I Read the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2016 So You Don’t Have To

Happy Banned Books Week!

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 323 challenges last year, and the top 10 are clearly very bad books, indeed. Otherwise why would they have gotten so many challenges? Below I will go through these books and confirm exactly why they are so terrible and why you never, ever should read them. The reasons the books were challenged are taken directly from the ALA’s website.

This One Summer

First Second

1. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Reason(s) Challenged: Includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity and is considered sexually explicit with mature themes

Confirmed. This book definitely contains a few fleeting references to LGBT characters (a couple of lesbian aunts) and contains drug use (the mother has a prescription for some sort of pills for depression) and underage drinking (parents give the 12-year-olds champagne once). Never ever should anyone read a book in which these things happen! Nor should anyone read a book in which older characters (about 16) kiss on the page! The sexually explicit nature of this book about middle-school and high-school-aged children horrified me.

(Real talk: it was not sexually explicit. I think the girls may have found a used condom once? It did, however, discuss some themes that would be considered mature from a 12-year-old’s point of view, like unexpected teen pregnancy and a parent struggling with depression because of infertility. I’d recommend This One Summer both to the suggest age range and also to adults looking to capture nostalgia. The art is wonderful and the story is a little slow-paced but ultimately quite lovely.)

Drama

GRAPHIX

2. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Reason(s) Challenged: includes LGBT characters, deemed sexually explicit, and considered to have an offensive political viewpoint

Confirmed. This book also contains LGBT characters! Yes, it includes more than one LGBT character. That is very true. More importantly, it contains a set of twins with similar names (Justin and Jesse) who are drawn similarly enough that I spent nearly the entire book mistaking one for the other! Parents, save your children from this mixup!

(Real talk: this book has a small handful of gay and/or questioning boys and, to my knowledge, that’s it. One 13-year-old boy kisses another on the page. If that counts as sexually explicit, I don’t think that parents want to know what their children are actually reading. I presume the “offensive political viewpoint” is the idea that it’s okay to question your sexuality. I’d recommend this book to the backstage drama kids especially. The art is darling, and even though I did in fact mix up Jesse and Justin a lot, I’d love to read more by the author.)

George

Scholastic

3. George by Alex Gino

Reason(s) Challenged: includes a transgender child, and the sexuality “was not appropriate at elementary levels”

Confirmed. This book does, indeed, contain a transgender child! She’s the titular character, even! Let me reiterate: this is an entire book about a transgender girl named Melissa, born George. Also, this is the second book in a row on this list to contain a school play as a major plot element. Are the drama kids attempting to enact revenge upon the band nerd book reviewers of the world?

(Real talk: three books into the list, all of them about children 13 and under, I’m incredibly confused as to how the challengers they defining sexuality. There’s none in this book. It’s about a 10-year-old. Once they make a veiled reference to Melissa’s anatomy, but she’s dysphoric—uncomfortable with what she’s got—and it’s very veiled. This book is also wonderful, and it was written by a nonbinary trans individual who uses they pronouns and Mx. as a title.)

I Am Jazz

Dial Books

4. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

Reason(s) Challenged: portrays a transgender child, plus language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints

Confirmed. Once again, this book definitely portrays a transgender child! Jazz knew when she was two years old that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up—that unholy melding of fish and human? How could her parents let her grow up with that dangerous delusion?!

(Real talk: the only thing I’m a little confused by with this book is that the drawn girl doesn’t actually look much like the real Jazz Jennings, who has her own reality show and isn’t exactly hard to find pictures of. But it’s very cute and explains the concepts in age-appropriate language. I’m not a parent, but I’m coming to the conclusion that parents try to ban books so they simply don’t have to have discussions with their children, like about whether mermaids are an acceptable career aspiration.)

Two Boys Kissing

Ember

5. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Reason(s) Challenged: its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content

Confirmed. This book does indeed have a cover with two boys kissing! The title also gives away the ending—two boys do, indeed, kiss in this book! More than two boys kiss in this book! I would go as far as to say that six boys kiss in this book! Parents, don’t let your children emulate the boys in this book.

(Real talk: you actually probably shouldn’t let your children emulate the characters . . . because two of them are trying to set the world record for kissing and it is incredibly physically taxing. Also, as a note, this book doesn’t contain sexually explicit LGBT content. There are a couple of gentle references to boys getting erections and the word “sex” comes up a few times—plus one of the leads makes out with a dude once and another two make out to, and I quote, a “mutually satisfying conclusion.” But I feel like in order to be sexually explicit it should be . . . explicit?

That aside, this was an excellent novel, and I’d recommend it highly to the younger generation, especially those who simply have no idea about the extent of the AIDS crisis. It contains very few girls or women at all, and certainly none with a point of view, but, well, it’s about two boys kissing.)

Looking for Alaska

Speak

6. Looking for Alaska by John Green

Reason(s) Challenged: a sexually explicit scene that may lead students to “sexual experimentation”

Confirmed. In fact, there are three sexually explicit scenes in this book! More importantly, there is an incredible amount of underage drinking. And fireworks! It’s illegal to buy most fireworks in the state of Minnesota, and this book will definitely encourage children to experiment with fireworks.

(Real talk: to be quite honest, I didn’t like this book at all; it’s got John Green’s usual batch of unlikable protagonists and a mysterious Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it suffers some because it was his first novel. However, any student who is led to sexual experimentation from the frankly unsexy sex scenes in this book is one who was incredibly sheltered.)

Big Hard Sex Criminals

Image Comics

7. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction, Illustrated by Chip Zdarsky

Reason(s) Challenged: considered sexually explicit

Confirmed. This book is very sexually explicit, but more than that, the characters use their sex-based superpowers to rob banks. Indeed, into this morass of depravity, let me insert the most horrifying thing in the entire volume: the male lead uses his power to poop in his boss’s potted plant. What will this tell our children?!

(Real talk: I mean, it’s a collected volume of a very funny but, yes, sexually explicit comic book. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t belong in the children’s section anyway, even though there’s a perception that all graphic novels and comic books are kid safe. They are not. On the other hand, pooping in your boss’s potted plant is comedy we can all enjoy, right? I do recommend these books as well, but obviously not to anyone who isn’t a “MATURE READER, DUH,” as it says on the back of every single issue.)

Stephanie Cranford

(No, seriously, it says “FOR MATURE READERS, DUH” on the back of every single issue.)

Make Something Up

Anchor

8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk

Reason(s) Challenged: for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all-around offensive”

Confirmed. This book is profane, sexually explicit, and disgusting! In addition, there’s a terrible story in which the author uses a commonly confused word for pretty much every word in the entire story and it is marginally more difficult to read! I am highly offended.

(Real talk: I got through about five stories and quit this book, I have to admit. It’s exactly what it advertises on the cover—stories I can’t unread, as much I’d love to scrub the story about the teenagers all giving themselves DIY lobotomies with defibrillators out of my head. And that was the least offensive of what I got through. I don’t recommend this book, and obviously it shouldn’t be anywhere near the children’s section, but the usual reason of “Think of the children!” really doesn’t apply here, so why ban it? Adults can make the very wrong decision to read this book, and then they’ll have to live with the consequences.)

Little Bill: My Big Lie

My Big Lie, from the Little Bill series by Bill Cosby and Varnette P. Honeywood

9. Little Bill Series by Bill Cosby, Illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood

Reason(s) Challenged: because of criminal sexual allegations against the author

Confirmed. These books were indeed written by Bill Cosby.

(Real talk: I can’t be funny about these because I decided not to read them. I don’t think that Bill Cosby deserves any of my money, given the situation, and as a reader I decided to vote with my dollar—or, well, my library card’s statistics—and not read his books. If I have children, I’ll gently steer them away from them, and if they do end up bringing them home from the library, I won’t shy away from having the conversation about how the man who wrote these books has been accused of harming women. A lot of the books on this list seem to be banned because parents don’t want to talk to their kids, and while I probably sound a little sanctimonious as a nonparent talking to parents, please look at some of the books on this list deemed “sexually explicit” for a single kiss between two boys.)

Eleanor and Park

St. Martin’s Griffin

10. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Reason(s) Challenged: offensive language

Confirmed. This book does contain language, which some people might find offensive. Also, the audiobook was read by a man who is Asian, but he is definitely not the same ethnicity as Park in the book!

(Real talk: I’m just going to throw my hands up in the air here. What’s the offensive language? F-bombs? Or the weirdly fetishizing language that Eleanor uses about Park, or that everyone uses about Park’s mom? Or do you mean when Eleanor explains that she has to be careful while taking showers because her stepfather might be watching her? Yeah, that’s all offensive, but if you read the book, other than the weird fetishizing language, which has been criticized by better reviewers than me, all of the offensiveness is treated as offensive in the text.


This list, and banning books in general, is ridiculous. Parents, talk to your kids. Librarians, continue not putting up with this bullshit. Given the fact that, according to the same ALA website, 82 to 97 percent of challenges aren’t even reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, maybe consider reporting more of the challenges, so our statistics can get better and we can continue talking about this.

And everyone, read a banned book or two this week.

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