parents depicted badly, underaged and “semi-graphic female/female sex” and underaged drinking.
“Man O’ War” follows an Arab American trans teen in a rural Midwestern town that comes out as gay in high school and trans in college. The main character navigates therapy, surgery and falling in love. The Reconsideration Review Committee packet said the book had a clear content advisory, and its main characters, setting and themes are relevant to coming-of-age readers.
Joyce Reifsteck requested “Tomboy” by Liz Price be reclassified from the Young Adult to Adult section because of discussions of sex and “virginhood” with inappropriate language.
“Tomboy” is about a girl who doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles and expectations of girls who grows to love and accept that part of herself. The Reconsideration Review Committee found “minimal” mentions of sex and said that those references were written sensitively for a high school audience and within “reasonable high school conversations.”
Each book’s recommendation was voted on separately by the board, and the board voted to keep each book’s current classification.
Oconee County Middle School Principal Matt Stephens was the only board member opposed to the recommendations to retain the books “Different Kinds of Fruit,” “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” and “Man O’ War” as they are classified.