Park Cities parent Gina Culpepper couldn’t find a book review site that gave reviews without age recommendations or ranking. So she started one.
As the outgoing PTA president at Highland Park High School, she was well aware of the HPISD book-list debate that dragged on during the school year, though she remained neutral due to her position.
“A lot of sites provide traditional reviews, good or bad,” she said. “What I think is appropriate for a 14-year-old is different than my best friend, so I tried to find a site that gave no recommendations and said, ‘here are the facts.’ I couldn’t find it. That is what I’m trying to do.”
Objectivereader.com officially launched on June 2 with more than 20 reviews written by Culpepper. She texted a few friends and within 24 hours, she had 1,300 page views.
“It’s a great starting point for conversation if you don’t have the time to read the books but want to be somewhat engaged,” Park Cities parent Dina Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve actually referred it to several friends.”
Culpepper has since added a number of titles to the site. Books are searchable alphabetically and by recent additions. They are not organized by grade year or reading list, because Culpepper intends the reach to spread beyond the Park Cities.
“There are only so many high school and AP reading lists out there,” she said. “It’s a resource anyone can use, not just Highland Park.”
For each book, Culpepper includes a basic plot summary and then lists any instances that may fall under the following categories: language, drug and alcohol use, violence and crime, sexual content, and other. What’s “other,” you ask?
TESTING A NEW SYSTEM
With this year’s overhaul of EFA (LOCAL) policy finished, HPHS is moving onto next year’s books. Eighty books are listed online as eligible works, and there have been no new reconsideration requests. Per the new policy, the Literature Review Committee is evaluating books through two tracks: 21 works are on Track 1, and 59 works are on Track 2. Of the 21, 16 were approved immediately, and five were sent to community feedback groups. They are:
1. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
2. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
4. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
5. The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
“The other category is a catch-all,” she said. “In The Art of Racing in the Rain, it never occurred to me that reincarnation could be an issue. I don’t want to make value judgments.”
The site also includes links to other helpful reviews, and Culpepper wants to allow a comments section so people can share their own experiences.
“Really, I am trying so hard to just be factual and be completely objective,” she said. “I have had people from two different extremes on this issue who have both, I think, looked at it skeptically and said this is good.”
In general, Culpepper is steering clear of the “classics” everyone knows. She’s focusing on the contemporary titles — say, ones that have stirred controversy in the past year.
“It’s very surprising to see the broad spectrum of opinions of people you would have assumed were on the same page, pardon the pun,” she said. “It was impressive that the community was able to have very strong, contrary opinions and still be civil and respectful. It was a good civics lesson for the kids.”
This school year, Culpepper will have a freshman and a junior at HPHS. She admits that she usually uses her children’s reading lists as her own.
“Honestly, if I do this and no one looks at it, the worst thing that happens is I read a bunch of great books,” she said.