Stand with the Banned: Banned Books Week 2023

It’s Banned Books Week again, and the censorship of books is more dire than ever. From The American Library Association’s website (it's long, but important):

Every year, ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The lists are based on information from reports filed by library professionals and community members and from news stories published throughout the United States.

Because many book challenges are not reported to the ALA or covered by the press, the Top Most Challenged Books lists and 2022 data compiled by ALA represent only a snapshot of book challenges. A challenge to a book may be resolved in favor of retaining the book in the collection, or it can result in a book being restricted or withdrawn from the library.

ALA documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021.

As you'll see in the top 13* challenged books below, the most frequently challenged individual books are overwhelmingly by and/or about BIPOC or members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This disparity isn't new; take a look at the list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the Decade from 2010–2019. Challenging these books not only makes them more difficult to access for young people of all identities; it negatively effects often already marginalized authors' incomes, reputations, and future publication prospects when institutional orders decline, appearances are canceled, and word spreads of "inappropriate" content in their books. It frequently leads to online — or in-person — harassment of authors. It also wastes time and valuable resources for public and school libraries, which are already often spread very thin, and limits collection development when librarians opt not to acquire particular books on the chance they may spur challenges.

This year's theme is "Let Freedom Read!" and the Honorary Chair is literacy advocate and national treasure LeVar Burton. Watch Burton in conversation with Honorary Youth Chair Da’Taeveyon Daniels (from last night's Facebook Live event). The week culminates in a day of action on Saturday, October 7th. Look for Banned Books Week events in your area to get involved. And don't miss reading Adrienne L. Pettinelli's "Field Notes: The Day the Book Banners Came for Us" (from the September/October 2022 Horn Book Magazine) and Pat Scales's "What Makes a Good Banned Book?" (from the September/October 2009 Horn Book Magazine).

Here are the most banned books of 2022:

  1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe Reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit
  1. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson Reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit
  1. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: depiction of sexual abuse, claimed to be sexually explicit, EDI content
  1. Flamer by Mike Curato Reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit
  1. (TIE) Looking for Alaska by John Green Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+ content
  1. (TIE) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+ content, depiction of sexual abuse, drugs, profanity
  1. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison Reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit
  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit, profanity
  1. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit
  1. (TIE) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit
  1. (TIE) Crank by Ellen Hopkins Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit, drugs
  1. (TIE) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews Reasons: Claimed to be sexually explicit, profanity
  1. (TIE) This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson Reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, sex education, claimed to be sexually explicit

And here's how the Horn Book reviewed 2022's most challenged children’s and young adult books:

by Mike Curato; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    Godwin/Holt    368 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-62779-641-5    $25.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-75614-5    $17.99

Aiden is not looking forward to starting public high school in the fall; his Catholic schooling heretofore has had its challenges — “jerks” — but at least it had become familiar. A summer at Boy Scout camp provides a break from his squabbling parents and a chance to breathe (“Everything is so quiet” in the woods) before school starts. Not so fast: camp also has bullies, whose taunts referencing Aiden’s presumed sexual orientation are only exacerbated by Aiden’s growing love for another camper, the athletic and sweet-natured Elias. Grownup LGBTs will know exactly what Aiden is going through, but this book speaks so well to those kids currently undergoing the ordeal. The graphic novel takes its time to fully pull readers into Aiden’s psyche and his setting, which provides the pleasures of summer and friendship and nature along with the rewards of Scout activities. (Orienteering!) The drawing is expertly cartooned, and the palette is black and white with occasional, and then increasing, daubs and splashes of red whenever passions — of many kinds — ride high. The variation of small, storytelling panels and full-page and double-page spreads for big moments is wonderfully effective, and the climax — Aiden in a literal dark night of the soul in the outdoor chapel — is high drama indeed, emotionally powerful, proudly and extravagantly spiritual (and as Catholic as any Graham Greene epiphany). He comes through it to have one perfect day at camp to sustain him going forward. If you will forgive the editorial intrusion, I wish I had had this book fifty years ago. ROGER SUTTON

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Looking for Alaska
by John Green
High School     Dutton     227 pp.
3/05     0-525-47506-0     $15.99

At boarding school in Alabama, narrator Miles Halter faces challenging classes, school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, a sexy, enigmatic girl. After Alaska is killed in a car crash, Miles and his friends question whether it could have been suicide and acknowledge their own survivor guilt. These intelligent characters talk smart, yet don't always behave that way, and are thus complex and realistically portrayed teenagers. PETER D. SIERUTA

From the March/April 2005 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Ellen Forney
Middle School, High School     Little     232 pp.
9/07     978-0-316-01368-0     $16.99     g

The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally — and hilariously and  triumphantly — bent in this novel about coming of age on the rez. Urged on by a math teacher whose nose he has just  broken, Junior, fourteen, decides to make the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small town twenty miles away. He’s tired of his impoverished circumstances (“Adam and Eve covered their  privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands”), but while he hopes his new school will offer him a better education, he knows the odds aren’t exactly with him: “What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” But he makes friends (most notably the class dork  Gordy), gets a girlfriend, and even (though short, nearsighted, and slightly disabled from birth defects) lands a spot on the varsity basketball team, which inevitably leads to a showdown with his own home team, led by his former best friend Rowdy. Junior’s narration is intensely alive and rat-a-tat-tat with short paragraphs and one-liners (“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs”). The dominant mode of the novel is comic, even though  there’s plenty of sadness, as when Junior’s sister manages to shake off depression long enough to elope — only to die,  passed out from drinking, in a fire. Junior’s spirit, though, is unquenchable, and his style inimitable, not least in the take-no-prisoners cartoons he draws (as expertly depicted by comics artist Forney) from his bicultural experience. ROGER SUTTON

From the September/October 2007 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Out of Darkness
by Ashley Hope Perez
High School    Carolrhoda Lab    402 pp.
9/15    978-1-4677-4202-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-6179-6

Two teens, Mexican American Naomi and African American Wash, fall in love and struggle to keep their relationship secret in racist 1936 east Texas. This novel weaves in the forces that led up to the 1937 New London school explosion, a tragedy rooted in the era's violent abuse against minorities. A poignant, potent, and provocative historical drama steeped in well-researched factual details. RITA SOLTAN

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


A Court of Mist and Fury
High School     Bloomsbury     626 pp.
5/16     978-1-61963-446-6     $18.99 
Ebook 978-1-61963-447-3

Feyre (A Court of Thorns and Roses) has become immortal, but her heart remains human. After fleeing Tamlin's oppressive Spring Court for Rhysand's Night Court, she heals, hones her Fae powers, and prepares for war. The love-interest shift (Tamlin to Rhysand) is satisfyingly slow and subtle. Maas includes plenty of sass, sexual tension, and female empowerment in this high fantasy's massive second volume. JANET DANIELS

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews
High School    Amulet/Abrams    298 pp.
3/12    978-1-4197-0176-4    $16.95

"For me personally, things are in no way more meaningful because I got to know Rachel before she died. If anything, things are less meaningful." Self-deprecating and cynical in the extreme, high school senior Greg says he's writing the opposite of a "sappy tear-jerking" cancer story and offers up a funny, profane, and, despite his supposed best efforts, poignant narrative. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMANN

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


*There were several ties this year.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher is agency assistant at the new Sara Crowe Literary. She spent nine years as an editor and staff reviewer for The Horn Book’s publications and has over seven years of experience as an indie bookseller specializing in children’s and YA literature. She holds an MA in children’s literature from Simmons University.

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