(NEXSTAR) — Did you know there were a total of 127 book bans in South Carolina over the past year?
That’s according to PEN America, a nonprofit freedom of expression advocacy group, that tracks book challenges and bans in the U.S. This data was tracked between July 2022 and June 2023. Though South Carolina’s total trails far behind Florida’s staggering 1,400 book ban cases during the same time, controversy over books isn’t non-existent in the state.
Between Jan. 1 and August 31, 2023, there were at least 12 attempts to restrict access to books in South Carolina — and about 50 books were challenged in that time, according to the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
As of last year, the most banned/challenged book in South Carolina is Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 coming-of-age novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” ALA reports. Reasons given for the book’s challenges include claims that it’s sexually explicit and complaints that it shows LGBTQIA+ content. Additionally, discussions or depictions of sexual assault and drug use have added to its controversy.
The association says that in 2022 alone, “Perks” was the fifth most challenged book nationwide, from among 2,571 challenged titles that year. PEN America’s count showed the book as the sixth most-banned for the 2022-23 school year.
And Chbosky’s novel, which was adapted into a film in 2012, is no stranger to bans — its first challenges go back all the way to at least 2003, ALA explains. Though many argue the book is too intense for teens, the novel’s frank and realistic portrait of youth depression, trauma and suicide has been celebrated by many young people because of its relatability.
Earlier this year, California high school student Kylie Chen wrote about the book and its bans for her student paper The Lancer. In her article, Chen discusses a 2021 instance wherein an Illinois grandmother attempted to ban the novel after reading the first 31 pages.
“Maybe if she had read until the end, or had taken into consideration the context of the novel, she would have seen the book for what it is: a message of perseverance and hope,” writes Chen.
Among other most-challenged titles in South Carolina for the 2022-23 school year include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and the graphic novel “Flamer” by Mike Curato.
PEN America explains that “overwhelmingly” these book bans target books on race/racism and feature characters of color, in addition to LGBTQ+ characters. The vast majority of these titles were also written by authors of color or who identify as LGBTQ+.
The crusade against these types of titles and authors is something “Flamer” author Curato — whose young adult book is among the most banned books in the U.S. — previously told Nexstar is “very politically motivated.”
The political motivation for book banning is something PEN America notes in its most recent reporting, saying that bad actors using “hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric” increasingly give the public the impression that “sexually explicit” material is being forced upon students in schools. In reality, the vast majority of books being challenged are (or were) only available as options for students to check out from school library collections.
Curato, whose graphic novel is aimed at ages 14-18, said he agreed this kind of obfuscation is intentional.
“One thing that book banners are doing is making people think that my young adult book is being shared in elementary schools. This is a book for teenagers about teenage life and teenage situations,” says Curato. “And it’s an honest book. But there’s nothing worse than what you’d find in a Judy Blume book.”
Want to fight against book bans?
If you’re concerned about a book banning or challenge in your area, there are many ways you can report it for awareness, including PEN America’s Report a Book Ban. The American Library Association also has a confidential challenge reporting form.
Meanwhile, the Gay and Lesbian (GLAAD) recently teamed with EveryLibrary to put together the Book Bans: A Guide for Community Response and Action playbook. The kit offers tips for first putting together a plan, executing it with unified messaging and driving it toward meaningful decisions.
For concerned students, PEN America also offers its How to Fight Book Bans: A Tip Sheet for Students, which urges those affected to attend and participate in district public meetings, in addition to writing letters to school leaders.