The Bill of Rights was signed in 1791, guaranteeing American citizens the inalienable rights of expression and protection from repression. Who is entitled to these rights has been a debate ever since.
In Island Trees School District v. Pico, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials could not ban the books solely because of their content. That was in 1982. Exactly 40 years later, civic groups and government officials continue their attempts to quash various perspectives in public school libraries. In 2021, attempts to ban books have reached unprecedented levels. The American Library Association reported over 729 banning attempts, resulting in the reduction or removal of 1,597 individual books. Most of the targeted books were written by or about minority groups of all stripes and creeds.
These attempts to ban a fair flow of information come from voters, which is why Senator Ted Cruz raised concerns about racist babies during the interrogation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, confirmed this year as the first black judge ( pending) from the country’s Supreme Court.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has ordered state agencies to block books with “overtly sexual” content (see: LGBTQ+ and any young adult conspiracy). In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that requires elementary schools to publish searchable library databases, essentially creating a list of literary hits. In Wyoming, a prosecutor considered criminal charges against public librarians who stocked books with LGBTQ+ themes.
This repressive fever is just one of many diseases in the long history of American conservative censorship that targets any literature that has the temerity to transcend a narrow, explicit scope. A CBS poll in February, however, found that 87% of Americans reject the book ban. At The Manual, we agree and support books that grab attention and open up insights, even if they don’t match ours.
Here are some tomes that might be illegal in schools and libraries in your city. Do not hesitate to rack your brains to find out what could be hiding behind these insidious works. And if you’re so motivated, pass a book or two to the young people around you.
Maus, Art Spiegelmann (1996)
To date, news from Maus’ the unanimous ban at the hands of a Tennessee school district has reached most corners of the country. With this light shown in a dark corner, more people, young and old, are experiencing Art Spiegleman’s epic black-and-white graphic narrative.
Spiegelman portrays Holocaust victims as mice and their Nazi oppressors as cats, approaching the unspeakable through an anthropomorphic mine that reduces shock with the unknown. The story is a recollection of Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The tale connects a tortured relationship with Vladek’s son, a cartoonist who struggles to come to terms with his father’s story. Spiegelman takes no risks, depicting the horrors of human violence, pointing to history’s bloody paw prints, creating definition through cartoon.
Gender Queer, Maia Kobabe (2019)
This is another confessional memoir in which author Maia Kobabe, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir, felt no comfort in having relationships with strangers as a child trying to grow up a stranger. to existence beyond his eyes. Through Gender Queer, Kobabe finds catharsis through their harrowing journey through hallways of unforgiving teenagers. Mortification and confusion over teenage crushes, difficulty getting known to family and society, and utter bewilderment about how to cope with menstruation as a non-binary individual are just a few. -some of the daily burdens that Kobabe carries and struggles to overcome.
Started as a way to explain to their family what it means to be non-binary and asexual, Gender Queer was the nation’s most contested book of 2021. In a Washington Post op-ed, Kobabe defended the vitality of books like Gender Queer dealing with pornographic allegations.
“Young gay people are often forced to look outside of their homes and outside of the education system to find information about who they are. Removing or restricting queer books from libraries and schools is like cutting off a lifeline for young queer people, who may not even know yet what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identity, their bodies and their health,” Kobabe wrote.
The Hate You Give, Angie Thomas (2017)
Angie Thomas’ 2017 debut novel, The hate you givetakes a rebellious look at succumbing to violence with violence.
A 16-year-old, Starr Carter, is part of an entire neighborhood that has to deal with a devastating act of police brutality. Carter is forced to navigate disparate worlds – the low-income, low-resource neighborhood where she lives and the swanky, well-stocked suburban prep academy where she attends school. The precarious balance between these contrasts is turned upside down when Carter witnesses the fatal police shooting of his childhood best friend, Khalil, who was unarmed.
The hate you give was an instant bestseller and one of the fastest books to hit banned book lists. Called out for its “anti-police message” in several neighborhoods, the novel is in fact an important reflection of both sides of this explosive file. As teenage Carter navigates strained and strained relationships (including with her standing policeman uncle) to uncover why Khalil was shot, readers are confronted with the causes and potential damage of entrenched biases and what we could do together to fight this.
The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian, Sherman Alexie
In this hilarious and heartbreaking novel, bestselling author Sherman Alexie weaves a semi-autobiographical tale of his childhood on the Spokane Indian Reservation, aka “the rez.” Alongside the poignant drawings of Ellen Forney, The absolutely true Diary of a part-time Indian finds Junior, an aspiring cartoonist, determined to take his future into his own hands, no matter how hard he has to fight to get by. Junior leaves his troubled school on the ground floor to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other native is the school mascot.
The all-American story of pulling oneself by the boots apparently doesn’t apply when it comes to an Indian. The book’s controversy stems from alcohol abuse, conditions of poverty, bullying and violence, sexuality, profanity and racial slurs. As a result, dozens of schools have challenged it, ignoring how it might spread some perspective and reality about where every American student comes from.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Alexie addressed those 15 years of challenges to her book.
“I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it was like to be a teenager facing daily and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late to I write to give them weapons — in the form of words and ideas — that will help them fight their monsters. I write with blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1931)
by Aldous Huxley The best of worlds is a banned original book, which was kicked off the shelves almost as soon as it was published.
The dystopian novel is set in the year 2540, in a futuristic world known as the “World State”, in which science and advanced technologies are shaping utopia by producing genetically modified babies. The cuddly little machine-made humans are also conditioned in utero into metal with specific moral values to then be raised in strict social castes. The powers that be keep people in these social streaks by encouraging regular and casual sex and consuming an opioid-like superior called soma.
The novel was first banned in Ireland in 1932 for obvious reasons, and it was quickly followed by Australians in the same country. The United States has done its part with eight states calling for the censorship of Huxley’s blasphemous book that dared to ask questions about the trade-off between happiness and freedom.
The best of worlds was ranked #3 on the American Library Association’s 2010 list of most challenged books, as nine decades of challengers stood up to students who seeded critical thinking through literature.
In Search of Alaska, John Green (2005)
In the rebellious footsteps of The best of worlds is by John Green looking for alaska, which also deigned to depict a sexual scene. This placed the young adult novel at number one among the most difficult books of 2015.
The story of the book follows Miles “Pudge” Halter as he enrolls in a coeducational boarding school in Alabama out of ambition. There, Halter forges a group of friends and falls in love with the mysterious Alaska Young. As you would expect from teenagers, looking for alaska features a fair amount of smoking, drinking, swearing, and awkward sex. A moving coming-of-age saga, the novel won the ALA’s 2006 Michael L. Printz Award. The book’s protagonists grapple with issues like grief, hope, meaning in life, and ultimately how to move forward in the face of tragedy.
In a broad and clear response to his YouTube ban, Green said, “As far as I know, this kind of narrowly prescriptive reading only happens in principals’ offices. If you have a worldview that can be undone with a novel, let me tell you, the problem isn’t with the novel.
Senator Cruz will be happy to hear that after his tirade against a toddler book, sales of Ibram X. Kendi anti-tracist baby soared 5,150%, selling 10,814 copies during the week of March 20-26, up from 206 copies the previous week, according to the NPD BookScan.
Of course, there are things that parents need to protect their children from. Literary learning to better understand complexity through books is one that contributes to maintaining the very foundations of this country.