Given that 2021 and 2022 have seen a scary rise in censorship across the nation, it should come as no surprise that this year’s Read Hard challenge includes a challenge to read a book that’s been challenged recently in your school district/library OR one of the most-challenged/banned books of the year by a queer and/or BIPOC author. The purpose of this challenge is to get you aware of what’s happening in your own communities, and also to stop and consider what books are being targeted these days.
I think oftentimes when we think about “banned” books we think about the classics and books that have been around for decades and always ruffling feathers. While it’s important that we read those books and fight against censorship that targets those books, I think we also need to be keenly aware of what’s happening right now and where these challenges are trending. Books by people of color and by queer authors are being challenged most these days. Books that offer sex education or a deeper understanding of gender are especially targeted. And we shouldn’t just read them — we need to actively stand up for them.
If you’re unaware if something has been challenged or banned in your community, simply Google your community’s name + the words “book challenge” or “censorship” and look for local news sources. Go track down your public library’s board meeting minutes or the school board meeting minutes and scan them for any challenges that might have occurred. Better yet, chat with a local librarian and ask them about any censorship issues they might have faced recently. Unfortunately, lots of teachers and librarians are fighting these battles, but you might not know about it until something hits the news weeks or months later. But being aware means that you”re better equipped to jump to a book’s defense when there is a challenge!
If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that hasn’t experienced any challenges or censorship, expand your search to region or state. Unfortunately, this is happening everywhere. You can also check out the ALA’s Most Challenged Books list of 2021 for some reading inspiration:
Gender Queer Maia Kobabe
The most challenged book in 2021 is a graphic memoir about Maia’s journey to realizing e does not fit into the gender binary, and eir journey of discovery. Unsurprisingly, it has been banned and challenged due to LGBTQ+ content and claims of sexually explicit material.
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
This book about a young Chicano man working as a landscaper and stuck in his life has been highly lauded…but also challenged for LGBTQ+ content and for being considered sexually explicit. (Note: This title has been often confused with Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen, a children’s book.)
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
This is a moving memoir about George’s journey through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood and navigating the expectations of society while being both queer and Black. It’s been challenged for LGBTQ+ content, profanity, and for being considered sexually explicit.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
This Printz Honor book tells the story of two teens who fall in love, despite the laws that would keep them apart, set against the backdrop of a deadly explosion in 1937 Texas. It’s been challenged for its depictions of abuse, and because it’s considered sexually explicit.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The mega bestseller about a girl who witnesses police violence and becomes a voice for change has been on the most challenged list since it came out. It’s been challenged for profanity, violence, and because it’s thought to depict an anti-police sentiment.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The oldest book on the list, this modern classic from the great Toni Morrison is about a young girl who is tormented by her desire for blue eyes, and the tragedy that she encounters in her life. It has been challenged for its depictions of sexual abuse and for being considered sexually explicit.
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
What does is mean to be queer? No matter how you think you might identify, this book is a primer on identity and the LGBTQ+ community. For obvious reasons, it’s continually challenged for LGBTQ+ content, and because it offers sex education.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Susan Kuklin has interviewed six teens who identify as transgender and documented their stories and journeys to coming out, transitioning, and learning to live in a world that isn’t always welcoming to trans kids. It’s been challenged for LGBTQ+ content and because it’s considered to be sexually explicit.
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It’s important to stay aware of censorship news and help combat challenges both in your community and throughout the country. Follow Book Riot’s coverage of censorship news to stay on top of what’s going on.