America’s most challenged & banned books right now

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The American Library Association (ALA) is out with their latest list of the most banned and challenged books, a dubious honor accorded books in library collections in the United States enduring the highest number of attempted bans and demands for censorship.

The list is aggregated by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom from reports filed by library professionals and community members, as well as from news stories published throughout the U.S. Because many book challenges go unreported, the ALA Banned and Challenged Book List is only a snapshot. The organization says a challenge to a book may be resolved in favor of retaining the book in a collection, or it can result in a book being restricted or withdrawn from a library.

The most recent list covers bans and challenges in 2022. ALA documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources last year, the highest number of attempted book bans since the group began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021.

A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship. Seven of the top 13 most challenged books contained LGBTQ+ themes and/or characters, including the most challenged title, author Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer. The graphic novel/memoir faced 151 formal calls for censorship in libraries across the country. Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay rounds out the list with 48 formal challenges.

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Heartstopper among books facing ban in the land of the free

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Alice Oseman’s seminal graphic novel series Heartstopper has joined the growing list of LGBTQ+ books banned in certain parts of the US.

Heartstopper is one of many books US conservatives want banned because they mention that queer and black people exist. Because banning books is totally normal in a democracy and definitely not a fascist hallmark.

According to the Florida Freedom to Read Project, more than fifty books were banned in the Clay County school district in Florida last week (24 March), many of which are written by LGBTQ+ authors or discuss sexuality or gender identity.

The list of banned books includes the first three volumes of Heartstopper, as well as Oseman’s 2016 novel Radio Silence, which features a number of queer characters. Other books removed in the latest round of book bans in the district include LGBTQ+ young adult romance novel One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva, and comic A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns.

The Florida Freedom to Read Project shared that a total of 355 books have now been removed from the school district since July 2022. Along with LGBTQ+ books, the bans are impacting Black authors and books about and racism and racial justice.

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I Like Me Better, a tale of queer joy

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Hope you’re ready to start planning your summer reading list, because I Like Me Better is the tale of queer romance and joy you absolutely need in your life. Autumn might have just arrived, but as anyone with a BookTok account and TBR pile knows, there’s no time like the present to start prepping for your next great. Lucky for fans of  swoon-worthy and fun in the sun, Robby Weber, the author behind If You Change Your Mind, is back with a brand new book.

I Like Me Better doesn’t arrive until May 2, 2023, but Teen Vogue has your first exclusive look at a cover. The very queer rom-com centers on Zack Martin, a soccer-star. Per a press description of the book, Zack’s plans for summer are thrown out the window, after he’s forced to take the blame for a team prank.

Now he’s trading parties and beach days for community service at a seaside conservation center—fair enough. But thanks to his new reputation, the cute intern, Chip, won’t even give him a shot. Still, Zack finds himself falling for Chip between dolphin encounters and shark costume disasters, which means he suddenly has way more on the line than he ever expected. Zack may be good at winning on the field, but can he keep up the lie without losing himself?

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History’s Gayest Vampires

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Interview With the Vampire is one of the most influential vampire stories ever told, and also one of the gayest. Originally published as a novel in 1976, the book spawned 12 sequels, a wildly successful film (and one less-successful one), graphic novels, a Broadway musical, and now a TV series – each one dripping with blood, debauchery, and fanged monsters whose passion for each other spans centuries.

But this tasty tale didn’t just spring into being by itself. The saga builds on queer vampire stories going back 150 years, through exploitation films of the 70s, early motion pictures, and Victorian novels full of forbidden gay encounters with creatures of the night. So, where did Interview with the Vampire come from, why was it such a hit, and how did an aspiring writer’s scandalous debut novel change vampire stories forever?

Queer YA books see record sales despite US book bans

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When Phil Stamper was growing up in the early 2000s, he couldn’t go into a Barnes & Noble and find an LGBTQ+ section for young adults.

“There weren’t enough books to fill those shelves,” Stamper, a popular author of contemporary, queer young adult (YA) novels, told The 19th. His latest book, “Small Town Pride, released in May, is deeply rooted in his own lived experience of being gay in a rural community which now, thanks to books like his, might feel less isolating.

“Now, you can go into any bookstore or library in even the smallest and most conservative town, and you will find a section. It’s crazy to go home to rural Ohio, where I was raised, and find my book in any bookstore there.”

But Stamper recognizes that this meteoric rise in popularity, visibility and scope of representation for queer authors and characters in queer YA has also created a backlash, one evident in state governments and school boards across the United States.

“It’s not a coincidence that increases in queer visibility are going to be tied to more legislation against this kind of visibility and more opposition to it as well,” Stamper said.

Book bans and restrictions are going into effect across the country with school districts limiting the access of books with LGBTQ+ subject matter. An April report by the PEN America Foundation found there were 1,586 individual instances of books being removed from shelves between July 2021 and March 2022, and books that have a protagonist of color or LGBTQ+ themes were disproportionately banned.

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If You Change Your Mind

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Harry wants nothing more than to write Hollywood screenplays. He knows the first step toward achieving that goal is winning a screenwriting competition that will seal his admission into the college of his dreams, so he’s determined to spend his summer free of distractions—also known as boys—and finish his script. After last year, Harry is certain love only exists in the movies anyway.

But then the cause of his first heartbreak, Grant, returns with a secret that could change everything. To complicate things further, new-in-town Logan is charming and sweet, making Harry question everything he knows about romance. As Harry tries to manage his feelings for Grant and Logan, he realizes life doesn’t always follow a script.

When author Robby Weber set out to write an LGBTQ+ romcom, he had a clear goal in mind for his YA novel: Write the story he would have loved to read as a teen. Weber’s YA debut, If You Change Your Mind, follows aspiring screenwriter Harry, who is set on winning a writing competition that will solidify his admission to his dream college.

“Harry is determined to spend his summer free of distractions—also known as boys—and finish his script,” reads the book’s official description. “After last year, Harry is certain love only exists in the movies anyway. But then the cause of his first heartbreak, Grant, returns with a secret that could change everything. To complicate things further, new-in-town Logan is charming and sweet, making Harry question everything he knows about romance. As Harry tries to manage his feelings for Grant and Logan, he realizes life doesn’t always follow a script.”

The Importance of Being Earnest

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Jack, an upstanding socialite, Victorian gentleman, and a perfect moral citizen! That is until he gets to London where he lets loose and becomes Earnest! The unruly brother that tears around the city. But Jack’s double life will inevitably become VERY complicated as his loved ones begin to discover his duplicity.

Oscar Wilde’s play is not only a brilliant deconstruction of Victorian hypocrisy but also reflects some of his own struggles of living a double life as a married author and socialite in public and a gay man in private.

Jay’s Gay Agenda

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Jay’s Gay Agenda is the story of Jay Collier who lives in a small town in eastern Washington where he’s the only queer kid he knows. While the other kids accept him him, Jay can’t help but feel like he’s missing out. All the other kids at school are experimenting with hookups and dating and relationships, but with no other gay boys around, Jay doesn’t get the chance to have any similar experiences.

So Jay makes a list of goals in his “Gay Agenda,” including kissing and losing his virginity, but also simple things like going on dates and having a group of close LGBTQ friends. When Jay’s mom gets a new job and the family moves to Seattle, it’s finally a chance for Jay to meet other LGBTQ kids. He is sad to be leaving his best friend, Lu, but he is also thrilled to have new experiences.

Things start off super well for Jay in his new school. He joins the Queer-Straight Alliance and quickly meets a great new friend in Max, a genderqueer teen. And while his introduction to Albert (a VSB or “Very Sexy Boy” as Lu would say) is awkward and involves a lot of stammering, the two definitely have a connection and Albert seems interested in Jay. Plus, Max introduces Jay to Tony, a hot college student who, to Jay’s surprise, also seems interested in him.

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Felix Ever After

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Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

It feels political these days, just to exist. That’s especially true if you’re a black, transgender, queer teenager on a scholarship at an elite Brooklyn high school for the arts — and in competition for one slot at Brown University. As if adolescence wasn’t tricky enough already!

When we meet the eponymous protagonist in Felix Ever After, he has been out as trans for several years and found himself a squad comprising other LGBT youth of ethnic backgrounds mixed up in various ways. (This is set in modern-day New York, after all.) But lest all this sound like too idealized a cast, the propelling mystery of this tightly-written YA novel surrounds who at school is behind a traumatizing transphobic act against Felix. The quest to find out takes us, and Felix, on an emotional roller coaster to explore his own identity and his relationships with his friends at the same time.

And, of course, there’s love. “Young love. What else is there to say?” one adult character remarks, halfway through the book. It turns out there’s plenty left to say in this rendering, because it is complicated by layers and layers of identity work. Felix’s fumbling attempts to figure out what love means and what it’s supposed to feel like — while learning he’s worthy of it — make for the novel’s most anxious and heart-warming bits.

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All Boys Aren’t Blue

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George M Johnson is a writer and activist whose first book, All Boys Aren’t Blue, is a memoir about growing up black and queer in America. The book is aimed at young adults and catalogues in candid style the author’s experiences of both trauma and healing, from childhood bullying to teenage sexual abuse, to their relationship with their family and changing understanding of their masculinity and sexuality.

The queer coming-of-age memoir has exploded as a genre in recent years, gifting us vital, often difficult stories of the struggles LGBT+ people face. But often, it’s cisgender white men who are given the opportunity to share their stories of gay shame and overcoming, which is partly what makes All Boys Aren’t Blue so refreshing.

George M Johnson’s story is one of growing up queer and Black in America. At times, the subject matter is heavy – bullying, sexual abuse, loss – but Johnson counteracts this with joy: of supportive family, of finding a second, chosen family and of coming into their sexuality. This balancing act makes for a thrilling read that doesn’t weigh heavily on the soul: you come away enlightened, moved and comforted by the familiarity of it all. As Johnson told PinkNews: “It is told through a Black lens for for Black people. Because we just don’t have enough of that.”

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