UPDATED: Two challenged books to remain in Old Rochester libraries

Jun 21, 2023

MATTAPOISETT — Two books challenged by a Rochester resident will remain in Old Rochester Regional High School libraries, following a decision by the Old Rochester Regional School Committee on Wednesday, June 21.

“Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender and “Push” by Sapphire, were challenged by Rochester resident Karen Thomas for alleged explicit content, according to complaints filed by Thomas.

Thomas cites “sexually explicit” material on several pages of “Felix Ever After” and wrote that the book should be restricted for minors and “not for school use.”

According to a review by the School Library Journal, “Felix Ever After” tells the story of Felix, a “Black, queer and trans” student who “navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father and from an anonymous bully.”

In “Push,” Thomas claims the book has “aberrant content, incest and molestation, not for minors and not for school use.”

According to a review from Kirkus Reviews, “Push” tells the story of Precious Jones, who at 16 “finds herself pregnant again by her father, untrained, uneducated and unable to care for herself or her baby. She is astute enough to know that there is a better way to live but is clueless as to how to get there.”

“Push” was adapted into the 2009 film “Precious.”

According to Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Mike Nelson, the books went through several stages of review following appeals by Thomas. The process began with an “informal conversation” with Old Rochester Regional High School Principal Mike Devoll about the books.

Then, the discussion was appealed to the Standards Committee, a body that includes Old Rochester Regional School Committee Chair Michelle Smith, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Shari Fedorowicz, High School Principal Michael Devoll, High School Librarian Allison Barker and English Department Coordinator Robert Biehl.

The Standards Committee unanimously voted to keep the books in school libraries.

According to documents provided by the district, the Standards Committee approved “Push” because “the topic or subject in the book provides real-life incidents that students may be dealing with in their personal lives and this book provides empathy and a resource to help the reader deal with the issue.”

The same documents outlined the Standards Committee’s approval of “Felix Ever After,” stating that the book contains “conversations around sexual activity and consent, but sex did not occur in this book, nor did a graphic sex scene … [the book] provides representation of a transgender individual in the age group of our students and explores their own identity just as all adolescents explore their identities.”

According to documents released by the Old Rochester Regional Joint School Committee, each book meets all the standards of a 10-point rubric that looks for, among other metrics, “high standards of quality in factual content, artistic and literary value, and presentation.”

The matter was then appealed to the superintendent, who agreed with the Standards Committee’s assessment, and then finally to the School Committee.

The school committee voted to keep each book in school libraries, where they will remain for a minimum of three years. School Committee member Joe Piers cast a negative vote for each book.

According to documents provided by the school, both books are not required reading and parents can “allow their student not to check out the book.”