I learned quite a bit about The Poet X by reading the case of Coble v. Lake Norman Charter School. This book, by Elizabeth Acevedo, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young Adults. The book is about a 15-year old girl in a poor neighborhood in Harlem. The court sums up the story like this:
The self-described “brown and big and angry” Dominican girl furiously confronts catcalling boys, chafes under her Catholic parents’ restrictive rules, endures verbal and physical abuse from her mother, and both adores and resents her “genius” twin brother, who seems to be everything she’s not.
Lake Norman Charter School included the book in the required reading curriculum for 9th grade. Not surprisingly, some parents did not approve. The school allowed any parent to have their child opted out of reading this book. If they did that, they would get an alternative, equivalent assignment. But the Cobles wanted the book removed from the curriculum altogether, and so they took the matter to court.
The first step was to seek a Temporary Restraining Order. This is a high hill to climb, and the Cobles did not make it to the top. The court denied the request for the TRO, noting in particular that it was not likely that the parents would succeed on the merits.
The young girl at the center of the story does express some negativity, even hostility, toward religion. The court points out that this is not so surprising, given that “her mother quotes scripture to her while abusing her.” Moreover, the court pointed out that “even figures in the Bible like Job doubted God’s goodness.” In its legal analysis, the court points out that the school merely included this book in the curriculum. It was not endorsing the thoughts expressed by this fictional character:
To include the work in the curriculum, without further evidence of the school’s endorsement, no more communicates governmental endorsement of the author’s or characters’ religious views than to assign Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, or The Divine Comedy conveys endorsements or approval of Milton’s, Bunyan’s, or Dante’s Christianity.
The book sounded just right for 9th graders to me. In my day it was The Catcher in the Rye. Now it’s Poet X who wonders if “Jesus is like a friend who texts too much.” The court summed it up:
The passages identified by Plaintiffs are references to religion in a work depicting a poor, Afro-Latina, adolescent’s painful process of coming of age. These passages are less theology than anthropology, less commentary on religion than comment prompted by the frustrating confrontation of adolescents with parents, sexual desire, religious doubt, and loneliness.
The court denied the TRO on November 6, 2020, and the decision can be found at 2020 WL 6545871.
DAWG BONE: JUST FOR THE RECORD: JESUS DOES NOT TEXT TOO MUCH.