Cover image for The year they burned the books
The year they burned the books
Garden, Nancy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, [1999]

Physical Description:
247 pages ; 22 cm
While trying to come to terms with her own lesbian feelings, Jamie, a high-school senior and editor of the school newspaper, finds herself in the middle of a battle with a group of townspeople over the new health education curriculum.
Reading Level:
760 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.5 9.0 35187.

Reading Counts RC High School 7.5 14 Quiz: 20520 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



By the author of Annie on My Mind

When Wilson High Telegraph editor Jamie Crawford writes an opinion piece in support of the new sex-ed curriculum, which includes making condoms available to high school students, she has no idea that a huge controversy is brewing. Lisa Buel, a school board member, is trying to get rid of the health program, which she considers morally flawed, from its textbooks to its recommendations for outside reading. The newspaper staff find themselves in the center of the storm, and things are complicated by the fact that Jamie is in the process of coming to terms with being gay, and her best friend, Terry, also gay, has fallen in love with a boy whose parents are anti-homosexual. As Jamie's and Terry's sexual orientation becomes more obvious to other studetns, it looks as if the paper they're fighting to keep alive and honest is going to be taken away from them. Nancy Garden has depicted a contemporary battleground in a novel that probes deep into issues of censorship, prejudice, and ethics.

Author Notes

Nancy Garden was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 15, 1938. She attended Columbia University School of Dramatic Arts, which lead to work in community theater and four seasons of professional summer stock. She received a master's degree in speech from Columbia Teachers College. She taught for a while and then became an editor.

Her first two books, What Happened in Marston and a nonfiction book entitled Berlin: City Split in Two, were published in 1971. Her other works include Molly's Family, Endgame, and Annie on My Mind. She received numerous awards including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing books for young adults in 2003, the Katahdin Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005, and the Lee Lynch Classic Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2014. She also received the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award in 2001 for her work defending Annie On My Mind from an attempt to ban it from libraries in a Kansas school district, and for her anti-censorship efforts in general. She died of a massive heart attack on June 23, 2014 at the age of 76.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. High-school senior Jamie Crawford has attained her dream of being editor-in-chief of her school newspaper; but when she writes an editorial in favor of a new health curriculum that includes the distribution of condoms and frank discussion of homosexuality, she finds herself embroiled in a controversy that is polarizing her small New England hometown. Matters escalate when a new member is elected to the school board and, in short order, founds a group called Families for Traditional Values (FTV) and spearheads a drive to eliminate the disputed curriculum and muzzle the newspaper's editorial voice. Matters are complicated further by Jamie's growing awareness that she is a lesbian and is falling in love with Tessa, a new girl in school. Terry, Jamie's gay best friend, has also fallen in love--with a star of the swimming team, who may be gay, too, but whose parents are rabidly homophobic. The routine verbal abuse to which Jamie and Terry have long been accustomed turns physically violent, and the FTV resorts to a ceremonial burning of books related to the health curriculum. Garden's novel Annie on My Mind (1982) was burned several years ago, and this book is dedicated to the students and others who subsequently sued to save it from being banned in the Olathe, Kansas, School District. Clearly, this is a novel driven by issues instead of characters, and, indeed, there may be too many issues for one novel. As a result, the line between exposition and art is sometimes blurred. Nevertheless, Garden's treatment of her themes is courageous, believable, and fair-minded, and Jamie, Tessa, and Terry are well-realized and sympathetic characters. This is an important book that deserves a wide readership. --Michael Cart

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-A novel that examines issues related to censorship, sexual orientation, and prejudice. Jamie Crawford, a high school senior, is the editor of the Wilson High Telegraph. When a local school-board member challenges the school's sex-education program, Jamie and the newspaper staff find themselves in the middle of the controversy. The debate begins with a disagreement over the distribution of condoms at school, but the issues escalate when Jamie writes an editorial in support of the controversial curriculum. She is accused of not offering a balanced opinion, the newspaper sponsor is relieved of his duties for supporting the staff, and the entire town becomes involved in what becomes a community battle. Further complications erupt when several members of the newspaper staff, including Jamie, come to terms with being gay and reveal their sexual orientation to family and friends. At this point, homophobic classmates and a small group of adults turn the real issue away from censorship, focusing on the "wrongs" of homosexuality instead. The well-developed characters are bright students who understand the true meaning of the first amendment, and the diversity of beliefs. There is no doubt that Garden has written a book to make a point about important contemporary issues, but the story is believable and never heavy-handed. Students will come away from it with enough insight to at least think before they make judgments about people, their lifestyles, and their first-amendment rights.-Pat Scales, South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Despite a foggy beginning, it had become too nice a day--a soft September afternoon--to be cooped up arguing in the Wilson High Telegraph 's tiny office. Being the paper's editor in chief was a goal for which Jamie Crawford had been striving ever since she'd started high school. That part felt good, but being in the middle of an argument between her two best friends didn't feel good at all.     "It's a matter of life or death, you jerk!" sports editor Terry Gage was shouting as he pounded his desk with a strong, impatient hand.     "No, it's not, Terry," Nomi Pembar insisted, glaring at him. "It's a matter of right and wrong." Nomi was art editor and dressed so carefully she often pressed her jeans as well as the flowered blouses she usually wore.     "Look," Jamie told them, "it doesn't really matter what we think about it." She leaned forward in her chair, her small, even features solemn, her dark eyes intense under her brown bangs. "What matters is that the whole school's talking about it, and the paper has to have an opinion."     "Spoken like a true editor." Matthew Caggin, who taught sophomore and junior English and was also the paper's faculty adviser, came into the office, balancing a full mug of coffee on top of a pile of uncorrected English papers. Behind him was Cindy Nash, the paper's ad manager and occasional reporter, a short, cheerful junior with an infectious laugh. The gray baseball cap that her boyfriend, Jack Kellog, also a junior and the paper's star reporter, had given her the year before was perched jauntily back-to-front on her short blond curls. Jack, who'd been voted best-dressed sophomore boy the year before, frequently worked in the office with the editors. But today he was off interviewing a student who'd been caught in a bad August storm on his father's lobster boat.     Nomi balanced on the stool in front of the battered layout table. "But handing out condoms is a moral issue, Matt, and ..."     "And you don't all agree about it. That's good, gang; don't you get that yet?" Matt put his papers down and took a sip of coffee before he folded himself carefully onto his chair. Matt stood over six feet in his socks and walked with a slight stoop, as if constantly looking out for low doorways.     "I get it," Cindy said. "Newspapers should represent all sides of things." She handed Nomi an envelope. "Here's some early ads. I started collecting right after that planning meeting we had before school started."     "I get it, too," Terry said, smiling. "And Jamie gets it, but Nomi--well, we all know how artists are."     "That's not fair!" Nomi tossed her head angrily, making her red hair cascade over her shoulders. She dumped the ads out onto the layout table. "And that's not the issue, anyway. I thought editorials were supposed to represent the paper's opinion, not just Jamie's."     "Not necessarily, Nomi," Matt corrected gently. "It's nice if we can all agree, but there's nothing in our policy that says editorials can't be just the editor in chief's opinion."     "Hey." Jamie put her hand on Nomi's arm. "Cool it, Nom'. Terry was kidding. And anyway, I agree we should represent both sides editorially. Why don't you write us an op-ed if you feel so strongly?"     "Bring in religion, morality," Cindy suggested without sarcasm. "You could do that real well, Nomi."     "Saving yourself for your one true love," Terry put in, and hummed the wedding march.     Nomi glared at him again, and this time so did Jamie.     "Good idea, Cindy." Matt put down his coffee mug. "Perfect, in fact. Now look, we've got to ..."     A shadow appeared against the puckered glass window in the office door, and when the door opened, Jamie saw a tall, dark-skinned girl framed in the entrance. Tiny silver stars, linked together like paper chains, dangled, glittering, from her ears; a matching star, even tinier, glittered from her left nostril. A bright red cape, fastened at the throat with a huge hook and eye wrapped in black silk thread, was draped casually over her otherwise standard clothes--jeans, long-sleeved scoop-neck T-shirt.     "You the editor?" the gift asked, looking right at Jamie.     "Editor in chief," Terry said, and Jamie nodded, speechless.     The gift seemed amused. "Are you staring because I'm beautiful or because I'm strange?"     "B-both," Jamie managed to say with an embarrassed laugh. Nomi rolled her eyes, Cindy chuckled, and Jamie heard Terry murmur "Mmm" softly. "I mean, I well ..."     The girl made a broad gesture with a graceful hand. Silver rings circled several of her fingers, and her nails were covered with dark polish, maybe black, maybe purple. "That's the best answer yet," she said. "Most honest, anyway."     Cindy gave her a friendly smile. "Welcome."     The girl studied Cindy for a second, as if deciding how to react, then said, "Thank you."     Nomi stood, all business. "I bet you're here about the photo editor's job. I'm Nomi Pembar, the art editor, which means I do layout, position ads, and occasionally draw something. That's Terry Gage"--Terry gave a little bow--"the sports editor. Cindy Nash is ad manager, although once in a while she writes. And that's Matt Caggin, faculty adviser. He's an English teacher, but we get to call him Matt in the newspaper office. Got any pictures to show us?"     The girl slid the strap of a blue-green portfolio off her shoulder. "Yes. I'm Tessa Gillespie, by the way. Tess, usually."     "The new senior," said Matt, stating it, not asking. "From Boston. Welcome!" He stuck out his hand, and Tessa shook it formally.     Jamie tried not to go on staring. She'd heard rumors that a Boston family with a high-school-age daughter was moving to their small New England coastal town. But she hadn't seen anyone new yesterday, which had been the first day of classes, so she'd assumed they hadn't come. And then the condom fight had taken over her attention.     Tessa smiled wryly and slid a stack of 8x10 glossies out of her portfolio. "Thank you again." She spread the photos on Nomi's table: kids playing in water that sprayed from a fire hydrant, a cat on a window ledge, EMTs rushing a stretcher away from a building--city photos, sharp and active.     "Great!" Jamie exclaimed, and Terry and Cindy nodded.     Matt was studying the EMT photo. "Tell you what, Tessa. Spend a couple of days shooting around town. Give us three pictures. Let us see what interests you, what kind of news nose you have. Okay?"     "Sure." Tessa returned the photos to her portfolio, then swept the air in front of her as if indicating a headline. Her rings, one of which Jamie saw was a band of stars, caught the sunlight coming through the dusty window over Matt's desk. "Town of Wilson, through the eyes of a stranger."     Matt nodded. "Good. Nice meeting you, Tessa. You get the photos to us by the end of the week. We'll review them along with the others that come in and let you know. Good luck."     Tessa's answering nod was brief and crisp. "Okay. See you." She moved to the door. "Soon."     Terry whistled when she'd gone. "Whoa! That is one weird sure-of-herself woman!" He winked at Jamie.     "I like her," Cindy said decisively. "She'll have to be sure of herself to survive here looking like that." She giggled. "Wait till Jack sees her. I bet his mouth'll drop open."     Nomi frowned. "She seems a little too sure of herself and a little too weird. Like, what's she hiding, you know?"     "That's not the point," Jamie snapped; she was intrigued with Tessa's outward oddness, and she'd immediately felt drawn to her, although Terry's wink made her self-conscious about that. "The point is, would she make a good photo editor?"     "The other point," Matt said gently, "is, could you guys work with her?"     "Yes," said Jamie. "How about you, Nomi? You're the art editor."     "I'm not sure yet."     "Oh, come on, Nomi," Cindy said. "I bet she'll lighten up when she gets to know us. After all"--she grinned--"we're pretty special people. The elite of Wilson High." She doffed her baseball cap and made a deep bow.     Terry swung his chair around. "So maybe she's got an attitude. So what? Her photos are good. I say let's give her a try."     "No need to decide yet," Matt reminded them. "Let's see what she comes up with. There are other applicants, after all. Now, about this condom thing. What do we have so far that's related to it?"     Jamie riffled through the papers on her desk, glad to be able to concentrate on something else. "A few standard school-opening pieces from the other reporters, but Jack did a great story about the new health education curriculum, with a list of what's going to be taught in each grade ..."     "Including middle school and elementary?" Matt asked her. "Or just us?"     "Just us, but I could get you middle school easily, since my mom teaches social studies there; she was on the committee that worked on the health ed stuff. And I could send a reporter to the elementary school."     "What do you think?"     "I think that's the job of the town paper, not us. We cover the high school, not all of Wilson."     "Yeah," Terry agreed. "We start doing that, next thing you know I'll have to cover middle-school sports, and then pretty soon I'll be writing about hide-and-seek in first grade. No thanks!"     "Okay," said Matt, ignoring Cindy's appreciative giggle. "Agreed. So that's it, Jamie? Just Jack's curriculum story?"     "Right, and the storm-at-sea interview he's doing now, if he finishes it on time, plus a press release announcing the distribution--I guess it's not really distribution, exactly--saying condoms will be available in the nurse's office every Friday after dismissal."     Terry chuckled. "In time for the weekend."     "That's disgusting!" Nomi exploded. "It's almost asking kids to go out and have sex on the weekend!"     "Say that in your op-ed piece, Nom'," Jamie said mildly. "Say it in your piece."     "Maybe I'll do just that," Nomi said angrily, turning back to the layout table.     "Atta girl, Nom'," Jamie said. "Go for it."     The warm September air had cooled to crispness by 4:30, when Jamie and Terry left the newspaper office; Nomi and Cindy had already gone home. There'd been no return of the thickish fog that had rolled in early that morning from the ocean and snaked its way across the cluster of white clapboard shops and houses in Wilson's small center and down the side streets radiating from it. Jamie's family, and Terry's, too, lived near the working harbor, where the fishermen kept their boats, down the coast a bit from the fancy yacht basin, which was still dotted with pleasure craft, though it was after Labor Day. Tourists came to Wilson well into October; they were just a different kind of tourist from the summer variety--older, with bigger boats or, if they were landlubbers, huge RVs with license-plate bouquets astern. The RVs made the town seem more crowded than it really was as they lumbered along its narrow main street and held up traffic entering the interstate a few miles away. Jamie was always glad when they left and Wilson pulled back into itself, settling down for the winter like a close nuclear family after the holiday guests have gone home. And she was glad Terry was around again; he'd been working on his father's lobster boat all summer and had told her he was so tired during the little time he had off that all he wanted to do was veg out at his parents' lakeside cabin. She was looking forward to seeing him every day now that school had started.     "So," Terry asked as they walked away from the town center, "what do you think?"     "About the condom editorial? I've pretty much got it worked out in my mind, but ..."     "No, dummy. About Tessa." He poked her in the ribs. "Man, did you ever stutter!"     Jamie felt herself blush. "Yeah, I know. Was it really that obvious?"     "To me, your fellow Maybe, yes. To her, I doubt it. By the way," he added, "this is as good a time as any to tell you I think I'm moving from Maybe to Probably."     Jamie looked up at him, startled. It had been back in sixth grade that she and Terry had discovered each other. One day, walking home from school, Jamie had come upon him huddled near a stone wall, bruised and crying--the victim, it turned out, of class bully Brandon Tomkins and his best friend, Al Checkers, who had attacked Jamie the week before. Jamie's dad had taught her a few punches, and Jamie taught them to Terry after taking him to her house so her mother could clean him up. "I can't go home," Terry had sobbed. "My dad'll be there, and he'll be mad I didn't fight back."     "Now you will fight back," Jamie had said after they'd sparred a bit. "And I will, too. We'll practice."     The physical bullying had stopped soon after they began returning the blows they received, and Terry and Jamie became friends. But the verbal taunts continued. What had begun as "lard-ass" for Terry, who'd been overweight till fourth grade, and "nerd-brain" for Jamie, who rarely got below an A-, quickly shifted to "fag" and "Hey, butch." Jamie had always felt different in some undefined way, but eventually, when she tried and failed to be like her suddenly boy-crazy and clothes-conscious classmates, she began to understand why, and the more she understood, the more the name-calling hurt and frightened her. Her mother kept saying Jamie felt different because journalism was so important to her--even then, the walls of her room were covered with news photos and headlines. And her friend Nomi said the kids who teased her were just mean and didn't know any better. But Jamie was increasingly sure there was more to it than that. At least when she got to know Terry, she realized she wasn't the only person who felt cut off from just about everyone else--even sometimes, in a vague, undefined way, from her own family, despite her love for them.     Later, freshman year in high school, after FAGGOT had appeared more than once on the inside of Terry's homeroom desktop, and after Marsha Stevens, captain of the girls' basketball team, had told the other players to watch out for Jamie in the locker room, Jamie and Terry started going out together, "in self-defense," as Terry'd termed it. They'd both gained some status, too, by writing for the paper, Jamie because she'd turned out to have a talent for reporting as well as a passion for newspapers, and Terry because he'd found he was able to make up for his lack of athletic prowess by writing knowledgeably and colorfully about school sports. The verbal assaults diminished a little, but Terry and Jamie, after a long talk one moonlit summer night down on Sloan's Beach, started calling themselves "Maybes"--maybe gay, maybe straight.     "So," said Jamie now, "how come you suddenly think you're a Probably?"     " Maybe a Probably," Terry answered.     "How come you're maybe a Probably? Can one be that? I mean, is that allowed? Isn't maybe a Probably still a Maybe?"     "Maybe a Maybe Probably is really a Probably Maybe," Terry retaliated. "No, that doesn't work. Actually," he said, jumping up on the stone wall they were passing, "there are many subtle shades of meaning here. For instance ..."     "Terry"--Jamie jumped up behind him and held on to his waist for balance as they both teetered along the wall's uneven surface--"why Probably?"     "Because I got to know this wonderful guy last summer who I'd never even noticed before, even though he's been in our class since we were freshmen. I mean, I really met him. He was up at the lake a lot ..." Terry stopped, blushing sheepishly when she tugged at his belt.     "So that's why you were never around," Jamie said. "`I'm so-o-o tired,'" she moaned, mock-imitating him. "`Lobstering's such hard work.' Oh, brother! Hey," she went on when he pulled away. "I'm just kidding. Come on, tell me! I'm glad for you, Terry, really. How'd you get to know him?"     He turned toward her then, grinning. "Well," he said, "we were both at the lake on one of those really hot days we had, and I swam out to this raft in the middle, and there he was, doing gorgeous dives, and I like swooned."     "Literally or figuratively?"     Terry wobbled, balancing on one foot. "I wanted to literally, because then he'd have had to rescue me, but no, only figuratively."     "And?"     "And what?"     "And then what happened?"     "And then we just sat there talking after he came up from a dive and I told him how beautiful he--I mean it , you know, the dive--was. See, I'm not shy. Not like some people who just stare and stutter."     Jamie punched him lightly. "That's not fair."     "Yeah, I know. Sorry."     "So?"     "So we started talking and stuff, and we decided to meet at the lake the next day, and the next and the next--and now my folks are beginning to get suspicious. I'm thinking of telling them, you know, coming out to them."     Jamie realized she was staring at him. "You really must be sure," she said after a moment. "Probably a Probably, I'd say."     "Yep. Probably a Probably."     "Wow, Terry. It must feel good, you know, to be that sure."     He nodded.     "What about whoever-he-is? Does he love you back? Does he know you love him?"     Terry jumped down off the wall. "That's the problem. Mucho biggo problemo. He's a Maybe, too, only he's freaked about it. I mean really freaked, more than you and I ever were, even in our most freaked moments. He says his folks'll make him leave home if they find out, and he's got this whole religion thing, like God doesn't like gays, and being gay is immoral, and you'll fry in hell if you're gay. He even read Bible verses to me one night, and I tried to tell him that what the Bible says about homosexuality is as outdated as what it says about women and dietary laws and stuff, but that didn't help."     "Have you ...? You know."     "No. I kissed him once and he cried."     "Geeze."     "Yeah. That doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. But he's so sweet, Jamie, and he says he does love me. And it's okay with me if we're, you know, platonic. Just being with him's--well, special." Terry looked off toward the harbor. "Really, really special," he repeated softly, as if to himself.     Jamie waited, but Terry didn't seem to be going to say any more. "So," she asked cautiously, "so, who is he?"     "Ernie Rivers."     "Ernie Rivers!" Jamie exclaimed. "Only the star of the swim team, right?"     "Right. That's another reason why he's so freaked about us. Me and him, I mean. Can you imagine what'd happen on the team if anyone found out?" Terry grimaced. "But you'd better believe you'll be getting great coverage of swimming this year."     "Fine. Just don't stint on the other stuff. If we start running swimming instead of football, it'll be the end of the paper."     "Yeah, yeah, I know. The end of me, too, if jerks like Brandon and Al catch on." Terry started walking again.     Jamie caught up with him and put her hand on his arm. "Hey," she said softly. "Terry. I really am happy for you." She stood on her toes and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Really happy. You let me know if there's anything I can do, okay?"     "Do?"     Jamie shrugged. "Be around when you tell your folks. Or afterward." She paused. "At least I could tell Ernie I'm a Maybe. Or you could tell him."     Terry turned toward her, almost shyly. "I'd like to tell him that. And then we could all, you know, do stuff together sometimes. It'll look less obvious if you're with us. It might make Ernie feel--I don't know. Less pressured?"     "Okay," Jamie said, although she wasn't sure she'd enjoy being the third member of a threesome. "How about this weekend? We could all go to the movies or something." She stopped; they were at the corner of her street, Willow Road.     "Sure! I'll ask Ernie. That'd be great." Terry shifted his book bag. "See you," he said. "Dream of you-know-who."     "Oh, shove it," Jamie called after him good-naturedly. " You dream of you-know-who!"     She turned down her street, wondering if she envied him. Perhaps not, she decided; maybe it's better to be a Maybe, with all possibilities still open. Then she stopped, mildly curious, at the next corner, where a red cardboard sign with machine-printed white letters stared at her from its wooden post: (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Nancy Garden. All rights reserved.