Fremont County Library Board Votes 3-2 To Keep Controversial Books

In a lively debate on Wednesday, the Fremont County Library Board voted 3-2 to keep two controversial books in the young adult section of the library that contain subject matter on child molestation, group sex, anal sex, oral sex, filming of pornography, and other topics.

Clair McFarland

March 06, 20246 min read

The Fremont County Library's Riverton branch.
The Fremont County Library's Riverton branch. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

The Fremont County Library Board voted 3-2 Wednesday to keep two controversial books in its collection after a local resident challenged them.

“Smoke” by Ellen Hopkins will remain in the young-adult section in the Lander and Riverton branch libraries.

“Tricks,” also by Ellen Hopkins, will remain in both libraries, though Fremont County Library Director Anita Marple said she is still consulting with other librarians about whether to move it to the adult section or keep it in the young adult section for teens 13 and older.

Residents packed the meeting room Wednesday at the Dubois branch library. They sparred from both sides of the issue, with some saying the challenges were wrongful attempts at censorship and others that the library should exercise better judgment in protecting kids from harmful material.

“People’s rights are not being trampled on by cleaning up the filth of the public library,” said Troy Jones of Lander during the board’s public comment segment.

He said Americans have the right to bear arms, but it’s not the government’s job to buy guns for everyone. By the same token, he continued, people have the right to buy books like “Tricks,” but not to have the library furnish them.

Kyle Neary of Dubois countered, saying libraries should provide “whatever we want to read,” and if parents can’t get involved with what their kids are accessing, “maybe they shouldn’t have kids.”

Read The Books

Perhaps reflecting on an earlier admission by the books’ challenger Karen Wetzel that Wetzel had not read the books completely, Lander resident Sarah Reilley asked the board to consider a policy requiring people to read books before challenging them.

“That’s one of the most disgusting things you can do, is take talking points from a national organization … (that) tells you to be outraged,” said Reilley.

As the meeting progressed, some board members said they had not finished the books before the reconsideration vote either.

Board Vice-Chair Perry Cook said she had read “Smoke” but didn’t finish “Tricks.”

Board Treasurer John Angst said he also hadn’t read both books, as he’s been dealing with a serious illness and could not.

Both Cook and Angst voted to uphold Marple’s decisions to keep the books.

Cook said the culture of book challenging could plume soon, as it has in other regions nationally, and that’s why the board hires professionals like Marple to read the books and make determinations on them.

“Anita has done an incredible evaluation of this book, looked at a lot of other sources to make her decision,” said Cook. “I would personally rather base our opinion on hiring — as we’re supposed to do — a good director, and letting her use her extensive librarian skills to analyze a book.”

Smoke and tricks contested books 3 6 24


From what she had read of “Tricks,” Cook said she understood it to be a cautionary tale conveying disastrous outcomes from bad choices and not meant to be “grooming” toward kids.

Board Secretary Marta Mossburg disagreed, saying “Tricks” falls outside the legal standard for obscenity, in her view, and should not be in the library at all.

“It definitely glorified sex,” said Mossburg, adding that she did, however, finish reading it. “It was disgusting and I had a hard time getting through it. I just felt so dirty.”

She read aloud from some of the book’s scenes, including quotes by a character who is a sophomore in high school who sells anal sex to another man and discovers he enjoys the act.

Some attendees who had spoken against challenging the books laughed as Mossburg read.

When she spoke of “Smoke,” conversely, Mossburg said it was “dark” but could simply be moved to the adult section of the library, not removed altogether.

‘A Family To These Kids’

Board member Kristen McClelland also voiced disgust with “Tricks,” saying she’d read it “from cover to cover.”

McClelland addressed one mother who spoke against censorship at the meeting by touting what a blessing the library has been to her family and explaining how well she supervises her kids.

“The sad fact is, the kids who are going to be reading these books don’t have moms like her,” said McClelland. “We can’t just say, ‘Don’t have kids.’ These people are having kids and we as a community should be a family to these kids.”

Some attendees applauded.

Cook reiterated that the board should be cautious about not micromanaging Marple, whose job it is to analyze the books in her collection, particularly when they’re challenged.

The Vote

Cook voted to uphold Marple’s decision to keep both books. Angst and board chair Carrie Johnson also cast aye votes.

Mossburg and McClelland voted against Marple’s decision.

‘Tricks’ And ‘Smoke’

“Tricks” is about five teens who become prostitutes after dealing with their own difficult families or romantic let-downs.

It is sexually graphic and involves child molestation, group sex, anal sex, oral sex, graphic depictions of drug use and addiction, unprotected sex, the filming of pornography, a cruel religion-touting incarceration camp and profane and sexist phrases.

“Smoke” is about two girls involved in their father’s murder trying to recover from the abuse they’ve suffered under him, and from the trauma of the murder.

The younger girl, 15-year-old Jackie, was raped, and also tries to move on from that throughout the book.

The older girl, Pattyn, had been pregnant but lost her baby. Her beloved boyfriend Ethan had also died prior to the book’s plot.

“Smoke” is not as graphic as “Tricks,” containing one sex scene — a description of the rape — and no illegal drug use.

It does contain one scene in which Jackie gets drunk on whiskey to deal with running out of prescribed Percocet.

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter