Apr 11, 2024 - News

"Out of Darkness" is Utah's most banned book

Book titles challenged in public schools and libraries, 2023
Data: American Library Association; Map: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

"Out of Darkness," a novel about a teen interracial couple in 1937, is the most-banned book in Utah, per a recent report by the American Library Association.

The big picture: Complaints in Utah and nationwide have overwhelmingly targeted books with themes addressing race and LGBTQ+ identities.

Flashback: Ashley Hope Pérez's 2015 award-winning book came under fire in September 2021, when a Texas parent complained the book contained sexual references.

Zoom in: Two months later, Canyons School District in Salt Lake County removed the book along with eight others, but later returned it to libraries.

What's inside: The historical fiction novel explores a romance between Black and Mexican-American teens who experience racism in an east Texas town where a high school exploded, killing about 300 people.

  • It includes discussion of sexual violence and intimacy between the 17-year-old protagonists.

Reality check: The most commonly-cited passage in support of banning the book doesn't encourage or describe sex between characters; it depicts a group of boys fusing racism and misogyny in their threats against the Mexican-American protagonist.

What they're saying: "If you were to stack up all the books with sexual content in any library, the tallest stack by far would be about white, straight characters," Peréz wrote in a 2022 essay for NPR.

  • "Tellingly, those are not the books under attack. Claims about 'sexual content' are a pretext for erasing the stories that tell Black, Latinx, queer and other non-dominant kids that they matter and belong."

The latest: Gov. Spencer Cox last month signed a bill that will make it easier to remove books from all Utah public schools, if just three districts deem it to be "indecent or pornographic."

By the numbers: There were 21 complaints filed in Utah in 2023, targeting 152 titles, the ALA reported.

  • Complaints against books rose 65% nationally in 2023, Axios' Jennifer Kingston reports. There were 4,240 titles targeted for censorship last year, compared with 2,571 in 2022 — the previous record.

Zoom out: Utah was the only state where Out of Darkness was the most-banned title. Axios' Sareen Habeshian reports this week that the most-challenged books nationally in 2023 were:

  1. "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe
  2. "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson
  3. "This Book is Gay" by Juno Dawson
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