Three banned books in Kansas to read this month

(Illustration by Catherine Eldridge | Collegian Media Group)

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

This novel is a coming-of-age story about 14-year-old Junior who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. It follows him through his freshman year of high school, where he transfers to a rich, all-white school after learning his reservation school hasn’t been able to buy new textbooks for over 30 years.

“I suddenly understood that if every moment of a book should be taken seriously, then every moment of a life should be taken seriously as well,” Junior said in “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

He hopes to break out of generational poverty on the reservation by transferring, and upon facing racism at his new school, he changes his name to Arnold. Still, he struggles with balancing fitting in at his new school, feeling like he’s betrayed his tribe and being a typical teenager as he learns more about the world.

Derby’s Library Committee Book/Resource Challenge Notes Form for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” states there is too much mature content, such as topics of race, language and sexual innuendos that would make parents uncomfortable. It also says the novel reinforces Native American stereotypes, despite half the book discussing Junior trying to escape them.

According to the PEN America Index of School Book Bans, Derby Public Schools banned this book and Goddard Public Schools removed it from its shelves in 2021.

In 2019, according to The Emporia Gazette, Waverly High School suspended a high school English teacher for nine days after he considered teaching this book in class. The suspension happened the week before Banned Books Week because of parental complaints. 

Illustration by Catherine Eldridge

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson

In “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Johnson, in their 30s, reflects on their childhood and how their Blackness and queerness played a role in their life. Each chapter is a personal essay exploring the intersectionality of their identity. Johnson uses their honest experiences to give Black queer readers the role model they never had.

“So as heavy as these subjects may be, it is necessary that they are not only told, but also read by teens who may have to navigate many of these same experiences in their own lives,” George M. Johnson said in “All Boys Aren’t Blue.”

Readers follow Johnson in this memoir through the author’s trauma, learning to love whoever they want, accepting their identity and not sacrificing aspects of themselves for the comfort of others. Johnson is sincere about the events, even the parts they aren’t proud of, and that honesty is what makes this book important for young readers experiencing similar things.

However, not everyone sees this importance.

According to the PEN America Index of School Book Bans, it was removed from shelves in 2021 at Goddard Public Schools. In 2022, it was challenged, but not entirely banned, at Shawnee Heights Unified School District, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. Salina Public Schools, after the book was challenged, refused to ban the book in 2022, according to the Salina Journal

Illustration by Catherine Eldridge

“It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hover

This novel follows Lily Bloom, a young adult who grew up in an abusive household, as she navigates life and love while carrying the generational scars of the domestic violence she grew up in. She moves to Boston and opens her own flower shop before unknowingly getting into an abusive relationship with a man named Ryle Kincaid.

“Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break,” Lily Bloom said in “It Ends with Us.”

While the main relationship in this contemporary romance is doomed from the start, it’s important to note the book is about escaping the relationship and breaking the cycle of domestic violence. “It Ends with Us” teaches readers what cycles of abuse can look like, and that it’s not always as simple as just leaving. 

According to The Kansas City Star, it was one of 11 books to get pulled from the shelves of the Gardner Edgerton School District in 2023. Residents from Johnson County received a mass text message advocating for residents to help ban the books. The message was sent by Moms for Liberty, a conservative political organization.

Illustration by Catherine Eldridge