Cobb removes ‘sexually explicit’ books from school libraries

Two books — "Flamer" by Mike Curato and "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews — were removed from school libraries in Cobb County. The books in this photo were checked out from the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

Credit: Cassidy Alexander

Credit: Cassidy Alexander

Two books — "Flamer" by Mike Curato and "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews — were removed from school libraries in Cobb County. The books in this photo were checked out from the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

The Cobb County School District removed two books with “highly inappropriate, sexually explicit content” from school libraries this week, officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday.

One of the books is “Flamer” by Mike Curato, a graphic novel set in a 1995 summer camp about a boy who is bullied for appearing gay. The other book is “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews, which is about two high school boys who become friends with a girl who is dying of cancer. Twenty school libraries in Cobb contained one or both books, a district spokesperson said.

The removal of the books comes just days after the school board voted to fire a teacher for reading a book that challenged gender norms to fifth grade students.

The Cobb spokesperson said the books were identified as part of “the district process,” but did not indicate which policies may have been violated. Families received a message Monday evening about the removal of the books.

“With thousands of books purchased over the decades, we are making every effort to ensure our library only includes materials that are aligned with Georgia standards, supported by law and CCSD policy, and contain content that is age appropriate for our students,” the message read.

There’s an “ongoing investigation” about “Flamer” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a district spokesperson said.

The Cobb school board voted along party lines last week to fire Katie Rinderle, who taught at Due West Elementary. She read students “My Shadow is Purple” by Scott Stuart after purchasing it at the Scholastic book fair. Rinderle is believed to be the first public school teacher in Georgia to face consequences under state laws passed in 2022 that limit what teachers can talk about in the classroom.

People show up in support of Cobb County teacher Katie Rinderle, who read “My Shadow is Purple,” a book about gender identity, to fifth graders, at a hearing at the Cobb County Board of Education in Marietta on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. Rinderle was fired by the school board on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /


icon to expand image


“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is often challenged because of repeated profanity and a passage in which two teenage boys joke about oral sex. “Flamer” is also often called sexually explicit, and is about a 14-year-old coming to terms with his sexuality who deals with bullying and suicidal ideation. Boys in the book make graphic jokes. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” was a bestseller, and the School Library Journal called “Flamer” an “an essential book” that shows readers they’re never alone.

Both books are on the American Library Association’s list of most-challenged books of 2022. As of fall 2022, no Georgia school district had banned either book, according to an index kept by PEN America.

Maariya Sheikh, a senior at Campbell High, said students at her school weren’t notified that any books were removed from the library, but she’s been concerned with censorship in Cobb. Attempts to restrict materials are a way to intimidate teachers and media specialists, are harmful to LGBTQ+ students and distract from more important issues in education, she said.

“I think it’s important that we see this representation ingrained in our curriculum and in our books,” she said. “Censoring books in Cobb County is something that is so harmful. I really don’t know if I can express how scared many of my peers have been feeling about this.”

The district asked families to communicate with principals, teachers and school staff when they have concerns about “what your student is reading, hearing or learning.”

The district prohibits “content harmful to minors,” which includes sexual content; “divisive concepts,” or those that relate to race; and “controversial issues,” defined as relating to political or partisan views and theories of origin. Parents also have the right to “direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of their child,” according to district rules and state law.

Cobb’s complaint process

Under Cobb’s current rules, only a parent or legal guardian can request schools to reconsider resources available in the library. Complaints can be made to the school principal, and then a school committee has 45 days to evaluate the request and make a decision. Decisions are only binding to the school where the complaint was initiated, but a district committee can make a decision on the same book if it receives an appeal request. Committees are comprised of school or district personnel, parents, students and community members. A district spokesperson did not indicate whether this process was followed for these two books.