After Macmillan quietly removed author Louis Sylvester’s name from a forthcoming middle-grade novel from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers in light of a Hulu documentary that contained evidence of his predatory conduct at a Texas high school starting in 1999, publication of the book has been canceled.
In the four-part documentary, released August 29 and 30, filmmaker Cheryl Nichols does not disclose her abuser’s name. Clues in the narrative make him discoverable as Sylvester, a middle-grade author and a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho, where he continues teaching, although the school does not provide his faculty contact information.
On October 8, Newbery Medalist and Honoree Erin Entrada Kelly tweeted, “I’m watching Keep This Between Us, a documentary about Louis Sylvester, a high school teacher who apparently groomed and abused a high school student. I was disturbed to learn that he has co-authored several MG novels, one of which is being released next year.” Kelly referred to The Crooked Door, the fourth book in the Legends of the Lost Causes series co-authored by Sylvester and Brad McLelland, slated for release in April 2023.
Kelly shared side-by-side cover designs for The Crooked Door, a June 30 original with both co-authors’ names and a revised, undated cover crediting McLelland alone. Metadata on Macmillan’s site presently lists only McLelland as creator of the Lost Causes series, although Sylvester’s name still appears on print covers.
Kelly’s tweets drew the attention of authors who had blurbed the series, including Heidi Schulz (Hook’s Revenge), Emma Trevayne (Coda), and Stefan Bachmann (Cinders and Sparrows). “Neither Emma nor I have current representation, so Stefan asked his agent, Sara Megibow, to reach out on behalf of the three of us,” said Schulz. “She got an immediate response from Holt saying they would get right on removing our blurbs from websites, metadata, etc. We also emailed Brad, the coauthor, to let him know we were pulling them, and why.”
“I can’t fathom being in [McLelland’s] position, but I also don’t understand how the publisher ever considered moving forward as if he were the sole author,” said Trevayne. “I am sure they considered the legalities of the situation; I am less sure they considered the moral issues” of giving a platform to a children’s author accused of predation against minors.
“The publisher and co-author have known about this issue since at least the last week of August but remained silent until it was made public by a third party,” Trevayne contended. Meanwhile, “those of us who had blurbed any of the books were unknowingly endorsing an alleged offender for several weeks without it being considered how we might all feel about that.”
Authors Anne Ursu, Samira Ahmed, Daniel Jose Older, and Mike Jung spoke out about the ethical breach, along with concerned librarians, readers, and sexual abuse survivors. Amid the increasing outcry, McLelland issued a statement on October 14. “I have thought long and hard about the best path forward for me and The Crooked Door since this painful information blindsided us all,” he wrote. “I have made the decision not to move forward with the publication of this book.” McLelland's statement concluded by saying, "As I am sure you understand, I am limited in what I can say. This has been a difficult time for me, my family, and my professional team. I appreciate the understanding and support so many of you have shown."
Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in turn released a statement saying, “Brad McLelland has decided not to go forward with the publication of The Crooked Door. We understand and respect his decision and we continue to support his work.” Neither McLelland or Macmillan wish to comment further at this time.
Authors shocked by the allegations in Keep This Between Us expressed disappointment that Macmillan only changed course under public pressure. “Bare minimum stands: don’t publish pedophiles,” Ursu commented.
“When there is reliable, documented evidence that a person has demonstrated inappropriate behavior toward minors, that person should not be permitted to profit—personally or professionally—from an industry whose sole purpose is to cater to minors,” Kelly told PW via email. “It should also be noted that innocent authors and librarians are currently under attack by extremists who accuse them of being sexual predators simply for stocking books with queer characters. I could not sit back and watch these authors and librarians navigate such disgusting accusations while an author who is accused of actual grooming quietly profits from publication.”
Questions remain about advances and royalties, and about the fate of the co-authors’ three existing backlist titles, which are still available on bookstore and library shelves.