Banned Books Week 2023: October 1 – 7
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
What is a challenge? What is a ban?
Book bans generally start with a challenge — a verbal or formal written attempt to restrict access to materials or remove them entirely. A ban happens when those materials are actually removed from the shelves, classrooms, or performance spaces.
Are books really still banned in the United States?
Yes! People continually try to take away readers' power to decide what books are suitable for themselves or their children by initiating challenges to remove books from libraries. Every year the American Library Association reports hundreds of challenges to books in schools and libraries all over the United States. ALA estimates that the unreported number of challenges is significantly higher. In some cases, books are actually removed from libraries and classrooms. This infringes on readers' rights and limits access to materials, especially for those who do not have the opportunity to purchase books.
Why are books challenged?
Books are usually challenged with the best intentions, often motivated by a desire to protect younger readers from "inappropriate" content. Books are challenged over sexual content, profanity, age appropriateness, violence, religious viewpoints, LGBTQ content, political bias, drug and alcohol use, suicide, and more.
Who challenges and bans books?
Most challenges come from library patrons and parents, who raise concerns over the content they find objectionable. Sometimes, a library or school staffer or administrator will bring a challenge. Politicians, political organizations, and religious groups have also targeted books and plays. On a few occasions, students have brought complaints to administrators.
The ultimate arbitrator of the challenge depends on the institution's policies where a book is challenged. Institutions without a thoughtful reconsideration protocol are far more likely to ban materials.
Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022
1. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic about reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Starting as a way to explain to their family what it means to be non-binary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity- what it means and how to think about it-for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
Challenged 151 times for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
2. All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five to flea marketing with his loving grandmother to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
Challenged 86 times for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
In Morrison’s bestselling first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful so that people will look at her so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment.
Challenged 73 times for depiction of sexual abuse, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) content, and claimed to be sexually explicit.
4. Flamer by Mike Curato
I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.
I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.
It's the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone's going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can't stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.
Challenged 62 times for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
5. (tie) Looking for Alaska by John Green
Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.
Challenged 55 times for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
5. (tie) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that the perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
Challenged 55 times for depiction of sexual abuse, LGBTQIA+ content, drug use, profanity, and claimed to be sexually explicit
7. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how?
In this funny, angry, touching, and ultimately deeply inspiring novel, bestselling author Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man on a journey to discover himself, a search to find the secret to achieving the American dream of happiness and prosperity. That’s the birthright for all Americans, isn’t it? If so, then what is Mike Muñoz’s problem? He tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, but he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good.
Challenged 54 times for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
Challenged 52 times for profanity and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
9. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.
“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”
They know the people who enforce them.
“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”
But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
Challenged 50 times for depictions of abuse and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
10. (tie) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Feyre has undergone more trials than one human woman can carry in her heart. Though she's now been granted the powers and lifespan of the High Fae, she is haunted by her time Under the Mountain and the terrible deeds she performed to save the lives of Tamlin and his people.
As her marriage to Tamlin approaches, Feyre's hollowness and nightmares consume her. She finds herself split into two different one who upholds her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court, and one who lives out her life in the Spring Court with Tamlin. While Feyre navigates a dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms. She might just be the key to stopping it, but only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world in turmoil.
Challenged 48 times because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
10. (tie) Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Life was good
for a little while.
Kristina Snow is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble.
Then, Kristina meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild, ecstatic ride turns into a struggle through hell for her mind, her soul—her life.
Challenged 48 times for drug use and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
10. (tie) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.
Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.
Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.
And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
Challenged 48 times for profanity and because it was claimed to be sexually explicit.
10. (tie) This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Intersex. Straight. Curious. This book is for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference. This book is for anyone who's ever dared to wonder. This book is for YOU.
This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it's like to grow up LGBTQ also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.