The Most Banned and Controversial Books of 2022

A graphic novel that explores gender identity and sexuality has topped the list of the most disputed books in the US for the second year in a row.

Maya Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer, which first appeared on the American Library Association’s 10 Most Banned Books of 2021 list, was included in 151 different challenges last year. According to a report published on Monday, detractors objected to its LGBTQ+ themes and accused it of overtly sexual content. ALA’s data is based on news reports of attempted book bans, as well as voluntary accounts from schools and libraries.

The ALA report also noted that 90 percent of last year’s documented book challenges required multiple library books to be censored. Of those, 40 percent wanted to remove or limit more than 100 books at once. The association said this was a change from how the challenges were run in previous years; before 2020, most challenges came from a single parent concerned about a book their child had access to.

Overall, more than 2,500 unique titles were attacked in 2022, the largest number of attempted book bans and restrictions since the association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom began tracking this data more than 20 years ago. Other books that have been targeted — mostly by conservatives — for topics like race, gender and sexuality include George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Image by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

Nationwide, the ALA documented more than 1,200 challenges — a significant increase from the record 729 challenges in 2021. In 2019, that number was 377. According to the ALA, which released new data earlier this month, the true number is likely higher , as many challenges remain unreported.

The latest data comes amid growing organized calls for book bans and restrictions by a conservative political movement “whose goals include removing books on race, history, gender identity, sexuality and reproductive health from America’s public and school libraries, that do not meet their approval,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, in the report.

These groups are using social media and other channels to “initiate a mass challenge that can empty the shelves of a library,” she added.

Image by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

Kobabe’s book was one of the most contested titles in St. Tammany Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, where librarians were also targeted and harassed by conservative activists. Others, such as the national, conservative group Moms for Liberty, have stepped up calls to eliminate books and restrictions in the name of “parental rights” in multiple states. Republican lawmakers in Missouri have attempted to stop funding libraries from offering certain books they deem inappropriate.

In Monday’s report, ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada emphasized how libraries are central to the communities in which they live.

“When we talk about inclusion and visibility, we mean included and noticed in all the interconnectedness of our lives, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, and more,” writes the former children’s librarian. “When we talk about inclusion in libraries, we take all of that into account and we take into account the integrity and humanity of our communities, which is why we are the institutions that are trusted in our communities.”

Kobabe, who uses the pronouns Spivak (e, em, eir), describes the process of coming out as non-binary and asexual in “Gender Queer.”

Kobabe also notes in the book how affirming it was to discover strange books in a library as a high school student. The author name-checks Japanese manga artist and writer Sanami Matoh and fantasy novelist Mercedes Lackey, whose books, according to Kobabe, “include a lot of tame gay sex scenes.”

In one illustrated panel, the young author holds a book with lines of lightning emerging from its pages.

The feeling of reading these scenes, from these books, was like “electricity flowing directly into my palms.”

A 2021 column for the Washington Post e said that Gender Queer is generally aimed at readers in high school and up, but added that the primary readers in mind are their own parents and extended family who don’t understand what it means to question and explore your own gender identity.

Queer youth “are often forced to look outside their own homes and outside the education system to find information about who they are,” Kobabe writes.

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