The New York Times called John Gardner's 1971 novel "Grendel" an "extraordinary achievement."
The Christian Science Monitor said it deserves a place on the same shelf as other contemporary masterpieces.But a group of Bountiful and Centerville residents think "Grendel" should be banned from Viewmont High School.
They have complained to the Davis County School District, which for the first time in recent memory is activating a committee to review the book for possible prohibition.
The controversy started in December when Marie Burke began circulating a flier that quoted eight allegedly obscene passages from the book, which her daughter was assigned to read in her senior English class at Viewmont.
The passages deal with bodily functions, profanity, violence and sexual violence.
"There are many more statements in this (book) that are just as crude as the above mentioned," the flier states.
"I have met with the principal and teacher who both declare this is wonderful reading for our youth. I do not agree," states the flier, which urges concerned parents to fill out a form called the "Citizen's Request for Reconsideration of a Work" and forward it to the school district.
Though "Grendel" may offend Burke, what offends Viewmont English teacher Ken Zeeman is Burke's actions.
"She took any and all phrases that looked offensive and strung them together," said Zeeman, the head of the school's English Department. "And when you look at them all like that, it looks quite offensive. But when you read them in context, they're not shocking at all."
Burke refused to return phone calls to the Deseret News but her husband, who said he is participating in the effort to ban "Grendel," said he and his wife do not want to talk about it.
"We're not trying to publicize it like some teachers are doing," said M. Douglas Burke, Bountiful.
The Burkes' attempts to "do things surreptitiously and in the dark" are also disturbing to Zeeman. "What you have is sensationalism and scare tactics going on here."
What's most disturbing, however, is that only a few of those complaining about the book have actually read it, Zeeman said.
Nancy Fleming, the assistant school district superintendent who has been receiving the complaints, said that of about 50 complaint forms received, only two complainants have indicated they had read the book.
Zeeman said he and the Viewmont English faculty discussed the book last week, weighing its merits against the parents' concerns, but ultimately voted to continue teaching from the book, which is assigned only to seniors.
Now, the issue goes before the district's committee, comprising five parents and six teachers. The committee, whose members have been assigned to read the book, is scheduled to meet Tuesday and will eventually make a recommendation to Superintendent Rich Kendell, who could refer the matter to the School Board.
Zeeman said he hopes the public will speak out against the anti-"Grendel" effort and that reason will prevail.
"Some people have asked me why we can't drop the book for a few years, but the issue here is to what degree do we allow schools to be pushed around by people who have an ax to grind? There are also the issues of academic freedom and a student's right to read."
And what do students think?
"All I can say is the students aren't having their say on this issue," said senior Valerie Orner. "And if they ban this book, I'll be one of the first to be out there with a petition."