Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Another classic from the high school syllabus, I’m crediting my love of Lord of the Flies to my Freshman English teacher, Mrs. Burnett. She was a tough teacher, but she had a way of challenging us to see beyond what Golding wrote to see what he meant for us to learn. A story about a group of British boys stranded on an island, there’s a lot to unpack in this allegorical tale. Banned for the violence amongst a group of lawless boys and depictions of slavery, Golding’s novel makes its way to the eighth most banned or challenged book of all time (which could be considered an honor). Did anyone else spend at least one class period discussing the proper pronunciation of “conch”?
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
I’m not surprised to find Their Eyes Were Watching God on the banned books list. Hurston does not shy away from the harsh language and explicit violence and sexuality in her novel. On the other hand, it’s interesting to consider that it made TIME magazine’s list of top 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Hurston’s novel details the life of a strong black woman in the 1930s as she learns how to stand up for herself despite the men that try to drag her down.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I’ve actually been slowly working on this one for three years. It’s only taken me so long because I have lost my physical copy (I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in our attic) and I can only borrow the digital copy from my library for two weeks at a time. As a child, I loved watching the film with my grandmother. She reminded me of all the best parts of Scarlett O’Hara and not just because she said “fiddle-dee-dee” when she was bypassing your point. The book and the film have very realistic and true depictions of life in ante- and postbellum life in the South-which is the very reason it has been both praised and banned. I’m not going to lie-this one can be tough to stomach. The language and the culture are unforgiving, but I have to admit it really makes me think about the progress we have (or maybe have not in some cases) made in America since the 1860s.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver has been challenged mostly because it is unsuitable for the age-range in which it is marketed. Conversations surrounding censorship, violence, and suicide can easily come up with this read. I adore this book (and the series) because it was one of the first books that let me see the world differently. While we all may live in a seemingly ideal world, this book taught me that everything isn’t always as it seems.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Banned for witchcraft, J.K. Rowling’s series is one of the most banned and most celebrated of the last 20 years. This one speaks for itself, folks. I love Harry Potter because it teaches me that sometimes it pays off to be up to no good.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
In the past 12 months I’ve read this book three times (twice for grad school and once for pleasure) and I’ve watched the Hulu adaptation. Yes, it is sexually explicit, but Atwood does a great job of balancing the shocking aspects of the setting with Offred’s narration and observations. The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a society that has stripped women of their rights, and only sees them as reproductive commodities. It’s gut-wrenching and difficult to read at times, but I find it fascinating each time I pick it up.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I recently raved about this one on the blog, and celebrated many of the reasons why it has been challenged. Deemed “racist and sexually explicit”, Walls tells the true story of her life growing up in poverty. Another heart-wrenching tale, part of what makes this read so appealing is exactly what makes readers shy away from it. It shares the hard truth of poverty, alcoholism, and homelessness coupled with the unconditional love of a daughter. Like I said in my original post, you just have to read this one.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie holds nothing back in his novel about a Native American boy transitioning from life on the reservation to life in a rural white farm town. His high-school age main character is headstrong and crude, leaving the book to be challenged for sexual content, language. It’s a brutal look at race relations, some of which were informed by Alexie’s own experiences. I have a college friend to thank for making me pick this one up several years ago. Once I was finished, I couldn’t believe it had never crossed my path.
Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns by John Green
Mostly challenged for sexual content among teenage characters and crude language, John Green can brag that he’s had not one, not two, but at least four books challenged or banned. (I almost titled this section “Pretty Much Anything by John Green”, but I was afraid that readers who have never heard of him would think that was the name of one of his books.) Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns have all been challenged in the past five years. I literally laughed out loud when I read that The Fault in Our Stars was challenged because it depicted teens with cancer. All of these books follow mature teen relationships, but with the right guidance and conversations younger teens would enjoy these books as well.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
This collection of poems is one I’ve used in my very own classroom, so I was surprised to see it make the list. Challenged for encouraging violence and disrespect, it’s still considered a classic by teachers and parents. (I even read that The Giving Tree was banned because it was “sexist”.)
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
If you can believe it, this childhood classic was challenged by a patron of a Canadian Public Library branch because it “encourages children to use violence against their fathers.” I can’t make this up, folks.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
I have a special place in my heart for this book because I picked it up just before I boarded a train while studying abroad in Italy in 2012. I was totally immersed both on the way to and from Cinque Terre-which is saying something because it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Despite the fact that it was banned from a required reading list in Florida for language and atheism, I enjoyed the interesting perspective of an autistic boy as he tries to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. I even think I laughed out loud on that train ride because I was so enthralled by the story.
The American Heritage and Merriam Webster have both been banned at some point. Citing “objectionable” content, libraries and schools have both refused to keep this necessary reference book on their shelves. I can remember a time in second grade one my my classmates looked up what we thought was a “dirty word” and giggled until our hearts’ content. The word? “Sex”. Words that have caused the dictionary to actually be banned includes slang like “bed”.
There you have it, readers! If you’d like more information on Banned Books Week or to find list upon list upon list of banned books throughout the ages, you can check out BannedBooksWeek.org. Did I mention any of your favorites? What makes your list? Let me know in the comments!