As we near the end of National Library Week, let’s consider the ten most challenged books of 2016. The list, compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and released this week, draws on data from across the country. (Watch the video above for more information.) We’ve annotated the titles therein with excerpts from and links to their Booklist reviews, as well as the reasons the OIF states that these books were challenged, in hopes of reaffirming that objections to a given title have very little to do with its quality, and much to do with. . . well, see for yourself.
This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki earned critical acclaim for Skim (2008), and they return here with another coming-of-age tale about the awkward transition from carefree childhood to jaded, self-conscious young adulthood. Jillian Tamaki’s tender illustrations, all rendered in a deep purpley blue, depict roiling water, midnight skies, frenetic sugar highs, and poignantly distressed facial expressions with equal aplomb. With a light touch, the Tamakis capture the struggle of growing up in a patchwork of summer moments that lead to a conclusion notably absent of lessons. Wistful, touching, and perfectly bittersweet.
Includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes
Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Callie loves the theater, even if she can’t sing well enough to perform in her beloved musicals. But when drama and romance—both onstage and off—cause problems, Callie finds that set design may be the easiest part of putting on a play. Telgemeier is prodigiously talented at telling cheerful stories with realistic portrayals of middle-school characters. Callie is likable, hardworking, and enthusiastic, but she is as confused about relationships and love as any young teen, and she flits from crush to crush in a believable fashion. Nonactors will love having a spotlight shine on the backstage action, but even those who shun the stage will identify with this roller-coaster ride through young teen emotions.
Includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
George, by Alex Gino
Ten-year-old George has a secret. Everyone thinks she is a boy, but inside she knows that she is really a girl named Melissa. When her fourth-grade class prepares to mount a dramatic production of Charlotte’s Web, George knows that more than anything in the world, she wants to play the part of Charlotte. After all, who cares if she plays a girl’s part? Gino does an excellent job introducing factual information into the narrative without impinging upon the accessible and appealing story. Pair this important addition to the slender but growing body of transgender fiction.
Includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
In 2011, a documentary was released about transgender Jazz Jennings. Now 13, Jennings tells her story. “I have a girl brain but a boy body,” she explains, portraying herself from early childhood on preferring the color pink and mermaid costumes to playing with “trucks or tools or superheroes,” along with a typical array of interests in dancing, soccer, and drawing. The book gives a clear explanation, even for the youngest, of how she knew that she was born different and the importance of family acceptance.
Portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
It’s impossible to ignore the context of Levithan’s latest novel. The timing is perfect—in the age of recent Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality, a book meant for young adults features a real-life gay teen couple kissing on the cover, standing in for the book’s two fictional boys, ex-boyfriends hoping to share the world’s longest kiss. The story is narrated from the beyond by the “shadow uncles”—gay men of the AIDS generation—who tell millennial gay boys, “We don’t want our legacy to be gravitas.”
Its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
(John Green used to work for Booklist, and it’s our policy not to review our editors’ books. Suffice it to say, it was a hugely popular, award-winning title—and also lead the 2015 list of OIF’s most-challenged books. You can watch John Green talk about this distinction here.)
Challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
Big Hard Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
We didn’t review the first volume, but did review the next two. Here’s an excerpt from the review of Vol. 2: After their last failed bank robbery, Jon and Suzie have now settled into a more relaxed relationship, as they begin to research their bizarre superpower—the ability to freeze time when they have sex, rendered in glowy rainbow-colored scenes. Cracks start to form as Jon begins to open up about his depression and Suzie focuses more on her job. It’s a real feat for Fraction that what shines through the over-the-top premise and crude humor is a realistic, affectionate journey shared by two people.
Considered sexually explicit [EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, duh. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in libraries.]
Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, by Chuck Palahniuk
Given that Fight Club author Palahniuk can be a lot to handle when he’s just telling you one story, picking up Make Something Up might demand some psychological preparation. The anthology lines up 22 of Palahniuk’s best short stories with no interest in easing you into or out of the disturbing, hilarious, and bizarre roller coaster of transgressive creativity. Vignettes of grotesque body horror are bookended by stories with titles such as “Why Coyote Never Had Money for Parking” and “Why Aardvark Never Went to the Moon.”
Profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
Little Bill (series), by Bill Cosby, illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
I’m not touching this one with a ten-foot pole. But we can all agree that censorship is the worst! Look at this picture of a kitten!
Challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Right from the start of this tender debut, readers can almost hear the clock winding down on Eleanor and Park. After a less than auspicious start, the pair quietly builds a relationship while riding the bus to school every day, wordlessly sharing comics and eventually music on the commute. The pure, fear-laced, yet steadily maturing relationship they develop is urgent, moving, and, of course, heartbreaking, too.