High school condom distribution and a hotly contested sex education curriculum set a small New England town's blood boiling and books burning in The Year They Burned the Books, an issue-driven novel by Nancy Garden. Jamie Crawford is the senior editor of the "Telegraph," her high school's newspaper, but the publication of her editorial in favor of the school's new policy to distribute condoms happens to coincide with the election of a new, highly conservative school board member. As a result, Jamie suddenly finds her editorial voice gagged. Soon the school's health books have been removed from the classrooms for "review," a conservative parents' group stages a library book burning, and Jamie's beloved teacher is forced to resign as the newspaper's faculty advisor. Jamie's personal life also becomes more complicated as she tries to deal with her physical attraction to Tessa, a new girl at school. Then, on top of it all, Jamie and her best friend Terry (who is openly gay) are the victims of an attack by a group of conservative students and Jamie has to decide if she can handle the consequences of coming out.
Teens love controversies, especially those involving young people, and there is scarcely a hot topic here that Garden doesn't touch. Yet in spite of the scene-stealing issues, Garden's timeless message that hardship shapes character is illustrated well in Jamie's transition from a "maybe," (as in "maybe gay, maybe straight")to a "probably" by novel's end. An excellent choice for use in high school discussions about censorship and free speech. (Ages 13 to 15) --Jennifer Hubert