Students in the New Mexico's Alamogordo public school system may have to wait a while – or longer – to read Neil Gaiman’s novel “Neverwhere".
After a parent complained about sexual content in the book, the Alamogordo High School staff took “Neverwhere” out of the library and is halting its use in classes. Superintendent George Straface stressed that both measures are thus far temporary while the school’s higher-ups look at the text and make a decision.
“I reviewed the language personally,” Straface told the Alamogordo Daily News. “I can see where it could be considered offensive," he said. "The F-word is used. There is a description of a sexual encounter that is pretty descriptive, and it's between a married man and a single woman. Although kids can probably see that on TV anytime they want, we are a public school using taxpayer dollars.”
“Neverwhere” has long been a part of the school’s sophomore English curriculum. The complaint came when parent Nancy Wilmott flipped through her daughter’s assigned reading and saw the scene.
“I really think that the school needs to let the parents know what their students are going to read beforehand, not the day before or after," Wilmott said in an e-mail written to the Alamogordo Daily News. "I am not a closed-minded parent that thinks my kids should hear no evil. Just not something with such graphic detail – a intimate situation between two adults.”
According to Straface, a panel will be created to handle comments from parents about controversial books being taught.
“'I’m also hearing from the other side that says we shouldn't have done that because, while the language that's there may be objectionable, they hear much worse in the student commons area," Straface said. "That may be true – and it probably is – but I don't support it.”
One English teacher at the school, Pam Thorp, says she “cannot and will not condone the censorship this parent is promoting.”
“The implication that we are careless or irresponsible simply is not true,” Thorp told the Alamogordo Daily News. “Presenting challenging material of merit that may contain some foul language or mature situations, in a sensitive and academic manner, is part of our responsibility to our students in order to engage them in evaluating the human condition. I take that responsibility very seriously and strive every day to encourage my students to think … about the world, about their community, about their friends and about themselves. Censorship is the opposite of that.”
Meanwhile, Gaiman himself e-mailed NPR, writing that “I'm faintly baffled by this. NEVERWHERE's a book that's been taught in schools for years: it's an adult novel that kids love (and won the YALSA award as an adult book that Young Adults enjoy). It's an adventure, with themes of social responsibility. I've not seen it described as 'R Rated' before, and mostly worry that anyone who buys it thinking they are in for lashings of Sex and Violence will be extremely disappointed.”