The 50 most controversial books in America

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More than 1,600 students will be attending school in the 2021-2022 school years. Schools were forbidden to have books in their libraries. According to a report from, the bans had an impact on 138 school districts in 32 States. PEN America, an organization that promotes free expression in literature. 

The number of bans is increasing each year. 

Texas and Florida Book bans lead the nation — a revelation that recently spurred Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot to call her city a “Book sanctuary.” 

What are the most banned books in America and why are they controversial? These are the 50 most banned books in America for the 2021-2022 school years, according to data provided by PEN America.

50. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Based on the true story about Roy and Silo, two male penguins from the chinstrap family, the children’s novel is based on their bond at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. After the pair tried to hatch a rock, the zookeepers decided to give the penguins their own egg. Roy and Silo raised Tango the chick as their own.

This book was published in 2005. It was banned five times during the 2021-2022 schoolyear.

PEN America states “The banning of a single title could mean that anywhere from one to hundreds copies are taken from libraries or classrooms within a school district.” The data does not include duplicate bans per district, but each ban is included in the overall rankings.

49. “Stamped” by Ibram.X. Kendi, Jason Reynolds

Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This children’s book was controversial because of its open depiction of racism.

Senator Ted Cruz held a copy of the book in his hands during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, April 2022, as he asked her about her views on critical race theory. 

“Stamped”, a school newspaper, was subject to five book bans in the last school year.

48. Lauren Myracle, “The Infinite Moment of Us”,

Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Myracle’s young adult novel discusses love among teenagers. It was a target of five book bans in the previous school year.

She is seen here at “Let it Snow,” the film adaptation of the novel of the same title.

47. David Levithan’s “Two Boys Kissing”

James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

The book was released in 2013 and was subject to five bans during the 2021-2022 school year. 

Inspired by real-life events and about two boys who set out on a world record by sexing for 32 hours straight.

46. “How to Be an Antiracist,” Ibram X. Kendi

Michael A. McCoy/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

When it was published in 2019, the nonfiction book Ibram X. Kennedi helped popularize “antiracist”. It was banned from schools five times in the preceding school year. 

It’s both a memoir and a social commentary on racism, ethnicity, and other topics.

45. Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, “I Am Jazz”

LISA O’CONNOR/AFP via Getty Images

Jazz Jennings was born a boy, but she began speaking as soon as she could speak. She became a spokesperson on behalf of trans children and co-wrote the book “I Am Jazz” about it. It was banned five times during the school year.

She is pictured here with her parents Jeanette and Greg, as well as brother Sanders at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards. 

44. “We Are the Ants” by Shaun David Hutchinson

Simon & Schuster

The science fiction novel centers on Henry, who has lost his boyfriend by suicide. 

“We Are the Ants,” despite being on numerous “best of” lists, was subject to five book bans during the 2021-2022 schoolyear. 

43. Lois Duncan wrote “Killing Mister Griffin”

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This suspense novel was published in 1978 and is about teenagers who kidnap and murder their strict teacher. These themes led to five bans on the book during the previous school year.

Duncan, pictured here is credited for helping to pioneer horror fiction and suspense for teens.

42. Alice Sebold: “Lucky”

Marco Destefanis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Alice Sebold is best-known for her book “The Lovely Bones” and her memoir “Lucky” was pulled from school bookshelves six more times in the 2021-2022 school school year. This was due to a graphic depiction her college rape.

There was nothing else to the book except for the content. More controversy Anthony Broadwater was exonerated after he was convicted and sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for Sebold’s sexual rape. Sebold has Publicly apologized because she mistakenly identified an attacker as the wrong man. 

The book has been withdrawn from distribution and Sebold (pictured here signing a book) will be rewriting the memoir.

41. “The Truth About Alice,” Jennifer Mathieu

Roaring Brook Press

“The Truth About Alice” focuses on slut-shaming among teens. This work was one of six book bans during the previous schoolyear.

The book was published in 2014.

40. “Real Life Boyfriends: Yes. Boyfriends, Plural. By E. Lockhart, Boyfriends, Plural.

Ember Publishing House

The fourth novel in E. Lockhart’s “Ruby Oliver” quartet is the most controversial. It contains sexual content and slutshaming and was banned six times during the 2021-2022 school years.

The book, which was released in 2010, details the common problems teenagers face. 

39. Brian Katcher: “Almost Perfect.”

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Logan, an American high schooler, falls in love with Sage, a trans teenager.

Many of the 50 most banned books concern issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. This book was one of six that were included in book bans during the 2021-2022 school years.

38. Jazz Jennings, “Being Jazz: A Transgender Teen’s Life,”

Michael Stewart / Getty Images

Jazz Jennings’s follow-up book to “I Am Jazz”, “Being Jazz”, was Jazz Jennings’ memoir about her experiences as a trans teenager. From 2021-2022, six times the book was banned. 

Jazz Jennings is the Grand Marshal of the 2016 Pride March in New York City.

37. Laurie Halse Anderson, “Speak”

JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

A young girl named Melinda is raped and then calls the police. She is then ostracized and develops selective mutism. Anderson’s life inspired the story.

It was the fourth most banned book in the United States in 2020. It was also removed from schools and libraries six times between 2021-2022. Anderson is seen here at 2008’s National Book Awards.

36. Nic Stone, “Dear Martin,”

Paras Griffin/Getty Images

A Black high school student encounters white police officers in a dangerous encounter. He writes to Martin Luther King Jr., asking what he would think. 

Stone stated that she started writing the 2017 book to respond to the deaths of Jordan Davis Michael Brown. It was banned from seven schools in the last year. Here she is speaking at the 2020 Drum Major for Justice Luncheon.

35. “The 57 Bus”: A True Story about Two Teenagers And the Crime That Changed Their Lives,” Dashka Slater

Farrar Strauss and Giroux

Two teenagers — one White and transgender, the other a Black high-school student named Richard with a tragic past — ride the same bus home each day. 

The book was banned from classrooms and libraries in the last school year due to open discussions about gender identity, criminal justice system, race-based content, and gender identity.

34. Patricia McCormick, “Sold”

Rolf Vebenbernd/picture association via Getty Images

A girl from Nepal is sold into sex slavery. In 2014, a film based on the novel was made. The book was banned seven times in the 2021-2022 school years due to its violent sexual content.

McCormick can be seen holding one her books.

33. Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Mist and Fury”


“A Court of Mist and Fury,” the second installment in Sarah J. Maas’ fantasy series “A Court of Thorns and Roses”, is the second. The book was banned seven times last school year for its sexual content. 

It is also notable because it was one of the books that inspired Tim Anderson, a Virginia state legislator. sue Barnes & Noble In the hope of stopping book sales. The case was eventually thrown out.

32. Tiffany D. Jackson, “Monday’s not Coming”,

Katherine Tegen Books

A Black teenage girl goes missing — and her disappearance is never investigated. Based on real-life missing Black girls, the book does not reflect the media’s attention.

Due to its intense discussions on racism, justice, and poverty, the book was pulled from school libraries or classroom shelves seven times in the last school year.

31. Robie Harris: “It’s Perfectly normal: Changing Bodies and Growing Up, Sexual Health, and Sex,”

Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Robie Harris’ honest children’s book on puberty, sex and the future was published for the first time in 1994. It was filled with scientifically correct information and photos, which caused a lot controversy when it was first published. The book continues receiving regular publishing updates to reflect updated information. It was listed on school ban lists seven more times during the 2021-2022 schoolyear.

The book is appreciated by some parents. Here, Stephanie Baptist, mother of Stephanie Baptist, reads it to her daughter, aged 8. The book is part her daughter’s Toronto school curriculum.

30. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 book, which was turned into a major film in 2012, is one of the most influential of the 21st century, but that hasn’t stopped it from getting banned frequently from school libraries — including in seven instances in the past school year alone.

The book explores themes of grief, trauma, death, and loss in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

29. Adam Silvera: “More happy than not”

Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The book “More Happily Than Not” addresses LGBTQ themes as well suicide, depression and teen pregnancy. It was therefore banned from schools in eight different instances during the 2021-2022 school years.

Here, Adam Silvera, author, speaks onstage at March 2020’s Audie Awards Gala.

28. “Tricks,” Ellen Hopkins

Simon & Schuster

Ellen Hopkins is known for her gritty and realistic fiction. “Tricks” by her is no exception. It follows the lives of five teens and deals with drug abuse and explicit sexual content.

The book was first published in 2009 and has been frequently found on school districts’ banned list. It was banned eight times during the school year.

27. Stephen Chbosky – “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Jerod Harris/Getty Images

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” was published for the first time in 1999. It was controversial because it depicted sexuality, drug abuse, and suicide. It was banned eight more times during the 2021-2022 schoolyear.

Chbosky, who wrote the book based on some aspects of his own life, adapted it for film in 2012. He was present at the premiere.

26. “All American Boys” by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Brendan Kiely (pictured here) was with Jason Reynolds when they discovered that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty of the murders of Trayvon Martin. They shared their frustrations and decided to write a book together.

This book is about two Black boys who struggle with racism and police brutality as they grow up in poverty. The book was banned by nine schools during the 2021-2022 school year because of its explicit racial content.

25. Jodi Picoult, “Nineteen Minutes”

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Picoult’s 2007 novel “Nineteen Minutes,” recounts the story of a school shooter. 

The book’s graphic depictions have made it controversial. There were nine instances where it was taken from school or classroom libraries in the past school year.

24. “The Breakaways”, by Cathy G. Johnson

First and Second Books

This graphic novel tells the story about a girls’ team in soccer.

Its depiction and sexual content of trans kids, as well as its discussion of “Black Lives Matter”, have led to it being banned in schools. It was one of nine banned books in the 2021-2022 school years.

23. Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,”

Walter McBride / Getty Images

Alison Bechdel’s memoir, told through comic style illustrations, was a memoir about her life growing up in closeted gay homes. She also came out as a queer after his death.

It was made into a musical in 2013.

22. Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” depicts the dystopian future of a patriarchal, totalitarian society. The original 1985 publication of the book has been made into a successful television series. It is still controversial and was removed nine times from library and classroom bookshelves over the period of 2021-2022.

A rare “unburnable” edition of Margaret Atwood’s famous book was auctioned in June 2022 in support of PEN America’s goal to fight censorship.

21. “Jack of Hearts, (And Other Parts),” by L. C. Rosen

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

“Jack of Hearts, (And Other Parts),” is a book about a queer teenager who starts a sex section at school. Rosen specializes in writing content specifically for LGBTQ teens.

Due to the content of sexual nature — despite the fact that there are no sex scenes in the book — there were 10 book bans for it over the past school year. 

20. Mike Curato, “Flamer”

Henry Holt and Company

This 2020 book from Mike Curato is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel based on his experience growing up as a gay Catholic boy, and struggling to suppress his feelings and act more masculine in front of other boys.

Some people have criticized the book’s discussions of LGBTQ content, but it won a Lambda Literary Award in 2021 — while also being banned by schools on 10 different occasions.

19. Raina Telgemeier’s “Drama: a Graphic Novel.”

iz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Raina Telgemeier stands before a display of her books. “Drama: a Graphic Novel” tells of a middle-school girl who struggles with friendship and crushes.

It is a homosex crush and was banned eleven times in the 2021-2022 schoolyear.

18. “This One Summer” by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

First Second Books

Two teenage girls begin to be interested in boys, and they learn more about the adults surrounding them.

There were 11 school bans on the graphic novel during the last school year, based on its sexual content and mental health issues.

17. Toni Morrison, “Beloved”

FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel was inspired in part by the tragic true-life story of a woman who fled slavery in Kentucky in 1850s and the dramatic decisions she made when she was captured.

Its graphic and violent scenes were mentioned as the reason why it was banned from schools for 11 years. This is Morrison, a Nobel Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize recipient. He died in 2019.

16. Susan Kuklin wrote “Beyond Magenta, Transgender Teens Speak out,”

Candlewick Press

Kuklin’s story tells the stories of six trans teenagers and young adults. Kuklin interviewed each individual before, during and after the transition and put them all together into one cohesive story.

The book was criticized for being “antifamily” and “sexually sexually explicit” and has been regularly placed on banned book lists ever since its release. It was removed from school libraries or classrooms 11 times during the 2021-2022 school years.

15. John Green’s “Looking For Alaska”

Noam Galai/Getty Images Tribeca TV Festival

John Green, author of “Looking for Alaska”, is seen here at the film’s premiere. He is well-known for his young-adult novels that have been well received by critics as well as fans. “Looking for Alaska” is considered his most controversial — it has been banned 11 times in schools since 2021. 

Parents were concerned by the profanity of the book’s sexually explicit scenes. The story follows a group who are dealing with the loss of one of their friends.

14. “Melissa” (George) by Alex Gino

Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images

The book portrays a fourth-grade transgender girl who attempts to get her parents to see her transition by playing Charlotte, a school play called “Charlotte’s Web”, despite being viewed as a man. This story is controversial in conservative schools. 

It was banned in 11 classrooms and libraries during the 2021-2022 schoolyear.

13. Juno Dawson: “This Book is Gay.”


This book contains nonfiction information about being gay, lesbians and transgender. It contains stories, interviews, as well as other information from children, teens, and adults from the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Dawson considers it a guide to living as an LGBTQ person.

The book’s “sexually explicit” content was considered inappropriate by parents and was removed from school libraries and classrooms 11 times in the past school year.

12. Lauren Myracle, “l8r and g8r”

Brian Brainerd/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Lauren Myracle’s 2000s-era series for young adults is described here. It was written entirely in instant messages. The controversial first two, “ttyl”, and “ttfn”, are not considered controversial.

However, 2007’s “l8r g8r” was banned for its sexual content and profanity. The novel makes extensive use of emojis, and internet shorthand.

11. Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner”,

Charley Gallay / Getty Images

Two boys are growing up in Afghanistan, set against the backdrop of Soviet invasion, exodus of refugees from Pakistan, and the rise to power of the Taliban. 

It is controversial in Afghanistan, and has been the subject of many book challenges within American school districts. The book contains a particularly graphic scene of rape. It was subject to 12 separate book bans in schools from 2021. 

Hosseini is seen here during the premier of the 2007 film adaptation “The Kite Runner.”

10. “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins

Simon & Schuster

A teenager is addicted to crystal meth. Hopkins’s daughter, who also developed a crystal meth addiction, was the inspiration for the story.

Due to the depiction of addiction, drug use, and sexual content, it was placed on 12 school ban list entries for the 2021-2022 schoolyear.

9. Jay Asher, “Thirteen Reasons Why”

David Livingston / Getty Images

Hannah, a girl, leaves behind seven cassette tapes that detail 13 reasons why she committed suicide. One of Asher’s relatives attempted suicide.

The book was first published in 2007. It gained popularity when Netflix made a television series. It has been challenged many times since its publication. In fact, 12 school book bans were placed on the book during the 2021-2022 schoolyear due to its depiction and abuse of teens and drug and liquor use.

8. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” Jesse Andrews

Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

Earl and Greg are high school classmates who make friends with Rachel, a girl suffering from acute myelogenous Leukemia. 

The book’s depictions of death, drug abuse, and sexual content were banned 14 times during the school year. This means that it was removed from classroom shelves and school libraries on 14 occasions.

Jesse Andrews (author) is seen here at the premiere film adaptation of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” released in 2015.

7. Sherman Alexie, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian,”

Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns via Getty Images

Sherman Alexie’s novel was subject to 16 school bans during the 2021-2022 academic year. It was published for the first time in 2007. Since then, it has been controversial due to its subject matter which includes poverty, sexuality and bullying, alcohol use, profanity, and the use of slurs.

The novel is semi-autobiographical, based on the Native American author’s life, and won a National Book Award in 2007. 

Alexie can also be seen at the Live Wire! Radio Show in 2009.

6. Angie Thomas, “The Hate U Give,”

Marla Aufmuth / Getty Images

Angie Thomas’s 2017 release, “The Hate U give”, was seen here at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in 2019. It focuses on the aftereffects of a Black girl who attends an elite, predominantly white, private school.

In 2018, the movie adaptation was released. 

The book’s explicit content, racism-based themes, profanity and explicit content have been regularly banned from schools since its release. It was removed from classrooms and school libraries 17 times during the school year 2021-2022. 

5. Jonathan Evison, “The Lawn Boy”

Andrew Toth/Getty Image

Jonathan Evison was seen here at Sundance Film Festival 2016 after he received death threats regarding “The Lawn Boy”, which he published in 2018. The semi-autobiographical novel is about a boy facing hardship and learning to overcome it. 

Parents claim the book contains homoerotic content. One character in the book recalls a similar-sex encounter in his youth. This book was eventually banned from 17 other schools during the 2021-2022 school years.

4. Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”

Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

This 1970 novel by Toni Morrison had a huge impact. This 2007 photo shows a rehearsal for a stage version “The Bluest Eye” in San Francisco.

The story follows a Black girl who believes that she is ugly and would be more beautiful with blue eyes. Its subject matter is rife with elements of child molestation as well as sexual assault, drunkenness and racism. The book was banned in 22 different school districts during the school year.

3. “Out of Darkness,” by Ashley Hope Pérez

Carolrhoda Lab

“Out of Darkness” tells the forbidden love story of an African-American girl and a Black man in the 1930s. Parents complained about the book’s sexually explicit content, violence, portrayal of racism, and other issues. 

It was taken from classroom bookshelves 24x during the 2021-2022 schoolyear. 

2. George M. Johnson, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,”

Getty Images

George M. Johnson, queer activist and author of “All Boys Aren’t Blue”, published it in 2020. Johnson described it as a memoir. The book is a compilation essays that describe the author’s life as a queer Black boy in New Jersey. It was written specifically for queer Black kids.

It contains references to sex and masturbation as well as profanity. It was the No. 2 banned book for the 2021-2022 school years. It was removed 29 times from schools. 

This photo shows Johnson attending the Queerties Awards Celebration, March 2022.

1. Maia Kobabe wrote “Gender Queer: a Memoir”

Mike Rhode via Maia Kobabe

“Gender Queer, A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe was the most banned book in the 2021-2022 school years. According to the report, it was removed from school libraries or classroom bookshelves in 41 instances. PEN America.

Here Kobabe (right) being interviewed by Kathleen Breitenbach at an event at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

Kobabe wrote the memoir about his journey through gender identity, and sexuality. There are some explicit illustrations that depict Kobabe’s sexual discovery. This book has been criticized by conservative media figures and parents.

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