It has never been more important to pay attention to books that are being banned and challenged. Each year, the American Library Association compiles a list of the most challenged books of the year to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. They recorded 1,269 book challenges and bans in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. For Banned Books Week, I’m taking a look at the most challenged books of the year to highlight their importance and help them reach to the people who need them.

13 Most Challenged Books Of The Year - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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By the way, if your mind isn’t already blown, check out this page from Harper’s Bazaar: every book banned across America. It’s truly gobsmacking (and, it must be said, kind of hypnotic).

1. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Gender Queer - Maia Kobabe

Number of challenges: 151

Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.”

2. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren't Blue - George M Johnson

Number of challenges: 86

Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, All Boys Aren’t Blue weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.”

3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

Number of challenges: 73

Challenged for: depiction of sexual abuse, EDI content, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb:The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change—in painful, devastating ways. What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.” Read my full review of The Bluest Eye here.

4. Flamer by Mike Curato

Flamer - Mike Curato

Number of challenges: 62

Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.”

5. (tie) Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska - John Green

Number of challenges: 55

Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.”

5. (tie) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

Number of challenges: 55

Challenged for: depiction of sexual abuse, LGBTQIA+ content, drug use, profanity, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb:The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that the perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.” Read my full review of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower here.

7. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Lawn Boy - Jonathan Evison

Number of challenges: 54

Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how? In this funny, angry, touching, and ultimately deeply inspiring novel, bestselling author Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man on a journey to discover himself, a search to find the secret to achieving the American dream of happiness and prosperity. That’s the birthright for all Americans, isn’t it? If so, then what is Mike Muñoz’s problem? Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good. Lawn Boy is an important, entertaining, and completely winning novel about social class distinctions, about overcoming cultural discrimination, and about standing up for oneself.”

8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

Number of challenges: 52

Challenged for: profanity, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.” Read my full review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian here.

9. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Out of Darkness - Ashley Hope Pérez

Number of challenges: 50

Challenged for: depictions of abuse, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive. Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion the worst school disaster in American history as a backdrop for Out Of Darkness, a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.”

10. (tie) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury - Sarah J Maas

Number of challenges: 48

Challenged for: claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: ” In A Court Of Mist And Fury, Feyre has undergone more trials than one human woman can carry in her heart. Though she’s now been granted the powers and lifespan of the High Fae, she is haunted by her time Under the Mountain and the terrible deeds she performed to save the lives of Tamlin and his people. As her marriage to Tamlin approaches, Feyre’s hollowness and nightmares consume her. She finds herself split into two different one who upholds her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court, and one who lives out her life in the Spring Court with Tamlin. While Feyre navigates a dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms. She might just be the key to stopping it, but only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future-and the future of a world in turmoil.”

10. (tie) Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Crank - Ellen Hopkins

Number of challenges: 48

Challenged for: drug use, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.” Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne’er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: “there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.” Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won’t, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.”

10. (tie) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Jesse Andrews

Number of challenges: 48

Challenged for: profanity, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel. Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives. And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.”

10. (tie) This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson

This Book Is Gay - Juno Dawson

Number of challenges: 48

Challenged for: LGBTQIA+ content, providing sexual education, claimed to be sexually explicit

Blurb: “There’s a long-running joke that, after “coming out,” a lesbian, gay guy, bisexual, or trans person should receive a membership card and instruction manual. This Book Is Gay is that instruction manual. You’re welcome. Inside you’ll find the answers to all the questions you ever wanted to ask: from sex to politics, hooking up to stereotypes, coming out and more. You will be entertained. You will be informed. But most importantly, you will know that however you identify (or don’t) and whomever you love, you are exceptional. You matter. And so does this book.”

Of course, everyone should be able to choose what to read or what not to read. If parents want to keep certain books out of their own child’s reach, that’s up to them. But the thing about challenging a book’s presence in your library or bookstore is that it doesn’t just keep it out of your reach, or your kid’s – it keeps it out of everyone’s. Pay attention to who is trying to stop you from reading certain books, and if that’s not the person you want making your reading decisions for you, fight back.