Best “Banned” Books

The month of September is home to Banned Books Week!  This month, our librarians let you know our favorite books that have been banned or challenged!

(The word “Banned” is in quotation marks in the title of this post because the name “Banned Books Week” is a bit of a misnomer.  First, we celebrate Banned Books Week not because we like or support books being banned – we celebrate to support intellectual freedom and the freedom to read whatever you want.  Second, it’s now much more common for books to be challenged than actually banned, thanks to the efforts of teachers, librarians, and other supporters of the freedom to read.  You can read a bit more about Banned Books Week here (or in our blog archives here) and check out a few lists of books that have been banned or challenged here & here.)

Without further ado, here are your librarians’ favorite banned & challenged books!

I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi shortly after graduating high school and starting college in the US. Back then, my knowledge of Iran’s history and the Middle East was basically non-existent. This was a world post-9/11 where everything linked to Islam was taboo and not worth thinking about. Of course, there was some coverage in history classes, but in terms of the political atmosphere and the treatment of women, well, I had an extremely biased point of view. The Middle East was just a big lump of identical countries and all that seemed to pop up on the news was unfortunately negative and chaotic. I was so naive! When I opened this graphic autobiography, not only was the style new and refreshing, but there was a main character who was like me in so many ways, enjoyed music, had a rebellious streak, had supportive parents, and wanted a better life. That went completely at odds with my idea of women in this foreign world. I hadn’t really thought about what came before nuclear programs, theocracies, conflicts with neighboring countries, etc. It’s surprising to learn this book was challenged at any point, especially for being “politically, racially, and socially offensive.” For me, at the “tender” age of 18 or 19, it was a wake up call, especially about a country I knew nothing about. Knowing that people have challenged it just makes me wonder how I was sheltered for so many years. Reading gives fresh perspectives, it helps eliminate biases, and it helps us take a peek out of our erroneous misconceptions. If such an invaluable educational tool is considered offensive, then is knowledge offensive, too?

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Little Brother by Cory Doctrow
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Saga by Brian Vaughan

First!! To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I came to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird later in life (as I managed to talk my way around it when it was assigned in high school) and I fell in love! The story is amazing, the characters smart, thoughtful and nuanced and the book introduced me to a way of life I never would have encountered.
Second!! The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. In our modern society where more and more children are being shot by law enforcement officers, this is an intriguing story of a young black woman who is caught between cultures and caught between the law and her family.
Third!! Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a super, sweet picture book about two male penguins who share penguin parenting duties.
Last but not least, Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Raina’s graphic novels tell the stories of pre-adolescence and adolescence in a thoughtful and powerful way. Her graphic illustrations are simple, colorful – continuing beyond words to tell the tales of teenagership.

One frequently-challenged book that I love is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I’ve read it four times (so far) and love the main character, Charlie. He’s so sweet and earnest and awkward. He’s clearly struggling to recover from a very rough time in his life, and just trying to fit in and participate, as his English teacher keeps urging him to do. He makes two new friends, Patrick and Samantha, and they go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show a lot, and Charlie has a huge crush on Samantha that he doesn’t know how to handle. It really captures certain aspects of being a teenager, and was both painful and heartwarming to read.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is also a great book that has been frequently challenged. Eleanor is the new girl at school and doesn’t fit in because of how she looks and dresses. On the first day there was only one vacant seat on the bus, next to an Asian-American kid named Park and from then on they sat next to each other every day. Their relationship went from bare tolerance to friendship and then to romance, but it was filled with challenges. It takes place in the 1980s and it’s sweet and clever, and the audiobook version is fantastic. Park’s parts are narrated by Sunil Malhotra, and Eleanor’s by my favorite narrator, Rebecca Lowman.

1984 by George Orwell
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Carrie by Stephen King
George by Alex Gino
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli around the same time in middle school. They’ve both stuck with me as I’ve gotten older and influence my reading tastes to this day for similar reasons. I grew up poor and often on the “wrong” side of town. I often felt disconnected from extended family and found true kinship in my peers as we struggled side by side. Walking that line between what your street expects from you and what you give to your school and family was something I loved reading about. That’s probably why I love The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas so much, too.

I happen to have read nine of the ten most challenged books in 2017, and I liked them all – I suppose I should read the one I missed! Most recently, I’ve read Drama by Raina Telgemeier (as well as all her others – Ghosts, Smile, and Sisters), and now I see what all the (positive) fuss is about. And George by Alex Gino is one that I really liked and that I recommend frequently at the library. The freedom to read is so important.

(Titles & Reasons for Challenge)

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – inappropriate language and questioning religion
Storm Warning – gay characters
Magic’s Pawn – gay characters
Bridge to Terabithia – references to witchcraft and atheism, swearing
The Lord of the Rings – “Satanic”
Saga – anti-Family themes, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit images, and unsuited for age group
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (series) – unsuited for age group, violence, occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, insensitivity

What are some of your favorite banned or challenged books?  Let us know in the comments below!

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