Between July 2022 and December 2022, Texas led the way in banning books in schools, according to the American Library Association. The book ban movement has gained significant traction within the last few years, primarily in Republican-dominated states, with 1,269 documented censorship attempts to restrict over 2,500 unique books in the last year, according to the ALA.
Banned Books Week, which will occur the first week of October this year, is an annual event that highlights banned books and supports the freedom to seek new ideas, even ones considered taboo. The movement to ban books represents a current climate dedicated to decreasing the voices of marginalized groups. Of the top 13 most contested books, almost all were challenged due to LGBTQIA+ content or had authors that covered topics on Black, indigenous, and other marginalized communities according to the ALA’s “State of America’s Libraries” 2023 report.
Here are some of the books that have been the most hotly contested in the Lone Star State.
Gender Queer: A Memoir
Authored by Maia Kobabe, this graphic novel details the Kobabe’s journey through their queer identity and covers topics on sexual identity. Critics of the graphic novel argue that teenagers need to be shielded from nudity and sex scenes, while others, such as former Denton city councilwoman and University of North Texas English professor Deb Armintor, argue that “they’re not protecting [teens] from those ideas; they’re not giving them guidance, and they’re leaving them out in the cold and saying, ‘We’re not going to give you any support. You’re not going to have any way to know what to do in this situation.’”
All Boys Aren’t Blue
Banned in seven Texas school districts, including Denton ISD, this series of personal essays covers the author’s journey through his sexual identity, consent, masculinity and more. The book was banned because of its LGBTQ content, profanity, and material considered sexually explicit. This book topped the charts, placing second in the nation for most challenged. Despite no challenges on the book, Denton ISD pulled the book in 2022, according to an article written in the Dallas Observer.
Out of the Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, this novel follows a Mexican girl and a Black boy falling in love and challenging interracial romance norms in 1937. Banned in nine Texas school districts, this novel is also featured among the list of most banned books. According to Pérez, not only are book bans damaging to authors and educators, especially within the young adult genre, but book bans harm students and their education the most.
Banning books is a thinly veiled attempt to police what others can read and learn about, especially children.
While the most banned books are young adult or adult titles, over 300 picture books were also banned in 2022, according to PEN. Many of these cover topics on the history of civil rights and the gay rights movement and feature a protagonist of color or one that represents the LGBT community.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most children are able to label their own gender identity by the time they reach the age of three years old. Books not only serve as a resource for readers to view themselves but also as a way for readers to expand their worldview to include individuals that do not look like themselves and both of those purposes are paramount toward society’s goal of developing an incoming society rich with intelligence and adaptability. These restrictions limit a child’s ability to evaluate new perspectives and to see a representation of themselves.
Through looking at the most banned books, it becomes abundantly clear that the policing of children’s media, especially the targeting of stories representing the lived experience of people of color or the LGBT community, is an attempt to “make America great again.” This erasure of marginalized communities is deeply concerning and may have far-reaching implications in the future.
These attempts fail to recognize the flourishing culture of the diverse populations that actually make America great. The values held close to Americans, such as freedom, individualism and self-sufficiency are disgraced when censorship is allowed to run rampant in our communities and the values Americans should hold close, such as equality and equity, seem to be regressing as society progresses.
At a time when partisanship has infected all corners of our country, libraries have become more important than ever as a safe space for truth and education. The advent of the printing press marked a new era of education and the ability for the average person to learn as much as the ruling class by one of the most powerful actions a person can take: reading. As libraries remain a battlefront, youth notice which books, and which identities, are most attacked, continuing the dialogue that the stories of marginalized communities do not matter.
Featured illustration by Stephanie Vo
Maddie LaRosa-Ray can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.