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Book to remain in the classroom

A best-selling John Grisham novel will continue to be assigned reading for an accelerated English course, a committee at Fargo North High determined Tuesday.

A best-selling John Grisham novel will continue to be assigned reading for an accelerated English course, a committee at Fargo North High determined Tuesday.

But committee members also asked the course's teacher to send parents a summary of each book on the classroom's reading list, along with a recommendation that parents review the books in case of personal concerns about content.

The parent who first asked the high school to withdraw "A Time to Kill" from all students said she will ask the district to appeal the decision.

"I'm very disappointed," said Ruth Walsh, the mother of a Fargo North sophomore and senior.

Grisham's novel tells the story of a small-town Mississippi lawyer who defends a black man after he shoots two white men who raped his young daughter.


The book opens with the details of a 10-year-old black girl being bound and violently raped. The novel also includes vivid descriptions of blood and brain matter in a stairwell after the father shoots the rapists.

Students in a sophomore accelerated English class were assigned to read the book and compare it to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Both novels explore themes of prejudice and racism within the context of a court trial.

In its report, the North High committee noted a description of the rape scene takes place on 31/2 pages of the 515-page book. Committee members said physical descriptions are an effective way for the author to relate understanding and a way for Grisham to "help readers feel the pain and horror of this young girl and her father."

The committee said the rape scene wasn't gratuitous because Grisham developed numerous negative consequences for the people who were involved in the abduction and rape of a child.

As district policy mandates, the committee said it reviewed the book as an entire work and found that it met the district criteria for fiction in the curriculum and library.

"Forbidding students to read literature that explores complex, if at times disturbing, social issues is potentially dangerous, as it does nothing to prepare them for the responsibilities and challenges of community living," the report said.

Students can read and be tested on another book if they find "A Time to Kill" offensive, said Principal Andy Dahlen, one of the four committee members.


The other three were a school librarian, counselor and classroom teacher.

"The process of reviewing material is challenging," Dahlen said. "But we do appreciate parents who bring concerns to us. It's healthy to review things."

Walsh said even if a student reads a different novel, the student is still exposed to discussion on "A Time to Kill" in the classroom.

She said she and a second parent who asked the high school to remove the Grisham novel will ask parents to sign a petition to support their position.

The district is the second level of a four-level appeal process.

The other parent who asked Fargo North to remove the Grisham novel is Pamela Sund Herschlip. She asked the district to remove a short novel from elementary school libraries earlier this year. Her request eventually went to the School Board, which decided to retain the book.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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