Recently, a school district in Florida banned 8 Nora Roberts books for containing “pornography”. But this is only the latest in a long line of book bans, thanks to the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty.
Who is Nora Roberts?
Nora Roberts is a well-known romance novelist, having published over 220 books and sold more than 500 million copies. In 2007, Time magazine featured her as one of the two writers among its 100 most influential people in the world. She’s also spent more than 893 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Additionally, the Romance Writers of America awarded her 19 Rita Awards and inducted her into its hall of fame.
Many readers also view Roberts as a contributor to a drastic change in romance fiction. In the 1980s, when Roberts started writing, the “world in which drinks are strong and the men stronger” was the model. So, she started out writing “category romances” with formulaic plots. Quickly, though, she began to Americanise her plots, and her heroines diverged from the status quo for romance novels. Her women have interesting jobs and don’t seem too preoccupied with getting married.
“Her heroes and heroines are so strong yet so flawed. They have these personal handicaps, and that’s something that’s made Nora’s books so different to many written in the past, because the characters are so relatable […] They’re searching for themselves, not someone else.”Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries novels
What is Moms for Liberty?
Moms for Liberty is a conservative activist group that fights for parental rights in schools. The organization has previously campaigned against COVID-19 guidelines in schools and curriculums that mention LGBTQ+ rights, critical social theory, or discrimination. They actually offered a “bounty” to those who caught teachers introducing texts discussing race. As of July 2022, they claimed to have 195 chapters in 37 states, composed of almost 100,000 members.
Many view Moms for Liberty as a challenge to school officials trying to educate children. In fact, Media Matters for America accused this organization of using “parental rights” as a cover to harass public schools. Their book ban efforts are just another facet of their activism in schools.
Moms for Liberty vs. Nora Roberts
Co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tiffany Justice, explained she wants books in school that “don’t contain pornography […] incest, pedophilia, rape.” Following this, another Moms for Liberty activist, Julie Marshall, prompted the removal of 8 Nora Roberts books from a Florida school district for containing “pornography”.
Now, while Roberts’s books do contain sex scenes, the language is so vague a child would likely not understand what is happening. (Example: “He touched, he tasted, he lingered until her tremors became tremors.”) And, what’s more, each book ends with a marriage proposal.
“I’m surprised that they wouldn’t want teenagers to read about healthy relationships that are monogamous, consensual, healthy, and end up in marriage.”Nora Roberts on Moms for Liberty’s book ban
Roberts also stated, “If you don’t want your teen to read this book, as a mother you have the right to do so – and good luck with that. But you have no right to say that no one’s child can read this book.”
Further Book Bans
Moms for Liberty is increasingly targeting romance books under the loose term of “pornography”. The same school district banned Judy Blume’s Forever, in which a high school couple debates about having sex at length. And, in Martin County, 20 Jodi Picoult books were pulled from the school library.
With this loose definition of “pornography”, stacks of books are being removed for frivolous reasons. A recent PEN America report found almost 1,500 cases of books being banned for allegedly containing “pornography”.
“This is much bigger than you can really count… People need to understand that it’s not a single book being removed in a single school district, it’s a set of ideas that are under threat just about everywhere.”Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech at PEN America
Further, Moms for Liberty released a 111-page Book of Books document which provides guidance to parents on controversial books. They rate books on a 0-5 system, with 5 being the most controversial. A 3 is considered inappropriate for anyone under 18 without parental guidance, a 4 is something that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone under 18, at all, and a 5 contains “explicit references to aberrant sexual activity, including sexual assault/battery, beastiality, or sexual abuse.”
In it, they rate Maia Kobabe’s Genderqueer a 4, meaning it shouldn’t be viewed by anyone under 18. Having read this book, I am aware it can get a bit racy in its discussions of sex and puberty. However, Kobabe’s journey in understanding gender is a great tool for others struggling with their own gender identity, specifically high school-age kids who are going through the same things depicted in the novel.
Overall, Moms for Liberty seems to be cracking down on books that don’t align with their own conservative opinions. So, what books are next?