Wooden placard of a witch holding a sign on a windowsill of a house. Sign reads: "Witch services, spells, hexes, magic. October special, prince to frog change. Poof!"

What Happens When a Book is Banned?

Book banning has been around for a long time, from burning texts in 213 BCE
all the way to removing a book from library shelves in 2023. As a kid, I remember asking a librarian to show me where I could find “books about magic.” My parents, one a borderline pagan and the other a devout Christian, had drilled into me only the most magical of things about the world, and I was eager to learn more. I remember the horror—and slight amusement—on the librarian’s face as she turned to my dad and I and proclaimed, “Oh, we don’t have those here. Those types of books are banned.”

Banned books are currently a hot topic in the news, but every year more books across the globe face criticism and removal from shelves. Some suggest that book bans are turning libraries and schools into political warzones—but what really happens when a book is banned? Book banning comes down to a means of censorship, a process as old as writing itself. In contemporary society, books are banned when “. . . private individuals, government officials, or organizations challenge books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes.” Challenged books often contain graphic violence, sexually explicit content, or offensive language, but many of the books challenged in 2022 contain queer or racial themes. In bookstores and libraries, books can also be censored discreetly when defaced, placed in non-accessible areas, or marked with too-high reading levels. In order to be banned, a book with unlikeable content must be “challenged” by an individual or organization. Once a book is challenged, the case is sent to the American Library Association to be documented, but the individual institution chooses whether to remove the book from its shelves based on its content. Book bans are institutionally based, meaning if a book is banned at one library, it won’t be at all libraries. Students, teachers, and other individuals can protest the banning, but the ban is ultimately up to the institution. If a book is removed from shelves, it may still be available at other places, and can often be found online. However, the problem with book banning lies primarily with our young readers, who often don’t have the resources to access banned books.

A recent report on banned books released by PEN America suggests that of the books banned between July 2021 and June 2022, 41 percent address LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+ and 40 percent contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color. That’s 81 percent, or nearly 1,335 of the 1,648 titles banned during this period. The number of titles equates to nearly four million students across the US who have been impacted by the bans. For many young readers with these identities, finding representation in media can be crucial to their mental health and quality of life, and banning books is a threat to students’ free expression and first amendment rights. Book banning can also create significant gaps in knowledge for young learners. Banning books not only harms young readers but can harm authors as well, especially queer authors or authors of color, whose books are often targeted and labeled as “critical race theory,” “anti-police,” or “inappropriate for youth.” Reading books with unconventional themes helps all readers build empathy for others’ diverse experiences, and books challenge us to think in new and sometimes uncomfortable but important ways. This push is especially necessary in today’s society, when we face division more than ever. As readers, we can stand against book bans by doing what we do best: reading more banned books.

Some great banned books to read:

    Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
    Night by Elie Wiesel
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
    All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Queer Book Recommendations Based on Your Favorite TV Series

As any fan knows, it can be hard to move on when you’ve just finished binge-watching your favorite show. So if you’re looking for something new, or just want to read a book that feels like a familiar show, here are four book recommendations based on your favorite queer TV series!

  1. Our Flag Means Death / The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
    Both Our Flag Means Death and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue take place during the Golden Age of Piracy and follow men born into nobility who leave their lives of comfort for adventure at sea. Our Flag Means Death, HBO’s newly released romantic comedy, loosely follows the real life of The Gentleman Pirate, Stede Bonnet, and his adventures with the infamous Blackbeard. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue tells the story of Monty, a roguish young man as he begins his Grand Tour of Europe. While traveling across the continent, Monty, his sister Felicity, and his best friend/long-time crush Percy, find themselves thrown into a grand adventure that changes their lives forever.
    Whether your favorite thing about Our Flag Means Death was the thrilling adventure, the witty humor, or the queer romance, you can find all these elements in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.
  2. Elite / Ace of Spades
    Elite and Ace of Spades both follow the story of minority characters as they attempt to fit in at an elite private school. Elite centers around three working-class teens who face conflict with the wealthy students after their enrollment at a private school. The main characters of Ace of Spades, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, face similar conflicts when they are selected as class Prefects and begin to receive anonymous messages threatening to expose their secrets. Elite and Ace of Spades have many similar themes in the main conflict and are both full of suspense and mystery.
  3. Young Royals / Red, White & Royal Blue
    If you loved Young Royals, the next book for you is Red, White & Royal Blue. Both feature a young royal coming to terms with his sexuality while falling for a boy they can’t be with. Red, White & Royal Blue follows the perspective of Alex, the First Son of the United States, as he falls for Prince Henry of England. This book is the perfect rom-com to fill a Young Royals shaped void.
  4. Pose / We Are Lost and Found
    Pose and We Are Lost and Found both show a glimpse into the vibrant queer community and culture of New York City in the ’80s, amongst the rising crisis of AIDS. We Are Lost and Found follows Michael, a closeted teen who finds escape from his father, school, and the increasing threat of AIDS, at The Echo. Here he meets Gabriel and begins to find himself. While both Pose and We Are Lost and Found are highly entertaining, they also highlight the realities of being queer in the ’80s and celebrate the people who lived it.