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Gilford parent upset students assigned Jodi Picoult book with graphic sexual content

Union Leader Correspondent

May 02. 2014 1:19PM


GILFORD – At least one parent is furious that Gilford High School is requiring some ninth-graders to read a story that includes graphic detail of a sex act between a young boy and a young girl.

The book, Nineteen Minutes, published in 2007 by bestselling author Jodi Picoult of Hanover, is about a school shooting and bullying, Picoult said in an interview Friday. It was Picoult's first book to debut on the New York Times' best seller list.

The story begins on March 6, 2007, in the small town of Sterling, N.H., and tells of the events leading up to the shooting and what followed.

But on page 313, Picoult depicts a sex scene from beginning to end, in what parent William Baer described as “like a transcript for a X-rated movie.”

Baer said a friend was reading the book, which was assigned to his ninth-grade daughter at Gilford High School, at Baer's home just before his daughter was set to read it.

“We were mortified that the school would require this book to be read and discussed by our kids,” he said. “If my friend hadn't read it, my daughter would have read it.”

Picoult, when informed of the concerns expressed by Baer, jokingly said, “Who is trying to ban my books now? My books have been banned from many schools.”

The sexual act depicted in the book is one small part of a much larger story about tolerance, bullying and gun violence, she said.

“There is very little in what I write that is graphic,” she said. “The fact that people are reacting to the book means it's striking home. When you push someone on these issues, that's when change occurs.”

Picoult said her three children were high-schoolers when they read the book.

“Read the book with your kids, by all means use it as a springboard for discussion with your kids,” she said.

Baer disagrees with that notion, and said he hopes to bring the matter before the school board, perhaps on Monday night.

“I am not a prude, I had this conversation (about sex) with my children four years ago, and I don't need the state bringing this up again with my kids,” he said. “I'm sure our school board members will be embarrassed when they read this.”

But in a statement to the news media released Friday, School Board Chair Sue Allen, Gilford High School Principal Peter Sawyer, and Superintendent Kent Heminway, said the book “has thematic importance, it contains depictions of physical violence in public schools and an incident of sexual violence.”

The book “has been a reading selection available to Gilford High School staff since 2007,” the statement read.

But school administrators said they erred in not notifying parents ahead of time.

“In past years, use of Nineteen Minutes included notification sent home to parents for approval. That procedure was not followed this past Monday. This coming Monday, May 5 ... this notification will be sent home to all students who are currently assigned the book.”

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