Ever wonder what utter societal danger looks like?
I did, too!
So when PEN America announced the most banned books of the 2022–2023 school year, I began tracking down their jackets and covers.
Why? I have a hunch that no one who bans books has actually read them. So what could be on the covers of these toxic verboten titles?
Soon enough, I found out: The word “queer”! A hijab! Type made out of powder to look like drugs! A wallflower!
Whereas the rest of us might see the makings of innocuous YA books, certain politicians and school officials see something more sinister. And it all tracks: According to PEN America, there were 3,362 book bans across U.S. public schools and libraries over the past year (a 33% increase YOY), removing some 1,500 books by hundreds and hundreds of authors and illustrators. To emphasize the quiet part: “Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color and/or LGBTQ+ individuals.”
As PEN recaps, “Over the past two years, coordinated and ideologically driven threats, challenges and legislation directed at public school classrooms and libraries have spurred a wave of book bans unlike any in recent memory, diminishing students’ access to books and directly impacting their constitutional rights. … Identified by John Adams as ‘necessary for the preservation of rights and liberties,’ public schools facilitate information sharing, knowledge-building and the ongoing unification that undergirds a pluralistic society.”
Eleven books in particular were yanked from shelves across nearly two dozen districts. And again, “These most frequently banned titles are largely young adult novels featuring female, queer and/or nonbinary protagonists.”
A key question to mull as we wait for the veritable morality bonfire to reach 451 degrees: Why would politicians and others want those narratives in particular suppressed?
Stories have power—and so do images, especially the ones that serve as the fixed memory of a given story in our minds and culture at large.
So on the heels of Banned Books Week earlier this month, let’s use this installment of PRINT’s monthly cover column as an excuse to celebrate these titles once more. (And hey, you can even pick some up for yourself or a literary-at-risk youth at a discount right here.)
Either way, steel yourself: For here are the 11 most dangerous books in America.