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CARROLL, Iowa (AP) -- "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" was welcomed back Monday into Carroll High School's classrooms.

The Carroll school board voted to overturn Superintendent Rob Cordes' decision to ban the book from the high school's literature-to-film class. He ousted the book in November after parents complained that its sexual content was not suitable for teenagers.

A special committee -- comprised of eight district employees, community members and students -- then reviewed the book and recommended that the school board overturn the ban.

The board voted 4-1 Monday to keep the book in the school's library and curriculum. However, students will now need a signed permission slip from their parents to read the 1991 novel.

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" -- written by West Des Moines native Peter Hedges -- deals with a young man's experiences with his troubled family in the fictional Iowa town of Endora.

Some committee members agreed the novel has objectionable sexual content but said many reluctant readers may relate to the characters.

Hedges has also defended his book, saying his novel focuses on redemption and regret. He said the district shouldn't let those larger themes be obscured by the relatively few pages with sexual content that he intended to drive plot.

"The fact that the book is being discussed because of its sexual content is somewhat disappointing to me," Hedges said Friday in a phone interview from New York, where he is completing work on a Disney movie he co-wrote and directed. "I think what the book's ultimately about is how we come back alive and how we navigate a treacherous terrain between our responsibilities to our families and our duty to ourselves."

That's why so many people relate to Gilbert Grape, a 24-year-old rural Iowan attempting to live in a dying town, Hedges said.

"Here's a guy whose just trying to be a good person, but he's getting eaten by his circumstances," he said.

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Hedges, a father of 10- and 12-year-old boys, acknowledges that his book isn't for all young people.

"But a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old? They can handle this book," he said. "It's mild compared to what's actually going on in the world, and it's hopeful and redemptive. So there's a part of me that's just like, 'Come on, move on."'

Information from: Daily Times Herald

AP-CS-01-16-07 0104EST

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