The Fairfax County School Board last night turned down a parent's appeal to have a novel dealing with a 17-year-old boy's struggle with adolescence removed from an elementary school library.
Victoria McGrath, whose daughter is a sixth-grader at Virginia Run Elementary, wanted "On the Devil's Court," by Carl Deuker, removed from the school's library on grounds that it contains subject matter inappropriate for preteens.
Typically, such parental concerns are handled at the school or area office level. McGrath appealed to the School Board after failing at those levels.
Board members, on a 5 to 3 vote, decided that although the book deals with some mature subject matter, it is appropriate for mature sixth-grade students.
Board members pointed out that the book is in school libraries and is not required reading and said safeguards ensure that younger students are denied access to the book.
Dissenting board members agreed that the book contains some good "teachable moments" and lessons, but they argued that it should be restricted for use by older students.
"I think it's an awful good book for teenagers. . . . My concern is that its subtleties will be lost on 11-year-olds," said board member Christian N. Braunlich (Lee).
The novel concerns 17-year-old Joe Faust, who becomes fascinated with the story of the legendary figure Faust in his high school English class. Joe is new in town and is eager to make a place for himself on the school basketball team. He also struggles with feelings of inadequacy and a difficult relationship with his father. He finds himself willing to trade his soul for one perfect season of basketball.
The book is available in three Fairfax elementary schools and several middle and high schools. In the elementary schools, it is housed in a separate young adult section reserved for sixth grade use, school officials said.
McGrath said she does not believe a book that "advocates the devil's use of power over a child" should be promoted or available through a school library.
She also complained that the book presents women in a negative and derogatory manner; is disrespectful of teachers, parents and other adults; and promotes negative behaviors such as smoking, drinking and graffiti painting.
"It is my opinion that these life experiences chosen by a searching and at times confused 17-year-old adolescent should not be introduced as part of the reading material available to 11- or 12-year-old sixth-grade readers," McGrath wrote in her complaint. She did not ask for the book's removal from middle and high school libraries.
School officials pointed out that the boy does not actually make a pact with the devil. They said that Joe's character learns lessons about hard work, commitment and loyalty and that the book is well-written and presents a story that is "engaging for adolescents, who are sometimes reluctant readers."