Welcome to the Banned Books Blog! This August 2023, we have a non-binary student experiencing homelessness and romance, a discussion about incarceration and the Jim Crow era, and a young girl who is ready for womanhood.
These titles may be available in other formats or languages. Check our catalog for availability!
Banned and challenged books are so frequent now that it's rare to see a library or school that hasn't had to fight for their and their community's rights to read without shame, discrimination, or interference. Just in the 2022-2023 school year alone, there were 1,477 challenges regarding 374 unique titles. Book challengers frequently argue against books that feature LGBTQ+ characters and label many of the challenged titles as indecent. Our mission with this blog is to highlight banned books, discuss why they were challenged or banned, and offer our thoughts about the book in regards to its being challenged as well as the content itself.
Boston Public Library is free to all and offers books that have been banned or challenged elsewhere in the country. Having the freedom to read what one wants without interference celebrates diversity, difference in thought, and critical thinking. It's even a square on our Adult Summer Reading Bingo card! Access to literature — regardless of topic — clearly remains a heated debate. But with the Banned Books Blog, there is no debate. There's only reading!
Title/ Author: I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
Reason for Challenge/Banning: LGBTQIA+ protagonist and characters
Summary: When Ben comes out as non-binary, their parents kick them out and they move in with their estranged sister and brother-in-law. While Ben grieves and adjusts to a new school — one that they’re not out at — they also start falling for a boy named Nathan.
Series/Standalone: Both, sort of — there’s a short story that takes place after the book’s conclusion, but no plans for another full-length novel.
Genre: Teen romance
Length: 336 pages
Content Warnings: Misgendering, getting kicked out, familial rifts, panic attacks
Challenge/Banning Response: It’s tricky to respond to identity-based challenges. Some reasons for banning are easily disproved, such as claims that picture books or children’s nonfiction contain sexual content. Others, as is the case here, are simply rooted in bigotry. The Tennessee school district that banned I Wish You All the Best also removed 300 other books featuring queer and/or Black characters. I could argue with the school board all day long that my mere existence as a non-binary lesbian isn’t hurting anyone. I could point out the benefits of the “mirrors and windows” theory (coined by children’s literature scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) I learned about in grad school, which states that books can and should serve as mirrors for some readers to see themselves represented, and as windows for others to learn about people different from them. I could even play my trump card and bring up the statistics that show queer and trans young people with supportive families, schools, and communities are significantly less likely to attempt suicide. But at the end of the day, I can’t force closed minds to open. I would just hope that the people who banned this would take these points into consideration if they’re truly so worried about education and children’s well-being.
Personal Thoughts: This is one of my all-time favorite books. As a fellow non-binary gay person from the South, I saw so much of myself in Ben. You can’t help but root for them as they try to start a new life while also dealing with mental health issues. Despite the heavy topics, this book is such a joy, rife with humor and heartwarming moments. I loved watching Ben grow as a person and develop a support system.
Title/Author: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Reason for Challenge/Banning: Racism in the U.S. prison system
Summary: The New Jim Crow addresses the long history of mass incarceration of Black Americans as an effort of the American prison system to continue the legacy of the Jim Crow era, through “legal” means. It exposes the history of stripping away rights from millions of African Americans, especially Black men to continue the tradition of legalized oppression in the United States. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was initially written as a response to the epidemic of mass incarceration in America in 2011 and 2012. The author, an activist, and scholar, saw a serious risk with the rise of colorblindness in this country, heightened by the pending election of its first Black president, as these successes might silence the lived reality of millions of Black people in this country. With these concerns in mind, Michelle Alexander offers a thorough and thought-provoking commentary on the continuation race-based incarceration in the United States.
Genre: Adult nonfiction
Length: 329 pages
Content Warnings: Racism, violence, incarceration
Challenge/Banning Response: The New Jim Crow is currently banned in the Northeast School District in Austin, Texas. While this is the only place I could find with current bans on the book, Alexander’s work has had a nearly 11-year history of being banned in this country in both schools and prison systems. In schools, there were (and still are) problematic issues of silencing BIPOC voices, keeping certain people "comfortable," and trying to shelter students from racial and graphic violence. Prisons in New Jersey and North Carolina had similar reactions, with prison executives fearing racial upheaval and rebellion in prison quarters. Of course, the content and very existence of this book threatened to reveal the truth about the inner workings of race-based mass-incarceration of Black Americans. Thankfully, the ACLU fought the case in 2018 in New Jersey, calling the ban unconstitutional, and won. North Carolina shortly after also removed its ban.
Personal Thoughts: Written just two years before the start of the Black Lives Matter Movement, with a rampant rise of police brutality and gun violence against Black Americans, The New Jim Crow offers helpful historical insight on the issues our country faces today. With careful reading and discussion, the book can serve as a helpful tool in understanding the state of mass incarceration as the contemporary Jim Crow era and the dire need for reform. In a time of bans against affirmative action and other issues facing BIPOC+ communities, it is imperative that we educate ourselves for action against systems of oppression, race, and otherwise.
Title/Author: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Reason for Challenge/Banning: Puberty-related issues, such as menstruation, and choice of religion
Summary: Margaret is 11 and she has just moved to New Jersey. She makes new friends and forms a secret club to talk about absolutely private — and embarrassing — subjects. As she begins hoping that she won’t be the last one to get her period or to buy a bra, she also considers her relationship to God and what religion she should choose.
Series/Standalone: Standalone — now with a movie!
Genre: Children’s fiction
Length: 149 pages
Content Warnings: None!
Challenge/Banning Response: Because Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was originally published in 1970, plenty of critics took offense about letting children read about menstruation and a child picking her own religion. Because of this, many schools and libraries refused to purchase this book — even the school that Judy Blume’s children attended!
In the 1990s, this book was listed at #60 of the ALA’s top 100 banned books. On their 2000-2009 list, it was ranked at #99. It has since fallen off the list.
Personal Thoughts: I read this book myself when I was younger, and like many girls, I felt a lot of apprehension about my growing body — even in a family consisting only of women! Realizing now as an adult that this has been banned and challenged frustrates me. Knowing that research and conversations regarding women’s and girl’s bodies is so lacking and understanding that some people find women’s bodies offensive makes this book’s banned and challenged status incredibly disturbing.
Beyond this, Judy Blume writes evocatively regarding the struggle of choosing one’s religion, understanding both overbearing and distant family members, and the trials and errors of discovering who you are. Re-reading this beloved children’s book as an adult made it all the more impactful and meaningful — sixth grade really was as complicated as I remember it!