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The Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017, Considered

It’s Banned Books Week! In its honor, let’s revisit the list of the 10 most challenged books of 2017, compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and released in April. (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, you can probably guess, but to be sure, peruse the list below.

Thirteen Reasons Why#1

THE BOOK

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

When Clay Jenson plays the cassette tapes he received in a mysterious package, he’s surprised to hear the voice of dead classmate Hannah Baker. He’s one of 13 people who receive Hannah’s story, which details the circumstances that led to her suicide. Clay spends the rest of the day and long into the night listening to Hannah’s voice and going to the locations she wants him to visit. The text alternates, sometimes quickly, between Hannah’s voice (italicized) and Clay’s thoughts as he listens to her words, which illuminate betrayals and secrets that demonstrate the consequences of even small actions. Hannah herself is not free from guilt, her own inaction having played a part in an accidental auto death and a rape. Although sometimes heavy, the message about how we treat one another makes for compelling reading.

THE CHALLENGES

Challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.

#2 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

THE BOOK

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit, a goofy-looking dork with a decent jump shot, spends his time lamenting life on the “poor-ass” Spokane Indian reservation, drawing cartoons (which often provide more insight than the narrative), and, along with his aptly named pal Rowdy, laughing about the things large and small that bind best friends together. When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the reservation, Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one. He weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble amidst the suffocating pervasiveness of alcoholism on the reservation.

THE CHALLENGES

Challenged in school curricula because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.

#3 Drama

THE BOOK

StarDrama, written and illustrated 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 cause problems—both onstage and off—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 theater entirely will identify with this roller-coaster ride through young teen emotions.

THE CHALLENGES

Challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”

The Kite Runner#4

THE BOOK

The Kite Runnerby Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini’s debut novel opens in Kabul in the mid-1970s. Amir is the son of a wealthy man, but his best friend is Hassan, the son of one of his father’s servants. His father encourages the friendship and dotes on Hassan, who worships the ground Amir walks on. But Amir is envious of Hassan and his own father’s apparent affection for the boy. Amir is not nearly as loyal to Hassan, and one day, when he comes across a group of local bullies raping Hassan, he does nothing. Shamed by his own inaction, Amir pushes Hassan away, even going so far as to accuse him of stealing. Eventually, Hassan and his father are forced to leave. Years later, Amir, now living in America, receives a visit from an old family friend who gives him an opportunity to make amends for his treatment of Hassan.

THE CHALLENGES

Includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”

#5

THE BOOKGeorge

George, by Alex GinoStar

Ten-year-old George has a secret. Everyone thinks she is a boy, but inside, she knows 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.

THE CHALLENGES

Challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.

#6Sex Is a Funny Word

THE BOOK

Sex Is a Funny Word, by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth

An inclusive comic book discussing sexuality and gender identity, Sex Is a Funny Word broaches topic of sex education with an open mind, emphasizing open communication and trust between young readers and their caregivers.

THE CHALLENGES

Addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”

#7

THE BOOK

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

This seminal 1960 novel from young Southern writer Harper Lee is a cornerstone of American literature. Centered around injustice and racism in the American south, To Kill a Mockingbird uses radical hero Atticus Finch and his sensitive-yet-fearless daughter Scout to discuss oft ignored issues of class and racial inequality.

THE CHALLENGES

Depicts violence and includes use of the N-word.

 

 

 

 

#8

THE BOOKThe Hate U Give

StarThe Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two very different worlds. One is her home in a poor black urban neighborhood, and the other is the tony suburban prep school she attends and where she dates a white boy. Her bifurcated life changes dramatically when she is the only witness to the unprovoked police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil and is challenged to speak out—though with trepidation—about the injustices being done in the event’s wake. As the case becomes national news, violence erupts in her neighborhood, and Starr finds herself and her family caught in the middle. Difficulties are exacerbated by their encounters with the local drug lord for whom Khalil was dealing to earn money for his impoverished family. If there is to be hope for change, Starr comes to realize, she must use her voice, even if it puts her and her family in harm’s way. Thomas’ debut, both a searing indictment of injustice and a clear-eyed, dramatic examination of the complexities of race in America, invites deep thoughts about our social fabric, ethics, morality, and justice.

THE CHALLENGES

Challenged and banned in school libraries and curricula because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.

#9And Tango Makes Three

THE BOOK

StarAnd Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole

Roy and Silo were “a little bit different” from the other male penguins: instead of noticing females, they noticed each other. Thus penguin chick Tango, hatched from a fertilized egg given to the pining, bewildered pair, came to be “the only penguin in the Central Park Zoo with two daddies.” As told by Richardson and Parnell (a psychiatrist and playwright), this true story remains firmly within the bounds of the zoo’s polar environment, as do Cole’s expressive but still realistic watercolors.

THE CHALLENGES

Features a same-sex relationship.

#10I Am Jazz

THE BOOK

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.

THE CHALLENGES

Addresses the topic of gender identity.

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