High school senior Regina Afton and her friends get wasted on the weekends, cut class, have sex in the storage room and snort Adderall through their noses.
For Regina, life at the top of the Hallowell High School food chain is pretty good.
Until she’s sexually assaulted at a party. Then Regina’s so-called friends disown her. She goes from “It Girl” to outcast in the course of a weekend — the object of her classmates’ perpetual and increasingly savage scorn.
That’s the premise of “Some Girls Are,” a popular young-adult novel and until this week, summer reading for some West Ashley High School students. Principal Lee Runyon pulled the book from the freshmen Honors English I summer reading list after a parent complained about the novel’s dark and explicit content.
“In looking at the situation and circumstances and timing, we felt like we needed to try to accommodate the parent’s concerns, which had some validity, and make a common-sense decision,” Runyon said. “I think we could likely make a better choice.”
“Some Girls Are” is author Courtney Summers’ sophomore novel. The book has garnered a 4.4 star rating on Amazon.com and 3.89 stars on Goodreads out of more than 10,000 votes. Kirkus Review calls Summers’ book “powerful and compelling.” Publishers Weekly calls it “frightening and effective.”
“Fans of the film ‘Mean Girls’ will enjoy this tale of redemption and forgiveness,” says School Library Journal.
Melanie MacDonald calls it “smut.”
Her daughter is an incoming ninth-grader at West Ashley. For Honors English 1 this summer, she had the option of reading either “Some Girls Are” or “Rikers High” by Paul Volponi, a story about a teenage boy awaiting trial in a New York jail. Students are tested on their summer reading assignments at the beginning of the school year. These summer assignments, Runyon said, are intended to prepare students for more challenging works, like “Lord of the Flies” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
A few weeks ago, MacDonald and her daughter both downloaded “Some Girls Are” on their Kindles in hopes of tackling the summer reading assignment together.
The novel opens at a party where everyone but the protagonist, Regina, is heavily intoxicated. In the ensuing pages, peppered with F-bombs, one character sells a pocket of pills to another student. Another passes out after “six shots of Jack chased with one Heineken too many.” At the end of the first chapter, Regina is nearly raped by her best friend’s boyfriend.
MacDonald got to page 74 – and a crude reference to oral sex – before she’d had enough. The next morning, she confiscated her daughter’s e-reader and called the school.
“I’m not a prude for God’s sake and I understand that these are issues kids are facing – the drugs, the alcohol, the bullying – but there has to be a way to present it that’s not destructive to them,” she said. “I get they’re trying to find something the kids are interested in, but this book is trash.”
She brought her concerns to Runyon, the school’s English department chair and the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees. In response, West Ashley posted a third book to the online Honors English I summer reading list last week, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” along with an apology from the English department for the “inconvenience.” But for MacDonald, that wasn’t enough. She filed a complaint with the district to trigger a committee review of the text and its usefulness in the curriculum.
“This is my problem with the whole thing. They assigned this book and they either read it first or they didn’t,” she said. Either way, they showed poor judgement.”
Before the committee could meet, Runyon and the English department agreed this week to remove the book from the summer reading list. English teachers did read the book before choosing it, Runyon said, based on its “readability” and relevance to students. The book has been replaced by Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak,” another novel about teenage trauma, bullying and rape. An automated phone message will alert parents of the change on Wednesday.
“Typically with summer reading projects, one of the biggest challenges that students and teachers alike are faced with in the fall is a vast number of students who did not complete summer reading,” he said. “Because they find the books less than entertaining and less than appetizing.”
This isn’t the first time, summer reading materials have been challenged in Charleston. Last year, Republican lawmakers threatened to cut funding from the College of Charleston’s budget for assigning Alison Bechdel’s illustrated memoir “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” with its frank depiction of homosexual sex.
MacDonald, meanwhile, has since finished the novel and still stands by her opinion: “It doesn’t get any better,” she said.
Since addressing the district’s Board of Trustees and superintendent at the school board meeting Monday evening, she’s still waiting for an explanation from West Ashley High School and – an apology.
“If this is what they have for summer reading, what are they going to teach in the classroom? What are they going to expose her to when I’m not there?” she said. “You put your trust in these teachers, these educators and now I feel like a fool.”
Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.
West Ashley High School has pulled “Some Girls Are,” a popular young-adult novel by Courtney Summers, from students’ summer reading list.×