The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has released a list of the top 10 most challenged books of 2021. They tracked 729 challenges representing 1,597 books, but that is just the challenges that were either reported to the ALA or received significant media attention. They estimate about 90% of formal challenges go unreported and have no media coverage, while many more books are “unofficially” taken off the shelves or are never stocked at all for fear of being challenged.
Here are the top 10 most banned and challenged books of 2021, along with the reasons they were challenged.
#10: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
This is a YA nonfiction title that includes interviews with trans teens and adults about their experiences discovering their gender identity and coming out. It also includes photographs.
It was challenged for LGBTQIA content and accused of being “sexually explicit.”
It received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist, and it was a 2015 Stonewall Honor book.
#9: This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
This Book Is Gay is a YA nonfiction book that acts as a self help guide both to questions teens have about gender and sexuality as well as what to do after coming out. It also includes personal stories from LGBTQIA people.
It was challenged for LGBTQIA content and for providing sexual education.
It received a starred review from Booklist, was named a Guardian Best Book of the Year, and was the 2018 Garden State Teen Book Award Winner.
#8: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This is a literary fiction title addressing racism that is popularly taught in AP English classes and university classrooms.
It was challenged for depicting child sexual abuse and was accused of being sexually explicit.
Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, and she is widely considered one of the best American novelists of all time.
#7: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
A YA novel that involves a teenage boy befriending a girl with cancer, this was compared to The Fault In Our Stars when it was first released, but has a very different tone.
It was challenged for allegedly being sexually explicit and degrading to women.
The book was made into a movie that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. This title also received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, and it won several YALSA awards.
#6: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This is an illustrated YA novel about an Indigenous teen going to a primarily white school.
It was challenged for profanity, “sexual references,” and “use of a derogatory term.”
This title was a National Book Award winner. It also won a American Indian Youth Literature Award, but that award was rescinded after multiple women spoke out about Alexie sexually harassing them.
#5: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give follows a Black teenage girl who witnesses a Black male friend, who was unarmed, get killed by police.
It was challenged for profanity, violence, and being “anti-police.”
It was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, received eight starred reviews, was a William C. Morris Debut Award Winner, and was made into a popular movie.
#4: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
This is a YA take on Romeo and Juliet that follows a Mexican American teenage girl and Black teenage boy in a segregated 1937 Texas town who fall in love. It deals with the racism and misogyny the main character faces in this environment.
It was challenged for depictions of abuse and accused of being sexually explicit.
It was a Printz Honor Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and the Winner of the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.
#3: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
This is a YA memoir about “the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys,” told in personal essays.
It was challenged for profanity and LGBTQIA content, and it was accused of being sexually explicit.
It was a New York Times Bestseller, is being optioned for TV, was an Amazon Best Book of the Year, an ALA Rainbow List Pick, a New York Library Best Book of 2020, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020, a Kids’ Book Choice Award Finalist, the #1 YALSA Teen’s Top Ten List Winner, and more.
#2: Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
Lawn Boy is an adult fiction title about a 22 year old Mexican American young man trying to find himself. It deals with race, class, and sexual identity.
It was challenged for LGBTQIA content and accused of being sexually explicit. (Specifically, this title is often falsely accused of pedophilia, because it has a scene where the main character remembers experimenting with another boy when they were both young.)
It received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist.
#1: Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
This is a graphic memoir about coming out as non-binary and asexual.
It was challenged for LGBTQIA content and accused of having sexually explicit images.
It won the 2020 Alex Award and Stonewall Book Award.
The ALA has its own page for this title, which includes award and honors, reviews, where it’s been banned/challenged, and additional resources.
The ALA shared a word cloud with the most common reasons books are banned or challenged. It also acts as a snapshot of the political discourse around these books in the last year, with “LGBTQIA,” “critical race theory,” and “woke” being some of the most common reasons. (Next to “sexually explicit,” which coincidentally only seems to be applied to LGBTQIA books or books by and about people of color.)
You can see previous years’ top ten most challenged books, as recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at the ALA website.