The Most Challenged Books of 2015

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Leila Roy

Staff Writer

After a lengthy stint as a children's bookseller, Leila Roy took a step sideways into the library world. There, she does the same thing she did as a bookseller—matching people with stories in any and all formats, whether print, audio, film, comic, or some newfangled hybrid—but doesn't have to deal with changing the tape on the cash register. She lives in Maine with her husband, where she runs her small-town library and occasionally tries to rescue wildlife from her cat, who is a murderer. In addition to talking books at her long-running blog, Bookshelves of Doom, she's a weekly columnist at Kirkus Reviews. Blog: Bookshelves of Doom Twitter: @bkshelvesofdoom

beyond magenta by susan kuklinEvery year, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the ten books that are most regularly challenged in libraries—in other words, the books that, for various reasons, have been the target of the most censorship efforts.

The 2015 list—released earlier this week—is as follows:

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James

I am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

The Holy Bible

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

Habibi, by Craig Thompson

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

Let’s look at a breakdown of why the challengers found these books problematic, shall we?

2015 top ten challenged books - reasons

For those of you who are keeping track at home, that breaks down to:

Unsuited for Age Group: 7
Religious Viewpoint: 5
Homosexuality: 3
Offensive Language: 3
Sexually Explicit: 3
Sex Education: 2
Violence: 2
Anti-family: 1
Inaccurate: 1
Nudity: 1
Political Viewpoint: 1

And then there is the always fascinating OTHER designation. This year’s Outside Of The Box Reasons To Censor A Book are:

“poorly written”
“concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”
“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”
“profanity and atheism”
“graphic images”
“condones public displays of affection”

fun homeThings I see as notable:

• Both of the books challenged for providing “Sex Education” are about transgender youth. I’d be interested to know if the individuals who challenged those books also challenged books about cisgender youth.

• Beyond Magenta was the title labeled “anti-family.” I’ve read that book, and the only way I could see that designation making any sort of sense is if we are equating “anti-family” with Acknowledging The Fact That Not All Families Are Supportive. Or, you know, if we are defining “family” as a Cisgender-Only Zone.

• Fifty Shades of Grey and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, books written and published for the adult market, were both challenged for being “Unsuited for Age Group.”

• Fifty Shades of Grey was also the recipient of the “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it” complaint—which makes me wonder if the complainant also challenged Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley or any of the other books that star sociopathic murderers.

• Ditto “poorly written.” Is Fifty Shades of Grey the only book in the library that the challenger regards as “poorly written”? Believe it or not, I actually support people exercising their right to speak up about books that they see as problematic—but I do take issue with people being disingenuous.

• Along those lines, I would like to know if the individual who challenged Two Boys Kissing because it “condones public displays of affection” also took issue with… PRETTY MUCH EVERY OTHER BOOK THAT FEATURES A LOVE STORY EVER.

• Two of the older titles on the list, Fun Home and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, have inspired plays that are currently running on Broadway.

• The wording in the “wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints” challenge—that was about Beyond Magenta—suggests that it very well might have been a library employee who wrote it. Which I find profoundly depressing, but—as I’ve witnessed that very thing happen—not particularly surprising.

Looking through the list, what jumps out at you?