Two Fremont County Library Books Challenged For Obscenity: Here’s What’s In Them

The Fremont County Library Board will consider challenges of two books in its young-adult section, “Smoke” and “Tricks,” on claims they are obscene with graphic depictions of drug use and sex. Cowboy State Daily has read and reviewed both books. Here’s what’s in them.

Clair McFarland

March 05, 202413 min read

"Smoke" by Ellen Hopkins is one of two books in the young-adult section of the Fremont County Library that's been challenged.
"Smoke" by Ellen Hopkins is one of two books in the young-adult section of the Fremont County Library that's been challenged. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

UPDATE March 6, 2024: Fremont County Library Board Votes 3-2 To Keep Controversial Books

Editor’s note: This story depicts mature subject matter and graphic descriptions of drug use and sexual encounters. Read at your discretion.

The Fremont County Library Board is reviewing challenges to two books in its young-adult section, “Smoke” and “Tricks,” both by Ellen Hopkins.

At its meeting Wednesday, the board may vote to keep both books where they are for teens, move them to a different section of the library or remove them entirely. The meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. in the Dubois library.

Cowboy State Daily has read and reviewed both books. Here’s what’s in them:


“Tricks” is the more graphic of the two novels and is about five teens who become prostitutes.

Cody is a sophomore in high school at the book’s start and a junior at its end. He has an attractive girlfriend named Ronnie, and describes her attributes with such phrases as “tasty-looking tits” and “boner bait.” He uses marijuana almost constantly.

When Cody’s stepfather dies of stomach cancer, Cody’s younger brother starts robbing people, and Cody develops a gambling addiction. He decides to start having sex for money to satisfy his gambling addiction and to help support his mother, but he is surprised to learn from his female pimp that it will be men paying to have sex with him, not women.

He hesitates for a week then takes the job anyway.

Cody starts questioning his own sexual orientation after sleeping with a male client, Dan, who is attractive and well-endowed.

“Pressure, deep,” says Cory, describing receiving anal sex from Dan and trying not to get aroused. “Oh! Nothing has ever felt so good. Exquisite. Exquisite. No! I won’t. No matter what, I won’t. This isn’t me. I’m only here for Mom. Cory. I won’t! But I do. And when I do, it’s over the top.”

The book ends with Cody nearly dead in a hospital after a jealous boyfriend walks in on a threesome involving Cody, a male client and a female prostitute. The boyfriend beats Cody senseless.

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins 3 5 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)


Eden Streit is a pastor’s daughter, age 16. She disdains her mother, calling her “lazy,” and she questions her faith in God.

When she meets Andrew, 19, they fall in love and have sex.

“If love like this is wrong, Lord, go ahead and damn me,” says Eden of her relationship with Andrew.

Eden’s parents find out about her relationship and send her to a religion-touting incarceration camp where she is starved and confined. The man tasked with bringing her food brings her extra food in exchange for sex. She convinces him to “run away” with her, but ditches him at the first truck stop, hitchhikes and trades her way to Las Vegas with oral sex, and becomes a homeless prostitute on the streets.

In the end, Eden finds help in a Catholic ministry for trafficked teens and finds a way to contact Andrew, who expresses relief at finding her again.


Whitney is 15. She resents her mother and calls her a “bitch.”

Whitney’s boyfriend Lucas gives her cocaine, takes her virginity then dumps her, telling her “virgin sex really isn’t very good.”

She turns to a man in his late 20s, Bryn, who had flirted with her at the mall, and they run away together to Las Vegas.

Bryn gets Whitney addicted to heroin, films her performing “nasty” sex acts, and invites other men to have sex with her. She learns he’s actually a pimp with several girls in various Vegas apartments.

She calls her pornography “webcam spurting.”

She describes her first heroin high: “I begin to feel kind of tingly. Euphoric. Like everything in my life just fell into place. The sensation is gentle, not at all like the overwhelming buzz I thought it would be. I can handle this.”

In the end she trades herself for some black tar heroin, overdoses and is taken to the hospital.


Ginger’s mother, Iris, is a prostitute who lets some of her clients rape Ginger from her childhood onward in exchange for money.

Ginger is 16 when she falls in love with another girl, Alex, and they run away to Las Vegas and get jobs stripping and performing lap dances for money.

“The men we perform for like when we dance with each other, beast-to-breast or belly-to-ass, tan skin against pale, ebony hair on blue-streaked blond, fingers touching hidden places we won’t let ‘clients’ touch,” says Ginger. “Powerful! That’s how I feel, seeing how helpless we make them. I so enjoy reducing them to masturbation. It’s like they are masturbating for me, and I can control when they come by how I move my body, what I let them see.”

Alex starts selling sex, but Ginger can’t bring herself to do so.

In the end they get arrested for prostitution while arguing on the street. Alex goes into a group home, pregnant, and Ginger goes back home to her grandmother and her many younger siblings, having just learned that her mother is dying of advanced HIV.


Seth is a gay boy in his late teens who hides his homosexuality from his dad and peers.

He was sexually abused by a priest when he was 12, engaging in what he described as mutual touching.

He gets onto the internet and meets Loren, his first boyfriend. They have sex, but Loren moves away to enter the seminary.

Seth meets Carl, who “keeps” Seth as a paramour, and takes him to Las Vegas after Seth’s dad learns that Seth is gay and kicks the youth out of their farm home.

In Las Vegas, Carl makes Seth have a threesome with himself and another man.

“It’s a cobra dance, and despite what it means, I am charmed,” says Seth of the act. “Seduced by sensual motion. Behind me and in front of me, both men grow hard, and for some horrifying reason, I respond in like manner.”

Seth cheats on Carl with Jared, his attractive workout buddy, so Carl kicks Seth out.

Seth finds another benefactor, and he also sells himself to others on the side to build up a savings.

Here, And Here

“Tricks” is shelved in the young-adult collections of the public county libraries in Wright, Gillette, Rawlins, Hulett, Moorcroft, Lander, Riverton, Rock Springs, Thermopolis, Cheyenne, Casper, Mountain View, Green River, Niobrara County and Park County.

School libraries in Sundance, Newcastle, Moorcroft, Dubois, Hanna, and the Gillette College Library also contain “Tricks,” according to the state card catalogue.

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins 3 5 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)


The other book now challenged, “Smoke,” is Ellen Hopkins’ sequel to “Burned,” a novel about domestic abuse.

In “Burned,” a 15-year-old girl, Jackie, is raped by her crush, Caleb.

Jackie’s father walks in on the pair in his barn, just after the rape, and immediately blames Jackie and starts beating her savagely.

Jackie’s older sister, Pattyn, storms in with a pistol. Pattyn’s father dares her to shoot.

The father is shot and dies on scene. Pattyn flees and takes refuge with a Mexican family –— most of whom are in the United States illegally — and she gets a job working as a maid for a family with a cruel and troubled teenage daughter.

Jackie, meanwhile, does not report the rape. Her mother blames her for it and her mother also accepts legal advice and help from Caleb’s father in the wake of the father’s death.

Jackie falls in love with Gavin, a senior boy whose late mother and living mother were a lesbian couple.

Gavin tells Jackie that Caleb was bullying a naked gay boy in the locker room by shoving a baseball bat into his mouth and throat, so Gavin and another youth attacked Caleb.

In the end of Jackie’s story, she realizes in a flashback that she was the one who grabbed the pistol from Pattyn and murdered her father. She confesses it before the family’s strict Latter-day Saints church, and she also tells the church that Caleb raped her.

In the end of Pattyn’s story, she falls in love with Angel, who picks fruit on the orchard where she works as house maid.

Her employer’s cruel daughter, Deirdre, accosts Angel, his friend Javier and Pattyn while the three are driving to mass.

Deirdre’s friends shoot Javier to death and shoot Angel and Pattyn, but Angel and Pattyn survive.

Pattyn and Jackie are not prosecuted for their father’s death.

The story ends with Pattyn working on her aunt’s ranch and deciding to date Angel.

A Review

“Smoke” is not as graphic as “Tricks.” It doesn’t describe illegal drug use, though it does describe Jackie getting drunk on whiskey when she runs out of Percocet following her injuries.

It contains some violence, including two murders and a horse massacre.

“Smoke” contains one sex scene, of Caleb raping Jackie.

“One wicked thrust and Caleb drove himself inside me. Something ripped. Something pried. I thought he would tear me apart,” the page reads.  “All I could do was go limp, tears streaming and soaking my blouse, until he shuddered his finish, punctuated with a disgusting grunt.”

The rest of “Smoke” consists of the two girls trying to move on with their lives while battling flashbacks and trauma. Both raised in the Latter-day Saints religion, they question and challenge God, and ultimately disregard their church as a farce.

The book has a happy ending, which makes it unique among many of Hopkins’ other works.

“Smoke” is shelved in the young-adult sections of public libraries in Douglas, Glenrock, Wright, Gillette, Lander, Riverton, Thermopolis, Cheyenne, Kemmerer, Casper, Meeteetse, Powell, Cody, Fulmer, Green River, Evanston, Lyman, Mountain View, Upton, Niobrara County and Goshen County, according to the Wyoming card catalogue.

It’s also in the school libraries of Gillette College, a Hanna secondary school, Moorcroft High School, Newcastle High School, Sheridan College and Sundance Secondary School.

The Debate

Fremont County resident Karen Wetzel challenged both “Smoke” and “Tricks.” After some discussion at a February meeting of the library board, Wetzel said she had not read the books, but had read portions of them.

Board Chair Carrie Johnson asked Wetzel why she did not read them.

“I don’t want to have that filth on my brain,” Wetzel answered, adding that she’s suffered trauma herself, doesn’t need more “filth” on her brain, and believes “Smoke” presents dark themes as “fun and games.”

Fremont County Library System Director Anita Marple upheld both books, saying they have value and are not obscene.

Marple said Wetzel took the book’s graphic scenes out of context.

“This book is not fun and games,” said Marple of “Smoke.”

Marple said the young adult section is for teens 13 and older.


Wetzel called “Smoke” a grooming book and said it wouldn’t pass the judicially-ordained Miller test for obscenity. She also claimed it contains child pornography.

Marple countered, noting that Wyoming’s definition of child pornography is based on visual depictions, not words. Moreover, the rape scene is “intense” but does not necessitate the book’s removal, said Marple.

An author’s note at the end of “Smoke” directs readers to get help if they’re in abusive relationships, Marple noted.

“It is not child pornography and it’s not grooming,” said Marple. “It’s properly located in the young-adult selection and it should be a parent and a child talking about if … this book is appropriate for their family.”


Marple also upheld “Tricks” as fitting for the library, saying it has literary value and can develop compassion and empathy for tragic situations.

“The sexual encounters are not glamorized or promoted as desirable,” she said.  

Denying access to books that could help a kid realize the life choices in “Tricks” are poor choices to make would be neglect, Marple said, quoting from another peer who also reviewed the book.

“If a parent is concerned about what their child might encounter in the public library, they need to be at the library with their child,” she added.

Making Good Choices

Board secretary Marta Mossburg said the library should focus on high curation standards, rather than merely avoiding technically obscene material.

“I think the bigger question is are these the kinds of stories that are the best ones we’re choosing for our kids?” said Mossburg. “This isn’t about banning books either. This is about, are we picking the best ones for our community?”

Marple countered, saying “there’s a variety of opinion on what is best,” so the library should make available a variety of constitutionally protected speech.

Wyoming Wide

These challenges are recent among a rash of book challenges across Wyoming.

This is not Hopkins’ first time landing in challengers’ crosshairs either. The Natrona County School District No. 1 Board voted last March to keep Hopkins’ “Crank” series, about methamphetamine addiction.

Local residents in Gillette criticized Hopkins’ novel “Identical” last August.

“Identical” is about a girl’s multiple personality disorder, her father’s incestuous rape of her, the girl’s drug use and promiscuous, sometimes torturous sex.

Clarification - Anita Marple clarified Wednesday at the Fremont County Library Board meeting that she was still contemplating whether "Tricks" should stay in the young-adult section, though she advocated for it to remain in the library. The above story has been updated to reflect that.

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter