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Laurie Halse Anderson's 'Speak' almost too much for Temecula

September 17, 2009 |  6:57 am

Speaklauriehalseanderson Laurie Halse Anderson's 1999 young adult novel, "Speak," which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award and the National Book Award, was selected as School Library Journal's Best Book of the Year and received numerous other honors, was the focus of controversy in Temecula this week. The school board's trustees were deciding whether or not to add "Speak" to the list of books that may be taught in high school English classes, and were concerned that it deals with the topic of rape and its aftermath.

Our blog LA Now reports that the board voted 4-1 in favor of the book's inclusion. But:

Trustee Kristi Rutz-Robbins cast the opposing vote, saying she feared that the book would become mandatory reading and that rape victims and others would be forced to read it. The district needs policies that alert parents to such assignments and ways to opt out of them, “so that rape victims, children who are emotionally and developmentally immature and those seriously interested in being prepared for college can stick to classics and other works without graphic rape scenes,” she wrote in an e-mail today.

Educators in the district have pointed out that other classic works commonly read in the community’s high schools, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” deal with sensitive subjects such as rape.

It's a bit surprising that there is an issue over whether or not high school students can or should be able to read about a difficult subject like rape in school while that topic is certainly present in other media, including television. In fact, "Speak" was made into a Showtime movie in 2004 and is available on DVD. Since it stars actress Kristen Stewart of "Twilight," I'd guess some teen girls might be curious enough to have already sought it out.

The Temecula school district, which has procedures in place for parents who want to opt their children out from certain lessons, has plans to reevaluate the policy this year.

-- Carolyn Kellogg