There's only one place you're more likely to see John Green's name than in the credits of a hit teen movie — and that's on the American Library Association Most Challenged Books List. The list for 2016 is out, and once again John Green's Looking for Alaska is in the ranks, as adults continue to object at the idea their children and teenagers should ever read about such controversial topics as sex and drinking. Libraries play a hugely important part in the reading lives of so many young people, providing a safe place for children and teens to improve their reading skills, diversify their reading beyond the limited selection often found on school curriculums, and even receive support in computer training and workforce development — so it's always heartbreaking to see that so many adults want to censor what the libraries can offer.
In 2016, the American Library Association (ALA) received 323 challenges about books that adults felt should not be available for young people to read. The Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2016 are:
- This One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
- Drama, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
- George by Alex Gino
- I Am Jazz, written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
- Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
- Big Hard Sex Criminals, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
- Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
- Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
It's particularly disheartening to see that the top five books on this list were challenged because they portray LGBTQIA+ characters, and some adults believed they showed a "politically offensive viewpoint." Books like I Am Jazz and George can be life-changing for young people coming to understand their own gender identity and sexuality, so it's painful to think that some children will be denied the chance to read them.
Further down the list, the majority of books were challenged due to their "sexually explicit" scenes, and one complaint against I Am Jazz objected to its containing "sex education." It's no secret that sex education in schools is woefully lacking, and so for many, these books might have given them exactly the education they needed.
James LaRue, who directs the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told The Associated Press that they "try to purchase books that appeal to a certain age group, that the books themselves were well reviewed and that they have positive messages," and that the ALA "see[s] a real problem with labeling, reducing the whole book because of sexual content." He also commented on the most controversial author on this list, alleged sex offender Bill Cosby, saying that "you may disagree with him as a person, but these books aren't about that."
Many of the books on this list, in particular those that portray LGBTQIA+ characters, are telling important stories, and giving young people a chance to see themselves reflected on the page for what might be the first time. I hope that libraries continue to offer young people that chance — no matter how much the adults might complain.