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The 50 Most Banned Books in America Right Now

Updated: May 29, 2024

How many of these banned books have you read?

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Book banning and censorship are nothing new, but you may have noticed more discussion on the topic lately in the news and on social media. Maybe you’ve even joined a debate over why some of the best books are now off limits. It’s important to note that while schools and libraries—or even a store—may ban books, it does not make banned books illegal to acquire or read. Of course, sometimes a ban on a book makes it just that much more, well, intriguing. Some teens, whose literary access is significantly challenged by many of the bans, have even created their own banned books clubs.

Book banning and censorship often lead to a suppression of minority voices and an erasure of reality. In fact, among the top 11 banned books on our list, 10 of the authors and illustrators are women or nonbinary individuals, while four of the books were written by authors of color and four by LGBTQ individuals. Many recently banned books touch on violence and abuse, health and well-being, grief and death—topics that are crucial for kids and teens to explore.

As parents and school boards lead the effort to erase uncomfortable interpretations of reality (such as the Holocaust book Maus), discussions of gender identity (as with George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue) and provocative stories that could lead to political questioning (The Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?), they are not only limiting access but also perpetuating inequalities and dictating what stories have the right to be heard. Ready to see which of these books you have already read—and which you need to get your hands on ASAP? Read on for our countdown of the 50 most banned books in America.

Join the free Reader’s Digest Book Club for great reads, monthly discussions, author Q&As and a community of book lovers.

People Kill People By Ellen Hopkins
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People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins

With five bans, Ellen Hopkins’s riveting People Kill People is the 50th most banned book in America in the first half of the 2022–2023 school year, tied with a few others, including Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club. In her author’s note for the book, Hopkins shared that she wanted to explore why someone “might be compelled to pull the trigger.” Not a thriller per se, the book explores the darkness within us all as it introduces readers to its cast of struggling teenagers—all of whom could conceivably pull the trigger of a gun that one of them has bought. But who bought it, and why? And what will happen next? It’s a taut, complex novel that tackles heavy ideas and challenges readers to think about what might make a person into someone who pulls the trigger.

The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian By Sherman Alexie
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie’s semi-autobiographical young adult novel about an amateur cartoonist has made waves since 2007 and racked up five bans between July and December 2022. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been banned several times over the years, primarily for its profanity and references to sex, but more recently, it has also been challenged because of sexual harassment allegations against the author himself. In the story, Junior leaves behind his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white public high school with a Native American mascot. The reflections on race and identity are at once funny, poignant and heart-wrenching. If you’ve read this book, you may want to check these other Native American books to round out your reading.

This One Summer By Mariko And Jillian Tamaki
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This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

This award-winning graphic novel, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, is a beautiful coming-of-age story about a girl named Rose on an absolutely normal, completely usual summer holiday with her family. What isn’t as usual that summer, though, is Rose, who finds herself seeing and experiencing everyday life differently as she transitions from childhood into adolescence and discovers the joys (and the unique agonies) of growing up. Halfway through the 2022–’23 school year, This One Summer already had six bans, mostly due to confusion around its target audience age and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, some illustrations and sexually explicit content and mature themes.

Lucky By Alice Sebold
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Lucky by Alice Sebold

Lucky was originally a powerful, courageous and heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful memoir of author Alice Sebold’s survival of a violent assault and brutal rape as a college student—and her journey to healing and justice afterward. It was a testament to her bravery and the legal system of the time. With the complete exoneration decades later of the man wrongfully sentenced for the crimes against her, the book was pulled from shelves by the publisher. As one reporter noted at the time, Lucky now reads more like a horror story than anything else. The book had already garnered six bans halfway through the 2022–2023 school year, though the objections are centered around the “obscene content” describing her rape and assault rather than the recent revelation of failed justice.

The Nowhere Girls By Amy Reed
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The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

What can happen when three random high school girls band together to resist sexism and push back against rape culture? Amy Reed’s The Nowhere Girls, banned six times across three states between June and December 2022 alone, explores just that. This feminist book chronicles the perspectives of three girls from very different backgrounds who team up to avenge the rape of a classmate—and discover along the way what they are capable of and what it means to speak and to have a voice at all. Both empowering and powerful, The Nowhere Girls has nevertheless been the object of bans because of its portrayal of teenage rape and discussions of sex and other “mature” content.

Scars By Cheryl Rainfield
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Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Cheryl Rainfield’s poignant and impossible-to-set-down story, Scars, explores what is left behind after unthinkable atrocities happen—specifically, when they happen to a minor. This fictional book unravels the story of Kendra, a 15-year-old who was sexually abused as a child and is slowly, terrifyingly, beginning to piece together what happened and who did it, all while struggling against the remaining terror that something is stalking her and trying to find ways to cope with it all. The subject of six bans in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year, due to concerns over “adult content,” “obscene content” and depictions of self-harm, the “dark” book unflinchingly looks at the scars and open wounds of survivors. It compassionately and with great tenderness and empathy takes readers deep into the terrible void of forgetting such abuse, the searing pain of remembering and the terrifying but vital journey to healing.

Sometimes it can be difficult to make space in our busy day (and our emotions), but reading is important and can make a great deal of difference in our lives and those around us.

Shine By Lauren Myracle
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Shine by Lauren Myracle

This YA mystery book by Lauren Myracle centers around a devastating assault that leaves a gay teen, Patrick, left for dead and comatose. His best friend, 16-year-old Cat, sets out to find out who did this to him, and along the way, she must face the poverty, drug abuse, homophobia and other biases that shroud their town, as well as the ghosts haunting her from her past. Shine has been questioned for these themes and its strong language, leading to six bans in four states between July–December 2022.

Watchmen By Alan Moore And Dave Gibbons
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Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This famous, award-winning 1980s graphic novel by British author Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons gained six more bans during the first half of the 2022–2023 school year. Groundbreaking in its time and still influential today, Watchmen follows a group of retired superheroes who have some big decisions to make when a new and dangerous threat emerges and they must come out of retirement. Exploring matters of power, authority and morality, this evocative and provocative book has been in school libraries and even taught in classrooms for years until now, despite its graphic scenes and mature themes—its portrayal of life and questions of authority and power remain relevant today. With all these bans getting slapped around and censorship rising, we think some real modern-day superheroes are the tireless librarians fighting book bans!

Monday's Not Coming By Tiffany D. Jackson
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Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

At the start of this story, Claudia is a fierce friend of her soul sister, Monday, and the two are about to start eighth grade—what Claudia thought “would be the best year of our lives.” Told almost entirely in Claudia’s voice, Monday’s Not Coming is a painfully realistic but beautifully articulated tale of friendship and heartbreak. Monday seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, and aside from Claudia, no one has even noticed she’s gone. Readers will find it almost impossible to put the book down as they race to find out not only what happened to Monday but also what will happen to Claudia as she slowly uncovers the truth.

Tiffany D. Jackson wrote a compelling YA mystery and coming-of-age story that manages to shine a light on the very real challenges facing youth today, including drugs, child abuse and neglect, and she challenges readers to consider what happens when the very systems intended to help, like the police and child welfare services, fail instead. However powerful and necessary it is, Monday’s Not Coming was banned six times in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year alone. Be sure to read it and check out these other excellent books by Black authors that shouldn’t be left on a shelf—or removed.

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Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison’s 2018 novel follows Mike Muñoz, a 22-year-old Mexican American man who can’t seem to get ahead. He didn’t get much in the way of education. He lacks successful role models and mentors. And he’s practically penniless. But there’s no doubt he’s talented when it comes to landscaping. So can Mike leverage his talents for a shot at the American Dream? Although Lawn Boy offers plenty of discussion points, it has been the target of frequent book bans and had six new bans levied against it during the first half of the 2022–2023 school year. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a read and try pairing it with these book club questions.

Forever... by Judy Blume

Judy Blume’s books are modern classics, and one of her most well-recognized is 1975’s Forever. In it, Blume writes unapologetically about what it’s like to be a young woman in the world, centering her story on Katherine, who falls in love for the first time and “does it” with a classmate. Even as they profess their love and are sure of being together forever, they are forced to separate. Katherine must learn to navigate a world that includes topics like birth control, abortion, choice, responsibility and more. Banned off and on over the years, Forever received six additional bans in the first few months of the 2022–’23 school year—a move Blume has no problem calling “government censorship,” according to NPR.

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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s bestselling book (which inspired the Hulu TV show) is as dystopian as they come. A mysterious medical blight has rendered most women infertile. A group of patriarchal religious fanatics has overtaken New England. And at the crossroads are the handmaids—women taken hostage by the government because of their ability to have children. In The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the women tells her story. Of course, the requisite scenes of sexual tyranny have gotten this book banned again and again, with six more bans added last fall. As Margaret Atwood herself wrote in an op-ed earlier this year, “To those who seek to stop young people from reading The Handmaid’s Tale: Good luck with that. It’ll only make them want to read it more.”

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another Margaret Atwood book racked up six more bans in the first half of the 2022–2023 school year alone: Oryx and Crake. This national bestseller is also the first book in the acclaimed MaddAddam trilogy. In a dystopian future, where a plague has almost entirely obliterated humans and genetic engineering rules the world, one original human named Snowman remains—with memories of a life of love and loss. Not all the memories are golden, though, and as the novel moves between different periods, it also introduces dark topics, including pornography and sex trafficking. If you love reading about what our world might look like after we survive a pandemic (ahem) or suffer cataclysmic, worst-case climate change impacts, you don’t want to miss this list of dystopian books that’ll change your worldview.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

It may have been published in 2012, but this irreverent book about dying has still made the list of the most banned books in America right now. Readers seem to either love or hate the story of three awkward teens as they navigate an impossible situation. Greg and Earl are snarky and self-absorbed. As for Rachel? Well, she’s got cancer. For anyone who thought The Fault in Our Stars was too saccharine, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl offers an alternative: a book about teens and dying that feels just crass and off-kilter enough to be genuine. Even author Jesse Andrews himself calls it “a weird little anti-romance about a teenage boy whose mom forces him to befriend a girl with cancer.”

Whatever Andrews hoped for the book when he first wrote it, he never imagined it would be banned so frequently—and just for some swearing and two pages of immature boys riffing about sex they’ve never had (and aren’t likely to have any time soon). The “book banning crowd,” as he describes it, managed to land another six bans on his book in only four months in the first half of this past school year.

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

This delightful, earnest and utterly endearing YA rom-com-esque novel by Becky Albertalli has been another target of overzealous book censoring, landing another six bans at the start of the 2022–’23 school term alone. Casually LGBTQ+ friendly in a way that doesn’t make a “thing” out of sexual preference or gender identity but feels like a warm and welcoming embrace, The Upside of Unrequited tells the story of Molly, a 17-year-old twin who has nursed 26 unrequited crushes. As her twin finds and falls in love for the first time, she starts taking some big leaps too, like getting a real job and maybe her first real boyfriend. The book explores themes of body image and family (including non-traditional family), self-discovery, love and, of course, unrequited love.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas’s 2017 New York Times bestseller frequently appears on lists of banned stories despite being made into a major film in 2018. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in two realities: a predominantly white prep school by day and her mostly Black, low-income neighborhood by night. Starr’s careful balancing act crumbles when a police officer kills her unarmed friend. Unsettling depictions of police brutality, violence and racism have led some to ban The Hate U Give from classrooms and libraries, and it was hit with seven additional bans in the first half of the 2022–2023 school year. Despite (and perhaps because of) these heartbreaking scenes, the book is worth a read—especially if you’re starting a book club and want a meaty story you can really dig into. You can also check out these other books about racism.

Eleanor & Park By Rainbow Rowell 1ecomm Via Bookshop.org
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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Set in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the touching and gutting story of two misfit teenagers finding each other, themselves and love despite it all. Park is Korean American, and Eleanor is bullied at school and in a precarious-to-potentially-explosive situation at home. The book, banned seven times at the start of the 2022–’23 school year, switches back and forth between their dual perspectives as they meet (not a meet-cute), get to know each other, become friends and fall desperately in love. Both beautiful and heartbreaking, Eleanor & Park explores themes of friendship, first love and acceptance. As much as it may be a love story, it is also a story about finding your place in the world and people who see and love you for who you are. Despite tackling topics of abuse and racism, one of the most frequently named reasons for this book being banned is its use of coarse language.

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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

This popular book by Jodi Picoult received the American Library Association’s 2009 Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners Award, yet it was banned seven times in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year. A story about a mass school shooting and the events and bullying leading up to the tragedy, Nineteen Minutes also explores dating violence, sexuality, popularity and parent-child relationships. But it is banned less for guns or violence than accusations of “pornographic content.” The story centers on Josie Cormier, best friend of Peter Houghton, a boy who went on a shooting spree after a final incident of bullying. Nineteen Minutes dives deep into what exactly happened during that shooting, how it got to that point and whether we ever truly know the people we think we know.

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Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley Hope Pérez’s 2015 young adult novel, Out of Darkness, has landed on many a list of banned books for its graphic depictions of teen sex. In fact, it was banned seven times just at the beginning of the 2022–2023 school year alone! This passionate teen romance novel centers on the relationship between a Mexican American girl and a Black boy in 1930s Texas and also covers important, complex topics like segregation, rape and forbidden love. If you like this one, check out more books by Latinx authors—they’re great reads whether you’re part of the community or just looking to experience stories from a culture other than your own.

Breathless By Jennifer Niven 1ecomm Via Bookshop.org
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Breathless by Jennifer Niven

This breathtaking YA novel is not just a love story but also a story about a girl facing a painfully difficult time in her life who decides to be brave and bold instead of shutting down. In a world where major choices are being made for her and life as she has known it is abruptly over, she begins to reach for the life—and choices—she wants to make for herself. An empowering tale that is tenderly told and unafraid to tackle issues and topics spanning family, loss, body image, sexuality, mental health and more, Breathless was nevertheless the target of seven new bans before the 2022–’23 school year was halfway through.

Empire Of Storms By Sarah J. Maas 1ecomm Via Bookshop.org
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Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass is a fantasy romance book series by Sarah J. Maas, and Empire of Storms is the fifth volume. War is brewing in this epic fantasy, where (spoiler alert), Aelin Galathynius has begun her long journey toward the throne. Cue monsters from the past, dark forces, the need to protect loved ones and a quest exploring love, peace, desire, sacrifice and choice. Of course, boiled down to basics, you might say it is also essentially a book about a fierce woman who should be queen and oust an imposter king from power. Either way, like Aelin, the riveting Empire of Storms has faced its own challenges—in the form of seven new book bans in the beginning of the 2022–2023 school year.

Tilt By Ellen Hopkins
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Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

A novel in verse, Tilt is actually a companion to Ellen Hopkins’s earlier adult title, Triangles, a story that first introduced the teenagers whose stories take center stage in this book. Mikayla, Shane and Harley are connected through their families, and their lives “begin to tilt” as they emerge into adulthood, grappling with life, choices and consequences. Their story explores love and sexuality, teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, significant illnesses, substance abuse and even death. Ultimately, the book looks at how we find the strength to keep going in the face of everything going awry. Despite this hopeful note, Tilt received seven new bans in the fall semester of the 2022–’23 school year.

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Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Another Ellen Hopkins novel finding itself among banned books of 2023 is Impulse, which tells the story of a different trio of troubled teenagers, though in a very different setting and situation. Based in a psychiatric facility, the story unfolds from the teenagers’ perspectives after they meet at the hospital, where they each ended up after attempting suicide. Hopkins tells their painfully realistic stories with tenderness and care even as Impulse explores themes of mental health, self-harm, addiction, suicide, recovery and death. Unfortunately, this book had also been subjected to seven book bans by halfway through the school year.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, text 988 to talk to someone or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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Identical by Ellen Hopkins

In her 2010 young adult novel, Ellen Hopkins unhesitatingly tackles the unimaginable. An outwardly ideal family harbors many dark secrets, and identical 16-year-old twins Kaeleigh and Raeanne are at the center of it all and struggling under the unbearable weight of their own terrible secrets. Child abuse, incest, sexual assault, eating disorders—this is another gut-wrenching tale that, however uncomfortable or hard to believe, is only a fictional mirror of the devastatingly true realities some teenagers and children face in life. Written in that classically tender and empathetic Hopkins style that ultimately builds hope, shines a spotlight on societal problems and helps those in such situations feel a little less alone, Identical was nevertheless banned seven times between July and December 2022.

Fallout By Ellen Hopkins
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Fallout by Ellen Hopkins

Yet another Ellen Hopkins book targeted by zealous book banners, Fallout concludes the New York Times bestselling Crank trilogy and takes place 19 years after the other two in the series. Banned anew seven times between July and December 2022, the book centers on three of Kristina Snow’s children and is told from their various perspectives. Hunter, Autumn and Summer are living apart, each with their own guardians, last names and ghosts, and readers see for themselves what might happen in the fallout of one person’s choice to do drugs, even decades later and mostly in absentia. Fallout explores themes of family, foster care, substance abuse and addiction as the characters grapple with their lives and the possibility of breaking the cycle.

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska is the debut novel of John Green, who went on to write The Fault in our Stars and Turtles All The Way Down. The story revolves around a teenage boy named Miles, who arrives at boarding school and meets the unforgettable Alaska. She introduces him to her world and helps him in his quest to find what a dying poet referred to as a “Great Perhaps.” Rich, vivid, touching and profound, this beautiful story manages to explore themes of friendship, sexuality, hope and the meaning of life while also touching on substance abuse, grief and death. Looking for Alaska has been subjected to numerous bans over the past few years, primarily due to complaints about profanity and sexual content, and it was banned seven more times during the first semester of the 2022–’23 school year.

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Melissa (George) by Alex Gino

Alex Gino’s novel has been on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books list more than once since its 2017 debut. The unfortunate reason for the widespread restriction of this novel is all too clear: It’s a children’s book about a transgender girl. The story follows Melissa, who her teacher and classmates call George. When she’s shut down for wanting to play a female role in the class play, she decides it’s time to change things. Though many teachers have praised Melissa (formerly published as George) for its straightforward portrayal of a transgender child, it has frequently been pulled from shelves for LGBTQIA+ content and a plot that conflicts with certain communities’ religious beliefs. It was the subject of seven more bans during the first semester of the 2022–’23 school year alone.

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The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Jessie Ann Foley’s Printz Award–winning debut novel is a poignant, cross-cultural, internationally staged coming-of-age story, The Carnival at Bray. Trying to deal with the typical challenges of growing up—never mind changing countries and leaving your only community and primary support network behind—and adjusting to a new world is intensely trying. Doing that amid a backdrop of dysfunction is even more difficult. But Maggie, the primary protagonist in Foley’s novel, fights to find herself amid the chaos, even when tragedy strikes and sets her off on a whole new journey. Full of angst and music and the raw lessons teenagers are constantly learning, The Carnival at Bray has been banned for exploring themes of self-discovery, sex and sexuality, drugs, assault and suicide, racking up seven bans at the start of the 2022–’23 school year.

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Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Up next on this list of banned books, Damsel is not your sugar-coated Disney-fied fairy tale. Elana K. Arnold turns the fairy-tale trope inside out and onto its head with this white-knuckling, biting, dark tale that arguably better fits the rather grim, old fairy-tale definition—save for its fierce feminist bent. What will the rescued damsel in distress do after waking up in the arms of the dashing Prince Emory, safe from the dragon who had captured her but now possibly in greater peril than she had ever known? Young readers may not have the chance to find out for a while, with Damsel banned seven times at the start of the 2022–’23 school year. But when has the forbidden kept the curious away?

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The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The Sun and Her Flowers is a gorgeous poetry book by Rupi Kaur. With the vibrancy of its emotions and the evocativeness of its descriptions, the book is a powerhouse of thought and feeling. Divided into five parts, the poetry takes readers on a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising and blooming. Readers wind along a path laden with self-discovery, grief, loss, love, pain and healing while discovering what it means to be a developing human—and perhaps more specifically, a human woman who is stronger than she knew. The book manages to be cross-cultural while still being extremely local, centered in place and ultimately full of hope and resounding resilience. Nevertheless, it has faced an absurd number of bans, most recently garnering another eight in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year. At least it’s not all bans, all the time—The Sun and Her Flowers also garnered the Goodreads Choice Award for Poetry in 2017.

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is a story that sparks strong responses from readers, as it should. High schooler Clay’s friend Hannah has recently committed suicide, but before she does, she records the 13 events that led her to that point, and he receives them in the mail one day. This dark and unsettling story has led to much debate over what should and should not be voiced: How suggestible are readers? How much could hearing a story like this save lives? Does it glamorize suicide or negatively portray helping professionals?

The intense relief that those who have felt like Hannah may feel when reading this story and finding themselves—and realizing that someone may miss them and want to connect after all—is not insignificant. This book might just have a chance at slicing through the pain of a depressed and wounded teenager and helping them find a safe way out. Thirteen Reasons Why accumulated eight additional bans by the end of the first half of the 2022–’23 school year, however. If you’re having trouble finding a copy, you can also check out the Netflix TV adaptation, though a major suicide trigger warning applies there too.

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Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold

Another of Elana K. Arnold’s dark and powerful fairy-tale respins, Red Hood follows 16-year-old Bisou Martel, who until now seems to have lived a quiet life. But one night, alone in the forest, she comes face to face with a predator and must fight for her life, her dreams, her choices—and her right to not be another female victim. A blood-soaked retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, this formidable coming-of-age story about a girl who finds out who she is and what she is capable of was the object of eight bans during the first half of the 2022–23 school year alone, often for its sexually explicit scenes, which have been characterized as “pornographic.”

The Haters By Jesse Andrews
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The Haters by Jesse Andrews

When teenagers Wes, Corey and Ash team up and jam together at their boring jazz camp, everything suddenly becomes clear: The camp is not worth it, and what they really should do is take their freshly formed band on tour to perform shows no one even knows they want. But it will be epic—or so they hope as they set off on their quest. Warm, witty, sweet and jam-packed with, well, jams, the book nevertheless managed to acquire some haters of its own. Like Jesse Andrews’s debut novel, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Haters has also garnered some book-banning love for vulgarity and sexual content, earning eight bans (two more than his other book) in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year.

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A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third volume in the wildly popular A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas. Another high-fantasy novel with strong female leads, this book sees Feyre’s two sisters joining her in the fae world, even as Feyre must play spy against a former lover. The stakes are high—and the romance spicy. A Court of Wings and Ruin was the subject of nine bans in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year, primarily due to complaints that it is sexually explicit. This entire book series is a regular on TikTok, so if you love it, you might want to check out these other BookTok books that are worth the hype.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first book in Sarah J. Maas’s adult fantasy series, and like the third volume, it also earned nine bans in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year for its sexual content. This deliciously romantic and wonderfully adventurous high-fantasy novel begins the story of the 19-year-old huntress Feyre, who makes a kill shot that forever changes her world—and perhaps at least one or two other worlds. With a dashing fae love interest and a dark shadow looming on the horizon, the book is action packed and hard to put down.

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A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Frost and Starlight is a companion book that bridges the events of A Court of Wings and Ruin and those of the books that take place later. And if you read past here, expect spoilers for the A Court of Thorns and Roses book series. Following a massive war, Feyre and her cohort are busy rebuilding everything, but even as they work to move on, Feyre must find a way to address the deep scars and remaining open wounds that the war has left behind. Despite being a story about the power of friendship that explores the consequences of war, A Court of Frost and Starlight is also a romance at its core, and it has been swept up in the sexual-content purge, gaining nine bans of its own in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year.

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All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson

LGBTQIA+ advocate and nonbinary writer George M. Johnson calls this 2020 book a memoir manifesto. The collection of personal essays chronicles their experience as a queer Black person in the United States. Of course, honest descriptions of gender identity, racism and queer love have raised the hackles of those who advocate for banning books with sensitive content and have landed it on this roundup of banned books. Yes, All Boys Aren’t Blue includes graphic content that might not be appropriate for some younger readers, but the book is also an essential work of representation. Still, in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year alone, it garnered nine bans from five different states.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower By Stephen Chbosky
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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Adapted into a film of the same name, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower has received its share of attention over the years. Unfortunately, some of that has included book bans—including nine new bans at the start of the 2022–’23 school year. This deeply moving book about high school senior Charlie coming of age and coming into his own is written as a series of letters to a “Dear Friend” about life as he observes it. As the story unfolds, Charlie slowly moves away from being a wallflower, thanks to some new friendships, although the process comes with quite a few bumps along the way.

The LGBTQ-friendly book explores themes including sexuality, identity, abuse, suicide, substance abuse, death and what it means to be alive. Growing up is hard enough with all the firsts to experience and the usual growing pains, but throw some family drama, ongoing trauma and a whole new set of friends into a senior year—and wrap it up with a bit of humor and a lot of frankness—and you get a tender and touching, terribly realistic high school tale.

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What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

Like Elana K. Arnold’s fairy-tale respinnings, the heart-wrenching What Girls Are Made Of has received a stack of book bans, coming in with nine in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year. The book is a rather raw and real portrayal of what it is to be a girl, a woman and an object—sometimes even to ourselves. When 16-year-old Nina, taught there is no such thing as unconditional love, starts dating Seth, she does everything to make him happy and make their relationship work, even when her obsession with pleasing him confuses her sometimes. When the relationship fails, Nina struggles to figure out what happened, why and what it means for her and about who she is. What Girls Are Made Of explores self-discovery, sexuality, agency, obsession and subservience, mother-daughter relationships, societal influences and so much more.

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The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s 1970 bestseller is also one of the best short books in our collection. The Bluest Eye is a perfect introduction to Morrison’s iconic lyrical style. The book offers the story of Percola Breedlove, a Black girl who longs for blue eyes. When her dream comes true, it turns out to be more nightmare than fantasy. In 1994, the book was banned in Alaska and Pennsylvania schools for graphic descriptions and offensive language. Fast-forward to today, and it is still being banned. In fact, The Bluest Eye had 10 different bans levied against it in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year. Despite that, Morrison’s literary and societal impact led to the USPS honoring her on one of the new 2023 stamps.

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Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Milk and Honey was Rupi Kaur’s debut onto the literary scene, a book stunning in its simplicity and honesty as much as its message. Split into four sections and written in a mixture of poetry and prose, the book is a survivor’s anthem. In Kaur’s own words, “this is the journey of/ surviving through poetry/ this is the blood sweat tears/ of twenty-one years/ this is my heart/ in your hands/ this is/ the hurting/ the loving/ the breaking/ the healing.” The striking visuals Kaur paints with her words, coupled with relevant sketches and themes of femininity, a woman’s sexuality, abuse, sexual abuse and trauma, led Milk and Honey to be hit with 10 bans just in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year alone. When you finish this book, here are some other books for women you might enjoy.

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This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson

This Book Is Gay is not just a “how-to” about gay relationships; it’s a comprehensive guide to LGBTQIA+ sex education. According to an interview author Juno Dawson did with Rolling Stone, it is also the book she wishes she never had to write but knows would have helped her so much as a teenager. The incredibly informative, candid and even humorous nonfiction book on sexuality and gender is a good pick for a young adult or LGBTQIA+ audience, but it’s also for those who are curious, connected friends or parents, or educators and therapists looking for advice about the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer people deserve the chance to make smart and safe choices and not be any more scared of or unprepared for relationships and sex than their peers. Unfortunately, the 10 new book bans in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year striking access to this vital resource make that a little more difficult again.

Push By Sapphire
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Push by Sapphire

Push is a powerful novel about a Black teenager living in Harlem named Claireece Precious Jones (hence the film adaptation’s title: Precious). She has spent most of her life being sexually assaulted by her father, is the mother to two children and is obese, illiterate and HIV positive. The book is written as a journal that Precious keeps once she starts at a new school, and through it, readers watch her confidence and skills slowly build. She begins to dream of what might be possible for her and strives against all odds to reach for the life she wants, even as unfolding events continue to buffet her around and muddle those possibilities. Between the difficult content of rape, illiteracy, incest, failing systems and more—part of the harsh reality of Precious’s life—and the narrative itself, told in Precious’s raw and unfiltered voice, the book is a challenging but important read. Unfortunately, it’s been the subject of book bans, with 11 new incidences in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year.

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Sold by Patricia McCormick

Modern-day slavery is a problem that persists worldwide, and Patricia McCormick’s Sold tells the story of one young girl who finds herself in just that situation: sold. Lakshmi is from a mountainous village in Nepal, where she grew up in simple happiness despite economic poverty. But after a devastating crisis, she is sent off to India for a job so she can contribute to the family’s income—and discovers she has been sold into prostitution and may never be able to work her way out or escape. This evocative and moving story of hardship, resilience and, ultimately, triumph managed to be banned 11 times just in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year, most likely due to the themes of sex trafficking and sexual abuse. To McCormick, who wrote Sold based on interviews she conducted in India and Nepal with girls sold into slavery, banning a book like this “is to dishonor their real-life experiences and the courage it took for them to share their stories.”

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A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series has been hard hit by the book-banning crowd, and A Court of Mist and Fury, the second book, was subjected to 11 bans in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year. The alarm centers on the sexual content of this romance book series. In this second installment, heroine Feyre has survived the events of the first book but at great cost to herself. Now, will she be able to pay the price and survive, and can she harness the new gifts she has received in this magical world and defeat the latest looming evil? Only time and this seductive series’ faithful, fascinated readers can know.

Crank By Ellen Hopkins
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Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Crank is the first novel in Ellen Hopkins’s series of the same name and the author’s very first novel. The book introduces Kristina, a perfect daughter who’s introduced to drugs and doesn’t say no—then falls prey to the monster of drug addiction. The New York Times bestseller is loosely based on the crystal meth addiction of one of Hopkins’s children. She wrote it to try to understand the “why’s” behind the addiction, as well as her own potential responsibility in the matter. Although Crank can help steer young adults away from drugs and help others better understand the situation if they have friends or family like the main character, the beautiful, raw and compassionate story was subjected to 12 bans at the start of the 2022–2023 school year.

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The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood

Whether you have read the original version of The Handmaid’s Tale or not, the graphic novel version is simply a must-read—even if you live in one of the four states where 12 bans were slapped on to Margaret Atwood’s book at the start of the 2022–’23 school year. This stunning rendition of the already breathtaking novel may move at a faster pace, but it loses nothing of note from the original. Not only that, but The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel makes the powerful story accessible to a whole new audience.

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Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

Yet another Ellen Hopkins novel ranks among the 50 most banned, and this one takes third place. Tricks is a chilling, challenging and powerful story told in five voices—five voices, five choices, five teens from all different places and backgrounds who each fall into prostitution for one reason or another. Why do they do it, and what happens next for them? The story slowly unfolds as the lives of the teenagers unravel, and the prevailing question arises: Will they survive, and what will that take? Tackling themes of teen prostitution, suicide, sexuality, gender, parent-child relationships, religion and more, Tricks was subjected to 13 bans across seven different states in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year alone.

Gender Queer A Memoir By Maia Kobabe
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Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Maia Kobabe’s autobiographical graphic novel, which explores coming out to the family as nonbinary, has been criticized by religious conservatives since it was published in 2019. Gender Queer was hit with 15 bans across 10 different states before the 2022–’23 school year was halfway over. Perhaps that’s because Gender Queer unflinchingly portrays and normalizes topics still often misunderstood: adolescent sexuality, asexuality and the differences between gender identity and sexuality. One Amazon reviewer called this heartfelt memoir “a handbook for nonbinary kids that would help them feel not so alone.” We can’t think of a better way to describe it. Like many other banned stories, Gender Queer is perfect for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and anyone who wants to be a better ally to their fellow humans.

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Flamer by Mike Curato

Mike Curato’s Flamer is about a boy named Aiden Navarro who knows he is not gay. He is quite certain of it, in fact, despite his interest in a boy named Elias, a new friend he made at the summer camp they are attending. This beautiful, raw and wonderfully honest graphic novel—Curato’s debut at that—follows Aiden as he navigates a summer filled with the usual camp activities and the general angst of growing up and preparing to move into a new school and grade, as well as bullies, friendship and the tricky path to self-discovery and, perhaps, acceptance. Although so many similarly struggling young people might find a mirror of themselves in the pages of Flamer, the book was the target of 15 bans across eight different states in the first half of the 2022–’23 school year.

How we came up with our banned books list

We created a list of America’s 50 most banned books from the first half of the 2022–2023 school year using data from PEN America, a nonprofit organization that keeps a comprehensive index of school book bans. (Data from the entire school year has yet to be released.) We mined the data so you don’t have to—and boy was there a lot of data. In the first half of the school term alone, PEN America found 874 different banned books and more than 1,477 instances of individual books banned (because some titles are restricted in multiple places).

So what counts as a banned book? PEN America’s definition here includes books that were challenged and temporarily removed, as well as those fully removed from school libraries and classrooms. These represent a range of genres, and as the organization notes, such censorship impacts a diverse set of identities, topics, concepts and stories.

Here, we’re listing them from the 50th most banned book in America to the No. 1 banned title (in alphabetical order where there were ties). How many have you read?

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  • PEN America: “Index of School Book Bans – Fall 2022”