Top Ten Banned Books – Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Banned and Challenged Books
Out of Darkness

Part love story, part historical exploration of a small town in 1930s Texas, the YA novel Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez was originally banned in two middles schools after a now viral moment in which a parent angrily quoted from a passage that references anal sex. To be fair, the book doesn’t shy away from honest depicitions of both consensual and nonconsensual sex, although the parent did seem hyper-focused on a single scene in which a group of white boys objectify the Mexican American main character, to the detriment of her own argument; as others have deftly pointed out, the scene functions more as a denounciation of objectification than as an endorsement of anal sex. 

As funny as the clip is, however, it’s a waste of time to focus too much of our attention on the parent; she does, after all, have the right to express herself in front of elected officials. The majority of our anger should instead be directed towards the school board, which, inspired by many other school boards across the country, opted to remove the book prior to a “formal investigation.” In short, they caved to the request of a single individual and pulled the book from library shelves without any input from the broader community, in violation of their own pre-existing guidelines. 

It’s not clear how other parents felt, as they weren’t asked. But like the vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions, they probably wouldn’t have supported the removal of any books, let alone Out of Darkness. When asked what she would like to tell these parents, the author of the novel, Ashley Hope Pérez, had the following to say:

“I…want them to understand that what is happening is that teachers’ and librarians’ and schools’ resources are being pulled away from teaching students and being sucked into these manufactured controversies.” 

“Manufactured controversies” is right. Out of Darkness calls for us to confront the inequalities that form the basis of our political system; the subsequent removal of the book from school libraries calls for us to confront the fact that these controversies, legitimized in almost all occasions by otherwise ineffectual school boards, mask the continued gutting of public education. 

Accolades & Awards




“Elegant prose and gently escalating action will leave readers gasping for breath at the tragic climax and moving conclusion.”

―starred, Booklist

“This book presents a range of human nature, from kindness and love to acts of racial and sexual violence. The work resonates with fear, hope, love, and the importance of memory….Set against the backdrop of an actual historical event, Pérez…gives voice to many long-omitted facets of U.S. history.”

―starred, School Library Journal

“Pérez deftly weaves [an] unflinchingly intense narrative….A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism.”

―starred, Kirkus Reviews

“[This] layered tale of color lines, love and struggle in an East Texas oil town is a pit-in-the-stomach family drama that goes down like it should, with pain and fascination, like a mix of sugary medicine and artisanal moonshine.”

The New York Times Book Review


Final Thoughts

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

Watch Pérez’s video response posted on her website with over 50,000 views.

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