Wonders of a banned book

“Wonders of the Invisible World” by Christopher Barzak was banned in Texas in 2021. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

By Molly Burke

Youngstown State University English professor, Christopher Barzak, is the author of several fiction novels, including one banned in Texas. 

In 2021, Barzak’s “Wonders of the Invisible World” was banned statewide after being placed on a list of 850 books challenged by Texas Republican State Rep. Matt Krause.

Along with other authors placed on the challenge list, Barzak is part of the LGBTQ community. “Wonders of the Invisible World” was included in the 62% of the 850 books that mention LGBTQ people.

Barzak said while the book discusses the LGBTQ identity of its main character, “Wonders of the Invisible World” is about much more than the main character’s sexuality.

“It’s about a 17-year-old in rural Ohio who is caught up in unraveling a mystery about his family’s history which he doesn’t quite understand,” Barzak said. “Along the way, he discovers that he’s in love with his best friend who’s also a boy …  that’s kind of the side narrative. The real core of the story is about discovering who your family is and what your place is in it.” 

Barzak talked about his experience with book banning during a discussion hosted by the William F. Maag Jr. Library on Oct. 2 for its celebration of Banned Books Week. He said challenges and bans target marginalized communities.

“The goal is to silence various groups of people,” Barzak said. “When you signal to people through things like bans that you’re not worthy of public life or public existence by removing this book which represents you … you’re also signaling to all these young people that there’s something wrong with them.”

Christopher Barzak (left) and Colleen Duchon (right) after the banned-book discussion Oct. 2. Photos by Molly Burke / The Jambar

Despite the ban, sales for “Wonders of the Invisible World” have increased since 2021. Barzak has also received awards for the novel, including the Stonewall Honor from the American Library Association in 2015. The book was also placed on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s LGBTQ+ Affirming Booklist. 

Barzak said he has spent the last two years navigating the juxtaposition of taking pride in the ban and feeling discriminated against.

“It can be something entirely different than … feeling like you’re wearing a badge of honor … It sort of contextualized and mapped onto my life experience like somebody who wanted you to just go away and not exist,” Barzak said. “Sometimes it fires me up in order to get me to work harder … and other times it puts me in a dark place.”

After reflecting on his experiences, Barzak said he wants to speak out against book banning.

“It reaffirms to me that I can’t be complacent on the progress that’s been made. I need to continue to remain visible and to speak about these things because that’s what they want us to not do, so I have to now,” Barzak said.