2021 was a banner year for book challenges. Right wing groups organized protests across the country that claimed that porn was in school libraries — with “porn,” of course, being any LGBTQ book. It also brought new legislation and political posturing to “protect” white students from the “discomfort” of learning about racism, including in history. A Texas lawmaker made a list of 850 titles he wanted removed from the state’s school libraries, most of them LGBTQ, and at least one district pulled hundreds of books from the shelves for “review.”
One common response to this increase in censorship attempts is that nothing makes people want to read a book more than it being banned. Also known as the Streisand effect, the idea is that book bans will actually make those book more popular and sell more copies. It’s a comforting thought, but it’s misleading.
For one thing, in a list of 850 titles, no single book is getting a boost in popularity through word of mouth or media coverage: they all blend together. And in a seemingly never-ending wave of book challenges, it’s hard to think any of these titles are getting a lot of traction even if they do get news stories. The more books are challenged, and the more that the frequency makes these stories seem everyday, the less publicity those titles are getting.
More importantly, this effect would only work if people know the book is being banned or challenged. Harder to track is the kind of quiet self-censorship that leads librarians and teachers to leave books off syllabi and shelves because they fear being faced with the wrath of book banners. While the American Library Association and other groups keep track of formal book challenges, these quieter instances are impossible to record, and they can only take books away from readers.
A somewhat new factor in this war against antiracist and LGBTQ-inclusive books is review bombing. Review bombing is when a large group of people (or a small group of people with a lot of accounts) leave targeted negative reviews of a product online. When star ratings are involved, this can tank the item’s average rating.
Many of the books that have been challenged the most this year are also getting review bombed, especially on Amazon. These reviews are over-the-top and misleading, and can easily lead consumers who know nothing about this ongoing battle to be scared off purchasing, especially for their kid.
Here are some of the books getting targeted by review bombing:
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
Lawn Boy has been one of the most challenged books of the year, including challenges that have attempted to get the police involved. The top reviews on Amazon are 1-star, calling it “profane” and “pedophile trash.” One of the top reviews on Goodreads calls it a “woke pro-pedophile book that is designed to groom children.”
Bizarrely, Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen is also receiving 1-star reviews from people mixing it up with Evison’s book of the same title.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
The book that’s faced the brunt of this year’s censorship attempts, with new ones every week, is Gender Queer. All of the top Amazon reviews from the U.S. are 1-star, calling it “indoctrination” and “pornography” and saying, and I quote, “This book should be burned.” These reviews each have been voted up about 400 times. Revealingly, the “Top reviews from other countries” section is all 5-stars, calling it, “brave” and “moving.” One of those reviews reads, “[I]t makes me feel seen. I am not alone and neither are you.”
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
This book on puberty has been around since 1994, getting updated periodically. The new update includes LGBTQ topics, and it attracted backlash. Featured Amazon reviews call it “total porn” and claim that it grooms children for pedophiles.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
This is another book that’s recently got a lot of book challenges that take lines out of context to drum up outrage. The top Amazon reviews call it “harmful,” “traumatizing,” and “disturbing.” On the plus side, the second featured review is titled, “I’m grateful to the angry parent at a local school board meeting who compelled me to buy this book” and calls it “one of the best novels I’ve ever read.”
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
It’s not a coincidence that most of these books are LGBTQ, by authors of color, or both. In the past few years, LGBTQ (especially trans) books and books by Black authors have been the most challenged in school. This queer memoir by a Black author has a top Amazon review titled “PORN,” with several other reviews echoing the “porn” accusation and objecting to it being an Amazon “teacher’s pick.”
This is just a selection of some of the books getting review bombed in the wake of censorship attempts. This seems to be most common on Amazon, where fewer people leave reviews and more people have accounts, including those who don’t usually review books.
More books being review bombed for having LGBTQ or antiracist content include:
- The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
- Drama by Raina Telgemeier
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
And many, many more.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to help: just upvote/like helpful reviews on Goodreads and Amazon to push these negative reviews down the page. You can also leave your own positive reviews, but most of these books have far more positive reviews than negative ones. It’s just that the negative reviews are getting pushed up to the top. It’s never been so easy to help fight censorship, racism, homophobia, and transphobia!
Of course, if you want to do more, check out our anti-censorship toolkit.
Also In This Story Stream
- How To Create A Good Banned Books Display: Book Censorship News, September 2, 2022
- States That Have Enacted Book Ban Laws: Book Censorship News, August 26, 2022
- Defending the Right to Read: Book Censorship News, August 19, 2022
- How To Find and Develop a Local Anti-Censorship Group: Book Censorship News, August 12, 2022
- A Template for Talking with School and Library Boards About Book Bans: Book Censorship News, August 5, 2022
- The School Board Project, Round Two: Book Censorship News, July 29, 2022
- What Would Help You Fight Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, July 22, 2022
- How to Address Misinformation and Book Challenges: Book Censorship News, July 15, 2022
- Protect Yourself Now: Book Censorship News, July 8, 2022
- How To Directly Impact Democracy: Book Censorship News, July 1, 2022