Teenager Joslyn Diffenbaugh is growing up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, a borough of just more than 5,000 southwest of Allentown, and she has a new hobby of late: reading banned books.
At a time in which Republican state legislatures and school districts across the country have cracked down on a variety of books that deal with race, politics, gender, sexuality, and the body at large, students like 14-year-old Joslyn are seeking out the literature that certain political leaders would prefer to keep out of their hands.
Joslyn, whose home Berks County supported Donald Trump for president in 2020, has seen the book banning movement come to Kutztown as well: the school board only voted narrowly in January to keep Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir available to students in the high school library.
The teenager, who described herself as a “book nerd” in an interview with the Washington Post, has recently read Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds.
Now, she has started a club for similarly-minded students who want space to read and discuss banned literature.
With support from the local Firefly Bookstore, the Teen Banned Book Club has been meeting consistently since January. The group of 12 has read six novels, with authors represented ranging from George Orwell to Ibram X. Kendi.
The club is currently going strong, getting input from the bookstore’s Jordan Busits on possible new books to read and discuss. By holding the reading group in the store as opposed to her school, Joslyn said, the group is more accessible to people from other nearby schools and communities.
“These books are great works of literature, and I really just didn’t understand why so many people wanted to ban them,” she told the Post. “It’s important that people read these books because it helps them grow.”