Pearl-clutching parents in Ohio have forced a suburban school district outside Cincinnati to review a book so popular for its portrayal of historic events that it was adapted into a film.
According to a report by The Cincinnati Enquirer, parents of students at Milford Exempted Village Schools want In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, on the chopping block due to its “sex and wickedness” and “unhealthy view of sexuality [and pornography],” despite the novel’s historical relevance.
“THIS CONTENT IS EXPLICIT! Our 10th graders are being forced to read this pornography in school!” Amy Boldt K posted April 25 in the Milford OH Neighborhood Group on Facebook. “I am disgusted beyond words.”
In the post, the woman claimed that students at Milford High School were required to read the book aloud in class, and she demanded the teacher be removed from her post. As an example of content she felt was unsuitable, Amy Boldt K provided an excerpt about a girl banding her breasts to keep them from growing, out of fear that they would bring her unwanted attention from men. She also added paragraphs about the book’s female protagonists being sexually assaulted.
“This is only a small content of the book [sic],” the woman wrote. “Are you concerned yet, parents?? Time for action.”
As of Monday afternoon, the post had more than 700 comments and had been shared more than 20 times.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Milford Exempted Village Schools acknowledged that administrators received a “citizen’s request for reconsideration for [In the Time of the Butterflies] used in 10th grade English language arts.”
“Any time the district would receive such a request, the district follows Board Policy… which calls for the Superintendent to convene a review committee,” Milford Director of Communications Krista Boyle said in the statement. “This committee is composed of seven members, a mix of teachers, administrators, and parents.”
On its website, the school board says it understands some school literature may be controversial for students and, if parents wish, they can choose alternate reading material for their child that covers a similar “instructional purpose.” The district also says it doesn’t allow “any individual or group to exercise censorship over instructional materials and library collections, but it recognizes that, at times, a re-evaluation of certain material may be desirable.”
In the Time of the Butterflies is the fictionalized account of the Mirabal sisters, who protested the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the 1960s Dominican Republic. Inspired by true events, the book focuses on the deadly massacres and human rights horrors of Trujillo’s authoritarian reign, the sisters’ opposition to his leadership, and their alleged murders by government troops. The novel was adapted into a film in 2001 that was rated PG-13.
Boyle told The Daily Beast the novel encompasses themes of “magical realism and metafiction” in human nature and poses the question of how trauma carries through future generations.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Alvarez’s agent, Stuart Bernstein, said the author was “dismayed” by the furor, considering she personally experienced Trujillo’s “repressive dictatorship.”
“[It was a time] where reading books was considered suspect, where many books were banned,” she said.
Despite the fact the novel deals with true events, some Milford community members thought it was too much.
“Wow! That was rated R,” a member of the neighborhood Facebook group commented on Amy Boldt K’s post in regards to the excerpt. “I can see why kids would be uncomfortable to read this! Wtf.”
“That is beyond inappropriate!!” another member responded.
However, other community members and former students had high praise for Alvarez’s novel.
“Bro, this book is completely fine and not graphic at all,” Miri Lawrence posted. “When I was in 10th grade it was really a valuable learning experience for me. This was one of the only books I read through, and I still cherish it. Don’t tell the principal to stop giving out this book because it is so special and valuable. Your kids will be much more cultured after reading it.”
“When I read this book in high school, I loved it,” Ashley Honsaker, a 2018 Milford High School graduate, wrote. “I thought it was a great historical fiction book about Trujillo and the Dominican Republic during that time period. And honestly didn’t even think twice about the sexual aspects of it other than what it told about history and how sex was seen during that time.”
In a Facebook message to The Daily Beast, Honsaker, now a senior in college studying graphic design, said she loved reading the book as a high school sophomore.
“It was insightful and helped me gain understanding as to what life was like in the Dominican Republic during the 1900s,” she said. “The main takeaway I got from reading the book was a different perspective on world culture. …As a young woman, it was great to see a historical fiction novel that revolved around women during a time where they weren’t always given respect or equality.”
Honsaker said she believed the uproar is due to people not truly understanding the context of what was written.
“I also think parents sometimes overstep and hold their children back,” she said. “It is extremely sad that, in society today, we teach our children to not judge a book by its cover and to be fair and righteous, but so many parents in my community are doing the exact opposite.”
Other Facebook group members ridiculed critics for disagreeing with the novel’s content without actually reading it or finding an alternative book suitable for their children, per the district’s policy.
“Prior to posting publicly, I really feel a conversation with the school would have been more appropriate,” a member of the Facebook group wrote. “I would also suggest that those who have not done so, to read the book in question. I feel too many are just jumping to social media without having done their due diligence.”
Milford Exempted Village Schools told The Daily Beast that its review committee is currently reading In the Time of the Butterflies and is expected to complete its review by May 13.