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Following a week of outcry against the title, Abrams ComicsArts over the weekend announced that it was dropping plans to publish A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, a graphic novel seen by many as being offensively stereotypical in its treatment of Middle Eastern characters.
The book — by novelist, Newbery Medal winner and Scott O’Dell Award winner Jack Gantos and illustrator Dave McKean — adapted Gantos’ short story from the 2016 Amnesty International UK anthology Here I Stand: Stories That Speak for Freedom, in which a young boy of undefined Middle Eastern descent enters a library wearing an explosive device under his jacket, only to reconsider his mission when he sees those around him captivated by what they’re reading.
The title, announced for a May 2019 release, provoked a negative response on social media when previews were released on Twitter, with more than 1,000 authors putting their name on an open letter organized by the Asian Author Alliance criticizing the book.
“According to text on the back of the book, the young suicide bomber has an ‘unquestionable duty to his beliefs’ — as if it is his faith that compels him to be a terrorist, as if he must act in opposition to his faith to show humanity,” the letter reads in part.
It continues, “The premise alone is steeped in Islamophobia and profound ignorance. Further, though the text refers to the characters as boys, the illustrations of brown-skinned individuals with receding hairlines and dark circles under their squinting, villainous eyes are dehumanizing and do not seem in any way child-like. Is this how Abrams believes Muslim/Middle Eastern/Arab/Pakistani children should see themselves? Or, adults for that matter? Is this the mirror you hold up to them? Is this the window that you think creates empathy?”
In response, Abrams on Saturday released a statement via Tumblr, which read, “While the intention of the book was to help broaden a discussion about the power of literature to change lives for the better, we recognize the harm and offense felt by many at a time when stereotypes breed division, rather than discourse. Therefore, together with the book’s creators, we have chosen to withdraw its release.”
The online listing for the title now redirects to an “Invalid EAN” page. Neither Gantos nor McKean have made a public statement about the potential for another publisher to pick up the project.
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