The Banned Book Brigade

Read at your own risk: article contains mentions of sex, gender, and potential pedophilia.



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Have you read the graphic novel Heartstopper?


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    Have any of you heard of or read the graphic novel ‘Heartstopper’? Like many others in this school, chances are you have! As an 8th grader this year, I remember very distinctly that Heartstopper was the pinnacle of middle school. The books in the multiple-part series were always ALWAYS checked out, and you had to sign-up weeks in advance to get your hands on even one. There were also watch parties, as the live-action version came out last school year, and many students gathered with their fellow fans to watch it together. But what if I told you that it was one of many banned books in America?


    The Heartstopper Netflix film has a critic rating of 100% (reviewed by 55 critics by the way) and a rating of 97% from general audiences (reviewed by around 3,500 people) on Rotten Tomatoes as of November 7, 2022. The graphic novel has a 4.53-star average and has been reviewed by around 450,000 people! Despite these astronomically good reviews, multiple Wyoming school districts have banned these books, most saying that they were too sexually explicit or their topics were too heavy. Is it actually explicit though? As an avid reader of this series, there were only a couple of kiss scenes, and most of the book is about worrying, bullying, and handling their individual problems like mental illness and rejection. However those things can be fairly objective, so let’s jump into some reasons why books like it might be banned.


    To find out exactly why books like Heartstopper might be banned, I dived deeper into an official website that documents where and why a book was banned. On this website, they had a helpful top 10 list of books that were banned in the U.S. That’s when something caught my eye. When reading through the list, I realized that 4/10 of the books in the list of 2022 were centered around educating or telling stories about LGBTQIA+. I clicked on each book to make sure, and voila, each and every single one of them was banned because they were ‘sexually explicit’. But why are all of these ‘sexually explicit’ relationships mostly LGBTQIA+? Is there some sort of connection? I’m going to go back 20 years to maybe find what I’m looking for.


    Interestingly enough, when I looked at the records for the top ten most challenged books of 2001, we can see a difference in the reasons for banning books. Most of the books at the time were marked down for ‘offensive language’ and racism. This was when more books by POC, African Americans, Asians, and other racially diverse groups were starting to emerge. They starting to flood the shelves of our schools and local libraries. I remember back when Grace Lin’s books were fawned over, and Bud, not Buddy was being read in classrooms for their daily readings. As we started to see the times change, we saw the topic of challenged books slowly shift as people started accepting these racially diverse books as the norm and people started writing more books centered around LGBTQIA+. Now those books are the ones being banned! (just like how the racially diverse ones were banned before!!) 


Book Analysis

    To research furthermore, I’m going to look into Gender Queer, a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe (e/eir/eirs), which ranks #1 on the most banned books list in the United States, and #2, which is Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison.

First, Gender Queer. I don’t have quite enough time to read the whole thing, but I read the first 2 chapters and looked through many images on google, and I found the images of concern. It is a graphic novel about Maia and eir challenges with gender dysmorphia as both a child and an adult. Flipping though, there were drawings depicting oral sex and roman statues with their penises out. Others included depictions of bras, binders, and periods, each of them helping to support the main idea of gender dysmorphia.

Next up, Lawn Boy. Unlike Gender Queer, this isn’t a graphic novel, so I’m going to go off excerpts, summaries, and some random reading that I did throughout the book. Lawn Boy is about a bi-racial young adult that is slowly discovering himself as he gets through life mowing laws and scraping together money to pay for his living costs. The most common issue that people have with this book is pedophilia. Reviewers mostly say that the way he views children, especially this one child was a bit… predatory. Quoted from the book directly, “Just a third grader, bottom lip chafed from obsessive licking, little fingernails bitten to the quick, aching for a good time.” This line seemed to have stricken a ton of controversy, as the ‘aching for a good time’ did not ring any good bells. What most people are missing out on, however, is the fact that these sexual fantasies are from when the main character himself was also a child. The Tiktok talking about the pedophilic nature of the book fails to mention this.

The whole affair is a study in disinformation, a microcosm of our times. I say, read the book, or sit your butt down.

— Jonathan Evison

    Accidents and mishandling on the library’s part can be a problem too. For example, when looking up ways of purchasing the book ‘Gender Queer’, it does say it’s a book for people 18 and older. So why was this book in a high school, where there are kids as young as 14? Although the seniors in high school are around 18 and basically are adults, there is a high possibility it will land in someone’s hands who aren’t eligible for it. Wouldn’t it be the responsibility of the school instead of the writer? If they had clearly marked down that the book was for people 18 and older, then it isn’t their responsibility to know whose hands it falls into.  In an interview in an article, the author of Lawn Boy says these kids weren’t even his intended audience, and the only reason why it was getting into kids’ hands was because of TikTok and how trendy it was getting because of its award it was given. However, he states that he doesn’t appreciate people calling him a pedophile and a ‘freak’ because of what he wrote.*

*However, a very important thing to note is that Lawn Boy won an award called the ‘Alex Award’ in 2019, which opened its doors to readers from around the ages of 8-12. (because usually, books that receive rewards are opened to other age groups) This caused the book to show up in elementary schools, even though the book was really supposed to be for adults. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is another book named Lawn Boy that is written by Gary Paulsen, which is way more kid-friendly. There have been cases where a kid is searching for that book, and the other one is given to them.



In conclusion, there are many reasons a book can be banned, from graphic content, and mishandling, to advertising and wording that can be a bit shaky.  So what do you think? From what you’ve read, do you think Lawn Boy and Gender Queer should be banned?

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Should 'Gender Queer' and 'Lawn Boy' be Banned?


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Other Fun Facts/Vocab:

What is soft censorship?

     Soft censorship is when a higher power puts specific regulations and limits on a book. For example, if you want a ‘soft’ censored book, you may need to ask your parents to sign a form or get special permission from someone in the school. There also may be labels or other ‘warning’ signs to try to keep students away from the book. It’s not banned deliberately, but they usually try to plant multiple red flags in order to stop you from reading it.

A Small Group can be Powerful

    A small group of people can have immense power too… A couple in Kansas even managed to ban the legendary childhood book ‘Charlotte’s Web’ in their school district, claiming its themes of death and talking animals weren’t good influences on children. However, the ban didn’t stop anyone, and people continued to read Charlotte’s Web. (Happily ever after)

Fun Fact Corner!

  • Many of the banned books (40%) contained characters of color, and 21% of them directly addressed issues of race and racism.
  • Almost all of the bans (96%) were enacted without schools or districts following the best practice guidelines for book challenges outlined by the ALA and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
  • An Utah school district declared LGBTQ content as a ‘sensitive topic’.

My Sources:

The cover photo by:

“Lawn Boy” IS pedophilic. Here’s why. (Explicit)