Author Bret Lott says his book "The Hunt Club" is a story about a 15-year-old figuring out who he is in the most specific and universal sense.
Wando High School parent James Pasley says the book uses foul language, degrades women and people of color, and isn't appropriate to be on a recommended reading list for high school students.
Pasley and his wife have challenged the book's inclusion as an option for required summer reading at Wando, in Mount Pleasant, and the county School Board is planning a hearing to decide whether the book should be allowed on any district bookshelf.
Pasley said his family never wanted the book banned from school libraries. They disagreed with the district's approval of "The Hunt Club" as recommended reading material, and that's why they appealed to the board.
"Sometimes there are unintended consequences of policies and procedures," Pasley said. "If that is the result, then that is on the district, not us. If the policy has unintended consequences, then they need to make adjustments to the policy. That still shouldn't require students and parents to be inflicted with the kind of negative impact that this particular piece of literature offers."
It's the first time in recent memory, and possibly ever, that a challenge of a book has gone to the board, said Connie Dopierala, the district's coordinator for media services.
Parents have the right to make decisions about the books their children read, and the vast majority of the issues parents have with school-approved books are resolved informally, she said.
"When it gets to the board level, it is tantamount to censorship because that's what they're asking," Dopierala said. "What makes this different is if this book is removed … it's taking away another parent's right to determine appropriate reading material for their student."
"The Hunt Club" is set in the Lowcountry and tells the story of a teenage boy and his uncle who find a dead body and have to figure out what happened. Wando High used the book until summer 2010 as one of eight summer-reading options for incoming juniors.
Students could choose any of the eight books, and teachers graded them on a visual project and essay tied to their selection.
Emilie Woody, a Wando High media specialist who served on Wando's summer-reading-list review committee, said the school tries to offer a broad spectrum of literature because of its diverse student population.
"The Hunt Club" was one of the recommended options because it was written by a local author and involved hunting, and that appealed to students who sometimes aren't interested in reading, she said.
Pasley said he understood the desire to give students interesting reading material, but he didn't think the school should resort to "that kind of cheap-thrill-novel kind of literature."
Pasley and his wife are involved in their son's education, and he said they keep tabs on his assignments. His wife read "The Hunt Club" and couldn't believe its contents, he said. Students shouldn't be recommended to read that kind of profanity or derogatory treatment of women and minorities, he said.
"That was inappropriate and distasteful," he said.
After Pasley and his wife expressed their concern about the novel, Dopierala asked a group of Wando High teachers to read the book and decide whether it was appropriate for students.
The group agreed that it should remain a choice for students, because of its broad appeal and because it fit with the theme of 11th-grade English, which is American literature.
The family disagreed with that decision, so Dopierala convened a district committee that included teachers, media specialists and parents. All were asked to read the book, and the district held an administrative hearing in which the family and school were given an opportunity to make their cases.
It resulted in a recommendation for the district to continue use of the book, but for summer reading lists to include a warning note about the types of themes contained in young adult literature.
Going any further, such as rating books on a scale, would be too subjective a decision for the district to make, Dopierala said. Superintendent Nancy McGinley accepted the committee's recommendation.
Pasley said any note included with reading lists should be descriptive enough to reflect the graphic content of the material; parents should be able to know exactly what their children are reading.
He compared it to the warnings on cigarette packages; the first of those were innocuous, but the new ones gave enough information so consumers understood the risks, he said.
Charleston educators didn't deny the book's use of foul language, but they said that language isn't the heart of the book.
"The language is not there just to be there," Woody said. "It has a specific purpose."
Lott said the book is about good and evil, and the evil characters are foul-mouthed and rude. He thought "The Hunt Club" was fine for students.
"The objection is a bit baffling to me," he said. "Even the most cursory look at MTV or movies will expose (young people) to bad language. Just roll your car window down and drive through your own neighborhood sometime."
Educators also disagreed with the charge that the book is degrading to women and that it contained racial prejudice toward African-Americans. Lott said readers actually root for the relationship the white protagonist has with his African-American girlfriend.
"I don't know what motivates this kind of reaction except a kind of Victorian sensibility, and I say that as a believing Christian and Sunday school teacher," Lott said. "How do you shield children from racism? Virtue is not virtue unless it is made vulnerable and put to the test in confronting these things."
"The Hunt Club" has received professional reviews from groups such as the School Library Journal. The Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, named it one of its Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.
Lott plans to attend the county school board's hearing, when a date is determined; this isn't a situation writers often encounter, he said.
He feels "an odd kind of pride in it. On the other hand, I wonder what my pastor will think," he said.
Reporter Bill Thompson contributed to this story. Reach Diette Courrege at 937-5546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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