The Top Banned Books and Why They Shouldn’t Be Censored

Book banning’s become a mainstream movement. We discuss some of the top banned books of 2022 and why they shouldn’t be facing a nationwide ban.

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Banned books of 2022

Every time I check my phone, it seems like another book is banned at local and school libraries across the country. This uptick in censorship isn’t just a figment of our imaginations. This year, the banned book movement is skyrocketing, gaining popularity both online and in numerous school districts.

Book banning isn’t new, but this past year has pushed this issue into the mainstream. More books are being affected every day, so the reading options are becoming more limited for school children. During a time when we’re trying to improve literacy rates for kids, we should be supplying them with more reading material, not restricting them.

 In a new study from PEN America, over 1,600 books have been banned this year alone, and those numbers are only increasing. In a time when your favorite book might get pulled off the shelf, it’s good to stay informed about other banned books of the year. Bookstr has compiled a list of the top 10 books that have been banned in 2022. In this day and age, knowledge is power, and what better way to gain information than from texts that are trying to be hidden from the public?

TW: Police brutality, racism, and homophobia

1. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. Gender Queer book cover

As the most banned book of the 2021-2022 school year, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe is one that you’ll want to put on your TBR. With a whopping 41 instances of being pulled off the shelves in school libraries, this is a story that should be read by everyone, not just younger generations. There are so many reasons why this beautiful graphic novel should still be open for all to read, but the pivotal reason is its discussions on gender and sexual identity.

Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, tells the truthful tale of figuring out who you are in the world. Although this memoir was meant to be a way for Maia to come out to eir family, it soon became a message of hope for other queer and non-binary folk. By talking about the intense rollercoaster of life through a non-binary lens, this novel educates those who might not have any non-binary people in their life or those who are going through the journey of sexual identity themselves. Whatever the case, the last thing this book should be is banned.

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

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. All Boys Aren't Blue book cover with a black man wearing a flower crown.

Published in 2020, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson, has already made its name known for being one of the most banned books of 2022. This novel racked up 29 occurrences of being removed from libraries this year. As a well-known LGBTQIA+ activist, it’s no wonder that George Johnson’s memoir would be marked for a nationwide ban. However, his story is one that we all need to hear. 

Made specifically for young, queer, Black youth, Johnson explores his riveting account of growing up in New Jersey as a queer Black kid. He doesn’t shy away from the truth of his experience either. Diving into topics like toxic masculinity, consent, and Black joy, Johnson illuminates just how important stories of Black queer youth are. They are often overlooked for stories featuring White authors, which only makes his manifesto more important. Johnson’s emotionally charged writing makes us stay with him from page to page, sympathizing with his troubles and celebrating his successes. Instead of being hidden in the shadows, this book should be put front and center.

3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. The Bluest Eye book cover with a child wearing a hat.

Toni Morrison’s novels have always been renowned for their controversial but noteworthy revelations. So, it’s no surprise that her work would end up on a banned book list. Her novel, The Bluest Eye has accounted for 22 bans across multiple school districts. This isn’t the first time that Morrison’s books have been outlawed in libraries either. Her other acclaimed novel, Beloved, was subjected to 11 book bans this year. As a Pulitzer Prize winner, her writings shouldn’t be kept secret, they should be put on display for her artistry and activism. 

The Bluest Eye tells the story that many young Black girls know all too well. White beauty standards dominated society, leaving Black girls and women feeling outcasted. While the novel was published in 1970, its message still stands today. The book follows Pecola Breedlove, a Black girl living in Ohio during the 1940s. Pecola is convinced that she’s ugly, especially compared to the White girls in town. She wishes for blond hair and blue eyes that make up their appearance. This tragic novel tackles complex issues such as family abuse, white supremacy, and racist beauty standards, themes that are still very much a part of our modern society.

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. The Hate U Give book cover with a girl holding up a sign.

Author Angie Thomas has been in the headlines more times than she can count. Her novel, The Hate U Give, has already been banned in libraries and classrooms over 17 times this year. Her other books, Concrete Rose and On The Come Up have also faced backlash in many school districts. But that hasn’t stopped Angie Thomas in the slightest. Determined to get her stories out there, Thomas won’t stop until the world knows of the struggles and power that the Black community holds. 

Her 2017 novel, The Hate U Give reflects the tale that many Black teens in America face every day. Starr Carter lives almost a double life. Traversing the intersections of poverty and elitism from the fancy prep school she attends, Starr’s world is completely shaken when her best friend is brutally murdered by police. The only one who knows the truth about his murder is Starr. Unfortunately, while this story may be fictional, many others are based in reality. Rather than brushing these stories off as pieces of fiction, we should consider these novels as warnings so that deaths like these never happen again.

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

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian book cover with toy figurines falling.

Even during Native American Heritage Month, Native novels are still being attacked across the country. Published in 2007, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has been banned 16 times in libraries and classrooms during 2022. If you haven’t noticed before, many of the books listed have received notable awards. This shows that while one side praises the work that these authors are doing, the other side wishes that different perspectives weren’t shown to our younger generations. 

In this semi-autobiographical novel, Alexie tells the story of Arnold Spirit Jr. who wishes to be a cartoonist. However, his dreams can’t come to fruition just yet. Facing disability, bullying, and poverty, Junior just wants things to get better. In an attempt to control his life, Junior leaves the reservation to attend an all-white high school. Unfortunately, the grass is not greener on the other side. Facing more bullying and finding himself as an outcast, Junior continues with his drawings, trying to find peace in his art amongst all the hate. Even though the novel is 15 years old, many Indigenous people can still relate to this telling tale.

6. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. Out of Darkness book cover with two teens looking at each other.

As we travel back in time through literature, we see that some things haven’t changed. This can certainly be said for the novel Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. Earning over 24 bans from libraries and school bookshelves, this novel is sure to make you feel for the two main characters. Most of the complaints came from parents, feeling that any sexual content or racist depictions in fiction should be banned from children’s eyes. 

Set in the 1930s, we follow the forbidden love story of Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller. Naomi knows the dangers of this relationship. She’s Mexican and her lover is a Black man. If they get caught, the consequences would be severe for them and their families. However, the love shared is too great for her to let go. Facing racism, violence, and segregation, Pérez ensures the unsettling truth of our country is told for all to read. Without looking back at history, we are doomed to repeat it, which only makes banning books like this more dangerous.

7. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. All American Boys book cover with a person holding up their arms.

Inspired by real events, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a story you’ll want to pay attention to. After the murder of Trayvon Martin, both authors were angry, frustrated, and saddened by the state of our country. But from those feelings came action. Wanting to take a stance on what was happening, this book was born. Due to its truthful depiction of law enforcement and blatant racial themes, this book was pulled from libraries over 9 times this year. 

However, the story of characters Rashad and Quinn need to be told. It all started with a bag of chips. Before Rashad could pay for his snack, police officer and father figure to Quinn, Paul Galluzzo, mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter. As Rashad tries to clear his name, he is beaten by the officer for “resisting.” The only ones who saw what happened? Quinn and a camera. After word gets out, their town is torn apart over which side of the story to believe. Books like these should never be hidden away. The one thing we can all do to make this world better is to accept our country’s troubling truths.

8. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. Stamped book cover with the silhouette of a person.

Once again, Jason Reynolds has earned another spot on the book-banned list. Working with Ibram X. Kendi, the two authors created, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. While this novel only had 5 bans against it this year, its name was in the headlines during the confirmation hearing of Ketanji Brown. Ted Cruz interrogated the now Supreme Court Justice, while holding this novel for the country to see. Vilifying the writings inside, Cruz’s hammering of the novel is most likely attributed to some of the bans. 

The two authors make it clear from the start. This book is about race, nothing else. By looking at our history, examining oppression and power, and trying to fight racism for our future, the two authors show audiences that we aren’t doomed yet. Our past has never been great, but we should still strive for a better future. This antiracist guide should be available everywhere. Not only can it usher us into a better society, but the book illuminates vital truths that should never be hidden away by brassy book bans.

9. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. The Kite Runner book cover with a town below.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, author Khaled Hosseini has always been intent on telling his reality about his homeland. In his novel, The Kite Runner, he doesn’t hold back from showing the destruction, but also the beauty of Afghanistan. Just this year alone, his novel garnered 12 separate bans across the U.S. for this heartbreaking story of friendship in a war-stricken country. 

The Kite Runner follows two boys from different classes and their unconventional friendship as they watch their homeland become unrecognizable from war. As so many books are based in Western countries and communities, it is essential to display stories from other regions. Without these novels, we’re only keeping ourselves in a westernized bubble. By reading stories that take place in different countries, we become more empathetic, caring, and curious about the world. If that isn’t a reason to unban this book, I don’t know what is.

10. Crank by Ellen Hopkins

The top banned books and why they shouldn't be censored. Crank book cover.

In another semi-autobiographical novel, Crank by Ellen Hopkins is a unique book on the banned list. Written mostly in verse, this poetic story elaborates on the hardships addiction brings. Due to its honest themes, this story has received 12 bans against it in schools all over the country. Based partly on her daughter’s addiction to heroin, Ellen Hopkins shows the brutal truth of fighting against yourself. With excellent writing and genuine descriptions of the challenges of getting sober, Ellen Hopkins’ story sheds an important spotlight on the reality of addiction.

Unlike the other banned books on this list, Crank tackles topics that are normally kept private. Addiction isn’t a common topic to elaborate on, so Ellen Hopkins’ work in her novel is imperative. The more understanding we have of this disease, the more we can combat it and treat those struggling with addiction with kindness. Just like all the other books on this list, we only lose vital knowledge when books are banned from classrooms and libraries. 

While these were only a select few books on the ban list, there are hundreds and thousands more out there. The one thing that we can do to combat this unnecessary censorship is to keep talking and reading about these stories. By continuing to speak about these novels, their messages will never go away. But let’s be clear, none of these books should be on this list because books shouldn’t be banned. Period.

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