The banning of books is a practice that has been around for centuries and has all but ended in the 21st Century. From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles. From Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, what many historians consider to be the first book ban in the United States on a national scale, to today's The Hate U Give, books have seen themselves challenged over their supposedly "offensive" material as opposed to celebrated for their willingness to broach controversial topics. So, for you, here's a list of the top 10 books of 2022 that challenge ideologies, break the bounds of conformity, and celebrate the use of free speech because every week is Banned Books Week.
1. Maus by Art Spiegelman
A Tennesee school board in January 2022 unanimously voted to remove Maus from classrooms for its swear words and inappropriate content, including a depiction of a naked character. Disconcerted by this decision, the author Art Spiegelman noted in an interview, "This is disturbing imagery. But you know what? It's disturbing history." A haunting story of survival from Hitler's Europe, Maus explores the author's parents' experience during the Holocaust and represents the Jews and mice and Nazis as cats.
2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Banned for its sexually explicit content and depiction of child sexual abuse, The Bluest Eye was removed from a California school district's core and extended reading lists during Black History Month. Following uproar from parents as well as national media attention, the school board then reversed its decision. The Bluest Eye tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, an African American girl who grows up in an abusive home after the Great Depression. Equating beauty and societal acceptance with being white, Pecola longs to have “the bluest eye.”
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Challenged for its “inappropriate language," The Hate U Give was banned in 2017 by school officials in Katy, Texas. The district superintendent removed the book from library shelves, claiming he did so on the account of the book's "pervasive vulgarity and racially-insensitive language...not its substantive content or the viewpoint expressed." Teachers, librarians, and students erupted in uproar, the which attracting media attention. The district eventually relented, returning the book back on the shelves, but students are required to acquire parental permission before checking it out. The novel follows Starr Carter, a black teen dealing with the aftermath of witnessing a police shooting that killed her unarmed friend.
4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
A patron of an Oregan county library district complained of “talk about the vagina, penis, and sex” in Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and requested that an edited version replace it. After consideration, the original edition was retained in the children’s, adult, and young adult sections of the library.The novel follows Anne Frank's life during a two-year period of hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.
5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
After complaints from parents about the use of racist epithets in To Kill a Mockingbird, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Of Mice and Men, a California school district superintendent removed these titles from required classroom reading lists and banned the use of the N-word in all school classes. The novel serves as a coming-of-age story as well as a darker drama following the trial of a black man for an undeserved rape charge.
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry responded to bannings and challenges of The Giver in the 90s with " I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It's okay for a parent to say, 'I don't want my child to read this book.' But it's not okay for anyone to make that decision for other people. The world portrayed in The Giver is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let's work hard to keep it from happening." The novel takes place in a dystopian society where all pain, fear, war, and hatred has been eliminated.
7. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is continually challenged for its depiction of sexual violence. The Protect Nebraska Children Coalition, for instance, brought an extensive list of books a public school board meeting with the intent of requesting a removal of the books from both the elementary and high school libraries. The list of over 30 titles included Jash Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. The books were removed for evaluation. The Kite runner takes place in 1970s Afghanistan and follows Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, who befriends Hassan, the son of one of his father’s servants. When Amir, a now successful novelist in the United States, learns that Hassan and his wife have been killed by the Taliban, he sets out to Kabul to rescue Hassan’s son.
8. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale has been banned and challenged for its profanity as well as “vulgarity and sexual overtones.” The book being included on a twelfth-grade AP English Literature & Composition reading list at an Atlanta suburb's high school in Georgia, a student’s mother forbade a student from choosing the book. Alleging “porn and gore and cursing,” the parent pushed for the book's removal from the high school and held prayer circles outside the library as a collective committee of staff, admin, and parents discussed the item. The book was ultimately retained. The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a totalitarian swociety where women's reproductive rights are forfeited and overtaken by a patriarchy and women are forcibly assigned to produce children for the "commanders", the ruling class in Gilead.
9. Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
After parent complaints about the novels' racist language, Burbank (CA) Unified School District superintendent removed To Kill a Mockingbird, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Cay, Of Mice and Men, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry from required classroom reading lists. The superintendent additionally banned the use of the N-word in all school classes. Of Mice and Men follows the unlikely pair of two men, George and Lennie, migrant workers who land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley during the time of the Great Depression.
10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
In 2020, a pastor at St. Edward Catholic School in Nashville, Tennessee expressed concern over Harry Potter's references to magic and witchcraft. He consulted exorcists and removed the books from the school's library. “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception,” he explained. “The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” He also stated, “The Harry Potter books promote a Machiavellian approach to achieving the ends they desire with whatever means are necessary.” Harry Potter follows an eleven-year-old boy's introduction to the magical world of witches and wizards and transition to Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards.
As always, here are our sources: