High school condom distribution and a hotly contested sex education curriculum set a small New England town's blood boiling and books burning in The Year They Burned the Books
, an issue-driven novel by Nancy Garden. Jamie Crawford is the senior editor of the "Telegraph," her high school's newspaper, but the publication of her editorial in favor of the school's new policy to distribute condoms happens to coincide with the election of a new, highly conservative school board member. As a result, Jamie suddenly finds her editorial voice gagged. Soon the school's health books have been removed from the classrooms for "review," a conservative parents' group stages a library book burning, and Jamie's beloved teacher is forced to resign as the newspaper's faculty advisor. Jamie's personal life also becomes more complicated as she tries to deal with her physical attraction to Tessa, a new girl at school. Then, on top of it all, Jamie and her best friend Terry (who is openly gay) are the victims of an attack by a group of conservative students and Jamie has to decide if she can handle the consequences of coming out.
Teens love controversies, especially those involving young people, and there is scarcely a hot topic here that Garden doesn't touch. Yet in spite of the scene-stealing issues, Garden's timeless message that hardship shapes character is illustrated well in Jamie's transition from a "maybe," (as in "maybe gay, maybe straight")to a "probably" by novel's end. An excellent choice for use in high school discussions about censorship and free speech. (Ages 13 to 15) --Jennifer Hubert
From Publishers Weekly
Issues, not characters, drive this story, a retread of the themes and setting in Garden's Good Moon Rising. Jamie Crawford, a senior, has achieved her goal of becoming editor-in-chief of her small New England high school's paper. She is also fairly sure she is gay, and when Tessa Gillespie, a new girl from Boston, shows up wearing a red cape and a star-shaped stud in her nose, Jamie starts falling in love. Tessa happens to be straight, but as it turns out, Jamie's unrequited love causes her less anguish than the rise to power of fundamentalist Mrs. Buel. A "stealth candidate" during her campaign for a seat on the school committee, Mrs. Buel leads the committee to set aside the new sex education curriculum and stages a book burning on Halloween. The liberal faculty adviser to the school paper is put on leave, and Jamie is forbidden to weigh in on controversial subjects in her editorials. While turning out the rah-rah paper the new faculty adviser insists on, Jamie and her staff eke out the time and energy to publish an underground paper. Another plot line concerns the outing of Jamie's best friend and the swim team star he is attracted to: lockers are defaced, and Jamie and her friends are nearly attacked in the cafeteria. Garden pays less attention to her characters' emotional lives than to their political passions. Unfortunately, if the characters don't seem real, their passions won't ignite readers. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)
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