In 1637, New English Canaan by Thomas Morton was published. Almost immediately, it was criticized for being dismissive of Puritan morals. Both it and the author were banished from Massachusetts, making it one of the earliest examples of a banned book, a category that grew to include everything from Charlotte’s Web to The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
There remains debate over restricting access to certain titles based on content someone may find objectionable. Each year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the most-challenged books. These are titles that are most frequently targeted by individuals or groups in an attempt to get them removed from school and public libraries. While not always successful, it’s still a measure of the uphill battle libraries face to curb censorship.
Most bans are directed at a book’s sexual content, though opposition sometimes cites depictions of LGBTQIA+ relationships and profanity as objectionable. These are the 10 most challenged titles of 2022:
1. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (2019)
Maia Kobabe explores gender in this graphic novel memoir, which details the author’s journey toward discovering a nonbinary identity. The book has been targeted over concerns that it’s sexually explicit, including depictions of nude characters, periods, and masturbation.
2. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (2017)
George M. Johnson’s memoir of growing up Black and queer has been challenged for its sexual content across two chapters, including one description of Johnson being molested and details of consensual sex. Bans for the book have been effected in at least 29 school districts nationwide.
3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
Toni Morrison’s debut novel tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young Black woman who believes lighter skin and blue eyes might make her more attractive. The book has been criticized for depicting Pecola’s rape by her alcoholic father and “disturbing language.”
4. Flamer by Mike Curato (2020)
Mike Curato’s graphic novel draws upon his experiences as a Boy Scout and young gay man. The protagonist, 14-year-old Aiden, struggles with his sexuality while being bullied at a summer camp. The title was decried for its sexual content in Oklahoma, among other places.
5. Looking for Alaska by John Green (2006)
John Green’s book examines a budding love story between two boarding school students. One passage describes oral sex. One Florida school board member implied the book could “encourage” readers to “go and have sex.”
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
Pittsburgh high school life is the focus of Stephen Chbosky’s novel, which has been regularly challenged for decades owing to depictions of drug use and rape. Most recently, it was removed from circulation below the high school level at the Conroe Independent School District near Houston.
7. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison (2017)
Evison’s novel about a biracial lawn maintenance worker has come under fire for its use of profanity, homophobic slurs, and sexual content.
8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
Sherman Alexie’s novel—about a young man living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, who faces obstacles when he starts attending a predominantly white school—has been targeted for profanity and sexual references.
9. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (2015)
10. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (2016)
The fantasy novel, which is part of a series, upset parents in Virginia and other regions for its sexual content. One Florida school district banned the entire series, which includes A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Wings and Ruin.