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Graphic memoir 'Gender Queer' tops U.S. library group's list of most challenged books

Maia Kobabe's graphic memoir <em>Gender Queer</em> was the most "challenged" book of 2022, the second consecutive year it has topped the list compiled by the American Library Association.
Rick Bowmer
Maia Kobabe's graphic memoir Gender Queer was the most "challenged" book of 2022, the second consecutive year it has topped the list compiled by the American Library Association.

NEW YORK — With Florida legislators barring even the mention of being gay in classrooms and similar restrictions under consideration in other states, a report released Monday says books with LGBTQ+ themes remain the most likely targets of bans or attempted bans at public schools and libraries around the country.

The American Library Association announced that Maia Kobabe's graphic memoir Gender Queer was the most "challenged" book of 2022, the second consecutive year it has topped the list.

The ALA defines a challenge as a "formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

Other books facing similar trials include George M. Johnson's All Boys Aren't Blue, Mike Curato's Flamer, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, John Green's Looking for Alaska," Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy and Juno Dawson's This Book Is Gay.

"All the challenges are openly saying that young people should not be exposed to LGBTQ materials," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who directs the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

The list also includes Toni Morrison's first novel, the 1970 release The Bluest Eye, which has been criticized for its references to rape and incest; Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (sexual content, profanity) and Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Mist and Fury (sexual content).

The ALA usually compiles a Top 10 list, but this year expanded it to 13 because the books ranked 10 to 13 were in a virtual tie.

"In the past, when it was that close, we would flip a coin to see who got in the list. This year, we got rid of the coin," Caldwell-Stone said.

The ALA last month reported there were more than 1,200 complaints in 2022 involving more than 2,500 different books, the highest totals since the association began compiling complaints 20 years ago. The number is likely much higher because the ALA relies on media reports and accounts from libraries.

In charts accompanying Monday's announcement, the ALA reported the majority of complaints — nearly 60% — come from parents and library patrons. "Political/religious" groups such as the conservative Moms for Liberty account for just 17% of complaints, but they object to a disproportionate number of books, according to Caldwell-Stone. Moms for Liberty, which advocates for parental rights in schools, objected to more than 1,000 books in 2022.

Caldwell-Stone cited the web site booklooks.org, a popular resource for conservatives to evaluate books that defines itself as "unaffiliated" with Moms for Liberty, but does "communicate with other individuals and groups with whom there is an intersection of mission and values."

"Many of the books on our most challenged list appear on booklooks," Caldwell-Stone said.

The ALA list followed last week's report from PEN America, which found a continued rise in book bans at public schools during the first half of the 2022-2023 academic year.

According to PEN, there were 1,477 individual book bans affecting 874 different titles, up from 1,149 bans in the second half of 2021-2022. Gender Queer and Flamer tied at 15 for the most times banned during the more recent period, with other frequently banned books including The Bluest Eye," A Court of Mist and Fury and a graphic novel edition of Margaret Atwood's dystopian The Handmaid's Tale.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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