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Challenged, Restricted, and Banned: A Reading List of Iowa’s Favorite Corruptive Literature

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On the one hand, there’s nothing cooler than being targeted by the same people who wanted to ban rock’n’roll, video games, and public skateboarding. On the other hand, the recent surge of attempted book bans in this country, and particularly in Iowa, is cause for concern.

Some books are challenging. Some books are uncomfortable. Some books are even disturbing. But we believe that the benefit of listening to one another’s stories, and of potentially finding oneself in those stories, is worth it every time.

Collected below are some of the most-challenged books in Iowa school districts, including the stated reason for the challenge. We leave it entirely up to you, our customers, to decide if the books is right for you and your children — which is how we think it should work eveyrwhere, all the time.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The story of 14-year-old Junior, who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and his journey to get an education and pursue his dream of becoming a cartoonist. The book details Junior’s life with his parents, who have battled alcohol addictions, his health trials and his navigation of friendships and bullying. The book was inspired by author Sherman Alexie’s experiences.

Stated Challenge: Perceived sexual content, obscene material, profanity, racism, obscene sexual material, homosexual slurs, denigrating Christianity, divisive concepts against Native Americans and whites, and inappropriate language.

All Boys Aren’t Blue
George M. Johnson
Square Fish

In a series of personal essays, the prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores their childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting their teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to going to flea markets with their loving grandmother, to George’s first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer children. Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer people of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

Stated Challenge: Perceived sexually explicit content, rape, incest and pedophilia.

Gender Queer: A Memoir
Maia Kobabe
Oni Press

A visual autobiography by Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns. Kobabe traces eir journey with bodies, sexuality, relationships and gender identity through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.

Stated Challenge: Perceived obscene content, adult themes and graphic images, sexual content, discussion of sexual identity.

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Stated Challenge: Perceived inappropriate language, teen drug use, racial slurs, rioting, politically divisive, portrayal of race, portrayal of police brutality, obscene material, violence and anti-police sentiment.

Lawn Boy
Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books

For Mike Muñoz, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work–and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew–he’s smart enough to know that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how? He’s not qualified for much of anything. He has no particular talents, although he is stellar at handling a lawn mower and wielding clipping shears. But now that career seems to be behind him. So what’s next for Mike Muñoz?

Stated Challenge: Perceived obscene material and sexual content.

Looking for Alaska
John Green
Dutton Books for Young Readers

First drink. First prank. First friend. First love. Last words. Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words—and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet François Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young, who will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.

Stated Challenge: Perceived sexual content, profanity, alcohol use, discussion of “gender ideologies.”

Out of Darkness
Ashley Hope Pérez
Holiday House

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?” New London, TX. 1937. Naomi Vargas is Mexican American. Wash Fuller is Black. These teens know the town’s divisive racism better than anyone. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive. Naomi and Wash dare to defy the rules, and the New London school explosion serves as a ticking time bomb in the background. Can their love survive both prejudice and tragedy? Race, romance, and family converge in this riveting novel that transplants Romeo and Juliet to a bitterly segregated Texas town.

Stated Challenge: Perceived inappropriate language, teen drug use, racial slurs, rioting, politically divisive, portrayal of race, portrayal of police brutality, obscene material, violence and anti-police sentiment.

Patricia McCormick
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt-then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave. Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words-Simply to endure is to triumph-and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision-will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life?

Stated Challenge: Perceived sexual content and profanity.

Ellen Hopkins
Margaret K. McElderry Books

Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching…for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don’t expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words “I love you” are said for all the wrong reasons. Five moving stories remain separate at first, then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story—a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. A story about kids figuring out what sex and love are all about, at all costs, while asking themselves, “Can I ever feel okay about myself?”

Stated Challenge: Perceived profanity, drug use and sexual content.

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