Though attempts at banning books have been an issue for years at school board meetings and libraries in the US, 2021 has witnessed the highest level of book challenges in a very long time. It is perhaps not surprising that most of the banned books of 2021 are by or about Black and LGBTQ+ people.
The American Library Association has been tracking book challenges for 20 years and has now compiled a list of the titles that have become the target of challenges both by parents and by conservative politicians, who framed them as an issue of parental choice.
The majority of titles that we can find in the list of banned books contain LGBTQ+ or Black themes, and efforts to ban them have been fuelled by the current political environment in many US states. In fact, LGBTQ+ issues in schools have been the target of increased attacks by conservative politicians, as in Florida with the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill.
The director of the American Library Association’s office for intellectual freedom, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, said that what we are witnessing today is “an unprecedented campaign to remove books from school libraries but also public libraries that deal with the lives and experiences of people from marginalised communities”.
In this article, you can find a list of the books that have received the highest number of challenges in 2021. Go read them all!
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
This is THE instructional manual to all things queer for young adults. With its candid and funny prose, this book answers all questions about sexuality and gender identity.
Its LGBTQ+ material and themes were the reason why the book was challenged and because it “provides sexual education”.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
This is an autobiographical comic in which the author Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, recounts em journey of self-discovery. It is also a touching guide on what it means to be non-binary and asexual, which presents a frank discussion of gender fluidity.
Most of the challenges to this book cited its references to masturbation and graphic illustrations of LGBTQ+ sexual experiences, but for many, including the author, they actually stem from the book’s discussion on gender identity.
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
In this book, Evison tells the story of a young man on a search to find a way to achieve the American dream. It is a book about social class distinctions and cultural discrimination.
The campaign to ban this book, which resulted in the author receiving actual death threats, focused on a scene that depicts a sexual encounter between two boys.
All the Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
LGBTQ+ activist and journalist George M. Johnson has put together this series of personal essays that explore his childhood, adolescence and college years and the challenges he faced as a Black queer boy in America.
The book contains scenes depicting oral and anal sex, as well as sexual assault, which have been cited as reasons to ban this book.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
Out of Darkness is a historical young adult novel that chronicles a love affair between a Mexican-American girl and an African-American boy in the 1930’s and recounts the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion (Texas).
The novel was among the banned books because some parents complained about a scene in which some teenage boys make sexual and racist comments about a Mexican-American girl. The author responded to these complaints by saying that the book deals with racism and sexual abuse, which is the context in which that scene was included.
Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Author Susan Kuklin interviewed six Transgender young adults and created this book to portray their journey towards the acknowledgment of their gender identity.
It was challenged because of its LGBTQ+ content and some sexually explicit sections.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This best-selling novel helped start conversations about police brutality and violence, featuring a young girl who witnesses the murder of her best friend at the hands of a police officer.
It has been criticised for its supposed “anti-police” agenda and for what critics say is profanity.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This illustrated book, with drawings by Ellen Forney, narrates the adolescence of a Native American boy as he tries to escape from the life he seems to be destined to live.
It was targeted, according to the library association, because of sexual references, profanity and the use of derogatory terms.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
This is a fictional book that follows the high school adventures of the protagonist Greg Gaines and his friends Earl and Rachel, a girl who is dying of cancer.
Challenges to this book were raised because some parts of the narrative were considered degrading to women and too sexually explicit.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is the story of a young African-American girl who grows up in the US in the years following the Great Depression.
It ended up on the list of banned books for its depiction of child abuse and sexual content.
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