Thanks to my two children, I've become quite the expert on children's literature. The Harry Potter books were fun, and I really enjoyed the sly humor and wordplay of Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events."
Would-be witches and wacky orphans in peril make for entertaining reading, but not all "kidlit" is so fantastic. Much of it deals with realistic themes, exploring the problems young people face at home and in school. Recently, author John Coy released a teen novel titled Box Out that may be of interest to Americans United members because it deals in part with an issue AU confronts regularly: religion in public schools.
Box Out tells the story of Liam Bergstrom, a sophomore basketball player at Horizon High School. Liam is a Roman Catholic and doesn't feel comfortable when his coach leads the team in prayers that employ Protestant language and rituals. Although he doesn't want to rock the boat and jeopardize his position on the team, Liam knows he has to do something.
So he calls Americans United for Separation of Church and State. That's right – Americans United is mentioned in the book. Liam calls AU and speaks to an attorney who drafts a letter to the school, telling the principal that the coach is out of bounds with his prayer practices.
In one scene, the school principal calls Liam into his office for a little chat. He is not pleased.
"Were you the one who talked with this..." Craney peers at the letter. "Americans United for Separation of Church and State outfit?"
Liam considers denying it. How would Craney know? But he can't lie if he's angry with Coach for lying.
"Yes, sir," he says softly. He squeezes his hands so Craney won't see them shaking.
"The last thing we need is outsiders telling us how to run our school." Craney pounds the desk. "This group is from Washington, D.C. What do they know about Horizon? Do they understand they way we do things here?"
Coy did his homework. While writing the book, he called Americans United and talked with members of our Legal Department, gathering information about how we address issues like this and often resolve them without going to court. The AU attorney named Megan that Liam speaks with in the book is a fictional character but is a very accurate representation of the lawyers on our staff.
Coercive school prayer is just one of the challenges Liam faces. There's a lot going on in Box Out (the title refers to a move used in basketball). It's a fast-paced book with lots interesting character development and on-court action.
Liam is a typical teen, grappling with a host of issues. (He also has girlfriend trouble, and some of his teammates don't care for his decision to challenge the coach.) How does his prayer protest turn out? Is Liam successful in defending his rights? No spoilers here. Pick up a copy of Box Out for a teen you know to find out.