Author Neal Shusterman visits Delaware City Schools despite book banning controversy


Jeremiah Rutherford

Neal Shusterman speaks to a group of students at Hayes High School. The author visited despite debates over school library books just a few days prior.

Grace Metz, Editor-In-Chief

Neal Shusterman, author of Challenger Deep and Scythe, spoke to Hayes High School and Dempsey Middle School students on Feb 8-9, just days after a school board standoff over concerns with district library books that discuss sensitive subject matter.
“I think that people are afraid of change,” Shusterman said in an interview. “People are afraid of losing control, and the response is wrong minded. I mean, to try to ban books, to try to limit the free flow of ideas, is not a solution to any problem. Unfortunately, books are easy targets.”
These concerns were not honored as the board voted to maintain the challenged books.
“[These are] the same parents that will allow their kids to play a shoot ’em up video game or allow them to watch things on TV that are incredibly violent or, you know, are questionable, and yet they’re letting that happen,” Shusterman said. “But then they’re going after books, you know, where books are written responsibly. Books are written to try to address important issues. And they’re not gratuitous, I mean, the authors and publishers are trying to do something positive with the books.”
The first installment of Shusterman’s “Unwind” series drew attention from Delaware City school board attendees over a scene describing a sci-fi abortion alternative known as “unwinding,” or distributing one’s body parts to be used in other medical operations.
However, Shusterman’s writing often addresses a wide range of subjects, including mortality, racism, and mental illness.
“Challenger Deep,” a novel read in 11th grade English classrooms this year throughout Hayes, details the struggles of someone with schizoaffective disorder, and is based on Shusterman’s own son who dealt with schizophrenia throughout most of his teenage years.
“I think it gives them a better perspective than some of the social media, or big production movies and things that talk about mental illness, where it’s kind of either glamorized or horrorized or made to look like an ‘other,’” English teacher Ariel Uppstrom said. “The kids in class have talked about the moment you feel yourself slipping into that other world that the character is experiencing and how quickly it can get out of control, but you can rationalize it. So it humanizes an experience of a more extreme mental illness than depression or anxiety, which many of our students are familiar with.”
Librarian Sarah Ressler teaches the Multiple Perspectives in Literature class at Hayes, which studies published works, like Shusterman’s, that address current social issues.
“I love reading about lots of different perspectives that I don’t have, and I hope [reading helps] human beings be empathetic towards one another,” Ressler said. “That is a goal that I hope is not political; that I hope, as a positive human making a difference in the world, I want human beings to be more empathetic to one another.”
Author visits like Shusterman’s can provide unique perspectives for students, and are effective in helping students connect to the creative works that they analyze in the classroom.
Yet, for each step forward in furthering intersectionality in the public school system, there is a select group of people who will fight for those few steps back.
“Look at what was going on in the 1950s and 60s when we couldn’t show black people or poor people, or [show] women doing things that were outside of the home,” Uppstrom said. “Those things are going to happen anyway. [It] is a silly thing to think that because you restrict the viewing access in these four walls that will make it disappear, because that’s not what that does. Instead, it creates people who feel alone and sad and they lash out in other ways.”