A week before Virginia voters pick their next governor, Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin released an ad featuring a woman, Laura Murphy, criticizing Democrat Terry McAuliffe for previously vetoing a bill that would have allowed parents statewide to opt their children out of reading any book with explicit material. The bill, dubbed the "Beloved bill," stemmed from Murphy's crusade to ban Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel Beloved from Fairfax County classrooms.
Youngkin's ad, which centers on how inappropriate Morrison's book is, doesn't mention Beloved or Toni Morrison. "When my son showed me his reading material, my heart sunk," Murphy says. "It was some of the most explicit reading material you can imagine." Her son, Blake Murphy, was assigned Beloved, a novel about the haunting horrors of slavery, as a senior in his college-level Advanced Placement English class.
"It was disgusting and gross," Blake Murphy told The Washington Post in 2013, when he was a freshman at the University of Florida. "It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it." He said reading Beloved before bed gave him night terrors. A decade later, he is a top lawyer at the National Republican Congressional Committee, as blogger Ben Yelin highlights.
Family-centric Common Sense Media says Beloved should be read by kids 15 and older. "It features a gritty infanticide, racial language, horrific sexual assaults, and even references to sex with animals," Common Sense explains. "But teens are mature enough to handle the challenges this book presents. At this age they can decide for themselves what they think about disturbing personal and historical events. Beloved is a beautiful, powerful book that will help all readers learn about the horrors of slavery — and leave them thinking about what it means to be a strong, heroic, or moral person."
McAuliffe is barely mentioned in the ad. But "Youngkin has increasingly built his campaign's momentum on issues of parental grievance, as conservatives nationwide accuse local school boards of pursuing a liberal cultural agenda," the Post reports. "The tactic seems to be working; polls show that Youngkin has gained on McAuliffe, and the race is a dead heat."