2023 Most-Challenged Books Announced Amid Record Level of Titles Targeted for Censorship

Pat McNees

Seven of the top 10 most-challenged books in 2023 are repeats, titles that were similarly challenged in 2022 or previous years, including the graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe (no. 1) and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson (no. 2).

The American Library Association released its annual list of the top 10 most challenged books on April 8 in conjunction with the organization’s yearly Right to Read Day.

Right-to-Read Day badge showing an open book and the statement "Don't let censorship eclipse your right to read."

The announcement of the updated list of most widely challenged books comes at a time when the movement to remove or restrict books and programs in public libraries and schools has never been stronger.

In 2023, the number of unique book titles targeted for censorship reached a record 4,240, a 65% increase from the previous year, according to ALA.

ALA launched the Right to Read national day of action in 2022 to draw attention to the mounting pressures to “empty library shelves of all books they deem inappropriate instead of allowing people to decide for themselves what they and their children read,” according to the group.

ASJA is a proud supporter of the ALA’s efforts, and a member of the group’s Unite Against Book Bans campaign, which empowers readers to stand against censorship.

Most Banned Books of 2023

The top 10 most challenged books of 2023 are:

  1. Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe (reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit)
  2. All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson (LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit)
  3. This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson (LGBTQIA+ content, sex education, claimed to be sexually explicit)
  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky (claimed to be sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+ content, rape, drugs, profanity)
  5. Flamer,” by Mike Curato (LGBTQIA+ content, claimed to be sexually explicit)
  6. The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison (rape, incest, claimed to be sexually explicit, EDI content)
  7. (TIE) “Tricks,” by Ellen Hopkins (claimed to be sexually explicit, drugs, rape, LGBTQIA+ content)
  8. (TIE) “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews, (claimed to be sexually explicit, profanity)
  9. Let’s Talk About It,” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan (claimed to be sexually explicit, sex education, LGBTQIA+ content).
  10. Sold,” by Patricia McCormick, (claimed to be sexually explicit, rape)[MR1] 

All but “Tricks,” “Let’s Talk About It,” and “Sold” appeared on ALA’s list of 10 most challenged books in 2022.

The Push to Ban Books

In 2023, ALA documented 1,247 separate demands to censor library books, materials, and resources. Based on that data, ALA found that pressure groups:

  • Focused on public libraries – which saw a 92% increase in titles targeted for censorship – as well as on school libraries.
  • Demanded censorship of multiple titles, in some cases, dozens or hundreds at a time.
  • Targeted “the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals.”
  • Were more prevalent in 17 states that witnessed attempts to censor 100 titles or more.

Far more books are challenged than are banned. PEN America, the nonprofit founded in 1922 to protect free expression, reported than in the 2022-23 school year, 3,362 books in public schools met their definition of banned: “either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.”

In PEN America’s report, Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor, in the 2022–23 school year, Florida school districts accounted for more than 40% of all book bans. PEN recorded 1,406 book ban cases across 33 school districts in Florida, along with 625 bans in Texas, 333 in Missouri, 281 in Utah, and 186 in Pennsylvania.

Before 2020, most challenges to library books and resources were brought by a single parent who sought to remove or restrict access to a book their child was reading, according to ALA’s Censorship by the Numbers statistics. However, in 2022, 90% of reported book challenges were demands to censor multiple titles.

Records for the 1990s show an annual average of more than 600 challenges, according to WordsRated. From 2010 to 2019, the average dropped to just over 300 a year, and declined even further during the pandemic before skyrocketing in 2022.    

Image of people reading books with the statement "Individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions about what to read."

Stay Up to Date on Book Bank Info

ALA’s I Love Libraries initiative chronicles attempts to censor books and has received widespread attention. ASJA has agreed to share periodic updates on the organization’s activities.

ALA maintains a clearinghouse of resources to help library workers and advocates respond to and support others facing censorship challenges.

Find more information on ALA’s efforts to raise awareness of censorship and promote the freedom to read on the organization’s site for Banned Books Week, which in 2024 takes place Sept. 22-28.