Despite backlash and advocacy, banned books continue to be a reality in many U.S. Schools. The 2022-2023 school year was no exception. According to PEN America, the year saw 3,362 bans affect 1,557 titles, with troubling trends indicating that over 40% of book bans occurred in Florida alone.
The books on this list often deal with controversial and heavy subjects. For example, three of the most banned books are written by Ellen Hopkins, whose verse novels often deal with teenage mental illness, and addiction. Many of the books are also prize-winners and come from classic or best-selling authors.
As banned books become a feature in the lives of a new generation, the United States will have to come to terms with the reality of censorship as a present issue, rather than a past mistake. These books are a testament to the still simmering tensions beneath the groundwork of America.
1. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Tricks tells the stories of 5 teenagers searching for freedom and safety as they turn to prostitution. Hopkin’s book was banned in several schools for its mentions of drug use and sexual activity. It was also a New York Times best-seller and showed a unique and unflinching narrative.
Banned 33 times.
2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Long considered a classic, Toni Morrison’s novel, detailing the life of a young African-American girl growing up in the years following the Great Depression, was banned in Oregon for it’s depiction of child abuse and sexual content. Morrison’s debut novel has been lauded for its author’s powerful skill and voice.
Banned 29 times.
3. (Tie) Looking for Alaska by John Green
Showing the depths of grief and attachment, Looking for Alaska tells the story of a young man as he comes to terms with the death of his friend. Though celebrated for its contribution to Young Adult literature, the book was banned for its depictions of sex, underage drinking, and hazing.
Banned 27 times.
3. (Tie) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
The second novel in the beloved series A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury continues the story of Feyre as she grapples with new powers. The book was banned for its explicit sexual content, but has also been celebrated for the same reason.
Banned 27 times.
4. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
Though it began as an attempt to explain what being nonbinary and asexual means to their family, Kobabe’s Gender Queer has become an instructive and comforting book, celebrated with awards and honors. It was banned for it’s LGBTQ+ themes and for being sexually explicit.
Banned 26 times.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
A modern classic in the coming-of-age genre, The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, an introverted high school freshman as he navigates friendship and trauma. Adapted into a film, the story has been loved by generations of students. It was banned for it’s depictions of drug use, and sexual activity.
Banned 25 times.
Unfortunately, banned books are still a very real part of American life. As the nation grapples with new censorship laws and tension in its educational sphere, banned books will only serve to fuel hostility.
Regardless of the reasoning, banning books is inherently political. While it’s true that not all of these bans censor oppressed communities, it is worth noting that the censorship of sex, and often sexual abuse, is also a political act.
To censor is to uphold the idea that these traumas and events do not occur and do not run rampant in society. To try and shield young readers from this reality is also to deny other children the ability to put their experiences into words and reach out for help.
Literature helps us understand ourselves and our situation. Without these narratives, children may be allowed to grow up socially and emotionally illiterate. It is critical that society reassesses the ethics surrounding banned books as the 2023 – 2024 school year begins.