These Were the Most Challenged Books in America Last Year

Titles with LGBTQ themes dominated the American Library Association’s newly released list

Books on a table including "Gender Queer" and "All Boys Aren't Blue"
Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir topped the list, followed by George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In 2023, the most challenged books across the country were about LGBTQ individuals and people of color, according to a report released today by the American Library Association (ALA). The news follows last month’s announcement that book-banning attempts have reached record highs.

“More and more, we’re seeing challenges that say, simply, ‘This book has a gay character,’ or, ‘This book deals with LGBTQ themes,’ even if it has no sexuality in it,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom, tells the New York Times’ Elizabeth A. Harris. “We’re seeing those naked attacks on simply the visibility of and knowledge about LGBTQ lives and experiences.”

According to the ALA, 4,240 unique titles were targeted for censorship in schools and libraries nationwide last year. That’s a 65 percent increase from 2022—and the highest number ever recorded by the organization.

The newly published report includes a list of the most targeted books across the United States. For the third year in a row, Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir took the top spot. Published in 2019, the graphic novel traces Kobabe’s experience navigating gender identity and sexuality in adolescence and adulthood.

The author has spoken in the past about how strongly readers have responded to the text. As Kobabe told NBC News’ Matt Lavietes in 2021, “I’ve been receiving almost weekly, and sometimes more than weekly, emails from readers thanking me for writing it, telling me how much it meant to them, saying it helped them understand themselves.”

Gender Queer has been controversial ever since its publication, inspiring numerous political and legal battles. However, the controversy has only increased interest in the title, which is “selling better than ever,” as the author told Slate’s Dan Kois in 2022.

“A book being challenged or banned does not hurt the book and does not hurt the author,” Kobabe said. “The people who are hurt in a challenge are the marginalized readers in the community where the challenge takes place.”

According to the ALA, the second most challenged book in 2023 was George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue (2020), an essay collection describing the author’s experience growing up as a queer Black man in New Jersey and ​​Virginia.

Next on the list is Juno Dawson’s This Book Is Gay (2014), a nonfiction title intended to help young people navigate queer identity, followed by Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999), a novel touching on themes including sexuality, mental health and abuse. Following the premiere of a film adaptation in 2012, the book became a New York Times bestseller.

The list also includes Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which is frequently taught in high school English classes. Published in 1970, Morrison’s first novel follows Pecola, a young Black girl growing up during the Great Depression, and explores topics such as racism and sexual abuse.

The ALA’s publication of the report coincides with the beginning of the organization’s National Library Week, a celebration of America’s library systems.

“Each challenge, each demand to censor these books is an attack on our freedom to read, our right to live the life we choose, and an attack on libraries as community institutions that reflect the rich diversity of our nation,” says Caldwell-Stone in a statement. “When we tolerate censorship, we risk losing all of this.”

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