Challenging Censorship: 20 Banned Books You Should Read
As book enthusiasts, we know that literature can shape our thoughts, inspire us, and even transform our lives. So, it’s truly disheartening when our favorite reads face challenges, bans, or censorship. Banned books have always piqued the interest of avid readers and free speech advocates, sparking conversations and debates along the way.
Throughout history, books have been challenged or banned for their controversial content, themes, or ideas. But, as any bookworm will tell you, literature can offer invaluable insights and understanding, even when the subject is tough or provocative. Our curated banned books list features a blend of classic and contemporary novels that have faced pushback in America. While these books represent a variety of genres and styles, they all share a common thread: they’ve been deemed “too controversial” by some.
As you dive into this handpicked selection of banned books to read, keep in mind that censorship can stifle exposure to new ideas and perspectives. As readers, we should embrace diverse voices in literature and celebrate the unique insights these challenged books offer. They often give voice to marginalized communities, present fresh viewpoints, and push the boundaries of societal norms.
So, let’s embark on a literary adventure together, exploring the powerful stories and messages tucked within the pages of these extraordinary works. By delving into these banned books, you’re not only broadening your literary horizons but also standing up against censorship and championing intellectual freedom.
Kicking off our list with the most frequently banned book in the United States during 2021-2022, as reported by the American Library Association, is the deeply personal and candid Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. This groundbreaking graphic novel faced bans, challenges, and restrictions due to its LGBTQIA+ content and what some considered sexually explicit images. But don’t let that deter you! Gender Queer is a powerful exploration of identity, gender, and self-acceptance that you won’t want to miss.
Dive into Maia Kobabe’s intensely cathartic autobiography, which uses e/em/eir pronouns, as e shares eir journey of self-discovery. From the confusion of adolescent crushes to the struggles of coming out to family and society and even bonding with friends over some saucy gay fanfiction, this book has it all.
Gender Queer started as a way for Maia to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual. Still, it’s become so much more—an inspirational and informative guide on gender identity for advocates, friends, and book lovers everywhere.
Isn’t it ironic to include a banned book about burning banned books in our list? This timeless classic has faced censorship due to “sexually graphic and violent” content. But really, it is a captivating tale that explores the dangers of censorship and the importance of free thought.
In Ray Bradbury’s chilling dystopian world, books are burned to suppress dissenting ideas and control the masses. With its unforgettable characters and gripping storyline, Fahrenheit 451 is a stark reminder of the consequences of silencing diverse voices and ideas. Lose yourself in this captivating tale that will leave you questioning the very nature of censorship and the power of literature.
by Elie Wiesel
Continuing our journey through banned books, we arrive at the profoundly moving and poignant memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. This powerful account of survival in the face of the Holocaust has faced challenges due to its profanity, violence, and horrific content. But, honestly, that’s the point. The raw and unflinching honesty of this book is precisely what helps readers to confront the horrors that occurred and serves as a reminder of the atrocities that should never happen again.
Elie Wiesel’s heart-wrenching story provides a firsthand account of the unspeakable acts committed during the Holocaust, offering an invaluable perspective on one of the darkest chapters in human history. As you delve into this remarkable memoir, you will enter into a world of unimaginable pain and suffering, yet one that also bears witness to the resilience of the human spirit. So, settle in and let this powerful narrative remind you of the importance of empathy, understanding, and remembrance.
by Angie Thomas
This eye-opening and thought-provoking tale delves into themes of racism, police brutality, and social justice. However, it has faced bans and challenges due to its perceived “anti-cop” stance, profanity, drug use, and sexual references.
Angie Thomas introduces us to the unforgettable protagonist, Starr Carter, who navigates the complexities of living between two worlds: her predominantly black, low-income neighborhood and her mostly white, affluent private school. When Starr becomes the sole witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer, her life is forever changed.
As you journey through this poignant novel, you’ll witness Starr’s challenges and heartache as she finds her voice and stands up for what’s right. So, grab a box of tissues and prepare to be inspired by this unmissable banned book that sheds light on the vital issues of our time, sparking meaningful conversations and fostering empathy and understanding.
by Suzanne Collins
Our journey through banned books continues with the wildly popular and thrilling dystopian adventure The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Believe it or not, this gripping saga has faced challenges due to its perceived religious viewpoint and being deemed unsuited to its target age group. But don’t let that hold you back from diving into the captivating world of Panem, where teens must fight to survive in a twisted televised competition orchestrated by an oppressive government.
In a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, the courageous and resourceful protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, navigates the brutal Hunger Games while fighting against an oppressive regime. Set in a world where the wealthy live in luxury and the poor struggle to survive, Collins exposes the stark contrasts and injustices that arise when a society exploits its most vulnerable members for the entertainment of the privileged few. As you immerse yourself in this intense and compelling tale, you’ll find deeper themes that explore the consequences of power, control, and resistance.
by Margaret Atwood
This haunting dystopian novel has faced bans and challenges due to its profanity and “vulgarity and sexual overtones.” However, as Atwood has stated, “One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened.” This crucial aspect of the novel is often overlooked. Still, it highlights that it is a stark reflection of real-life events throughout history. By drawing on actual occurrences, Atwood underscores the potential consequences of unchecked power and the urgency of remaining vigilant in the face of oppressive forces.
Set in the totalitarian regime of Gilead, women’s rights have been stripped away, and they are reduced to their reproductive roles. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Offred, readers experience the harrowing reality of living under an oppressive system that dictates every aspect of women’s lives.
by George M Johnson
This powerful collection of personal essays has faced bans and challenges due to its LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and the perception of it being sexually explicit. However, these elements portray the honest and genuine experiences of a queer Black youth growing up in America.
Johnson’s raw and heartfelt storytelling takes us through the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys, from the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five to navigating his first sexual relationships. Both a primer for teens eager to be allies and a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will resonate deeply with young adults.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
This groundbreaking work has faced bans, challenges, and restrictions due to its perceived political viewpoint, claims of bias against male students, and the novel’s inclusion of SA and profanity. Despite this controversy, Speak remains a compelling and vital piece of literature, shedding light on the harsh realities faced by many survivors of sexual assault.
The novel follows the story of Melinda, a high school freshman who becomes a social outcast after calling the police to break up a party. As the story unfolds, readers learn the devastating truth behind her actions and witness her journey toward healing and finding her voice.
Anderson’s raw and honest portrayal of trauma raises awareness of the challenges faced by sexual assault survivors. It emphasizes the importance of empathy, understanding, and speaking up. Don’t let the controversy surrounding this banned book dissuade you from engaging with its powerful message; instead, let Speak serve as a reminder of the strength and courage it takes to confront our fears and seek solace in speaking our truth.
by Maya Angelou
As we explore banned books, we come across the profoundly moving and inspiring autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by the legendary Maya Angelou. Even though it has faced bans and challenges due to “sexually explicit” content, Angelou’s story remains powerful and transformative. The authenticity and raw emotion in her writing provide a vital perspective on the African American experience, inspiring generations of readers to overcome adversity and celebrate their unique voices.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings chronicles Angelou’s early life, from her childhood in the Jim Crow South to her teenage years in California, painting a vivid portrait of resilience in the face of adversity, racism, and trauma. As you immerse yourself in this extraordinary autobiography, you’ll be moved by Angelou’s strength, courage, and determination to rise above her circumstances and find her voice.
by Jeannette Walls
This incredible memoir is a testament to resilience, redemption, and the power of hope amid adversity. Still, it has faced challenges due to “offensive language” and “sexually explicit” content. Walls’ unflinching honesty and captivating storytelling transport readers into her turbulent yet vibrant childhood, making it a truly unforgettable read.
The Glass Castle reveals Walls’ unique and dysfunctional family life. Her father, a brilliant and charismatic man, inspired his children when sober, teaching them science and embracing life fearlessly. However, his destructive behavior emerged when he drank. Both parents eschewed domesticity and the responsibilities of raising a family, leading the Walls children to become self-reliant, eventually finding success in New York, while their parents opted for homelessness.
This powerful memoir demonstrates resilience, redemption, and hope in adversity. Don’t let the controversy deter you from experiencing its emotional depth and profound insights. Embrace The Glass Castle as a tribute to the human spirit’s capacity to surmount obstacles and uncover beauty in unexpected places.
by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a poignant reminder that despite our challenges, we can find solace in our connections with others. As an evocative coming-of-age novel, it has faced bans due to depictions of drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, and sexually explicit content—all of which represent real-life scenarios many teenagers encounter.
Set in the early 1990s, the novel follows the introspective and sensitive Charlie as he navigates the highs and lows of adolescence. A series of letters to an anonymous recipient tells Charlie’s story of friendship, love, and self-discovery. The novel captures the essence of growing up, the confusion of trying to understand one’s place in the world, and the power of human connection.
by Jonathan Evison
Lawn Boy is an engaging and heartfelt novel that highlights the importance of self-discovery and the power of embracing one’s true identity. Despite its powerful message, the book has faced bans and challenges due to its LGBTQIA+ content and allegations of sexually explicit material. However, these themes are integral to the story and help convey the complexities and struggles faced by the protagonist.
Centered around the life of Mike Muñoz, a young, gay Mexican-American landscaper, Lawn Boy explores themes of identity, class, and personal growth. As Mike grapples with the challenges of his socio-economic background and his burgeoning understanding of his sexuality, he embarks on a journey to find his purpose and redefine his future. Jonathan Evison’s vibrant storytelling and authentic portrayal of Mike’s experiences make this novel an inspiring and thought-provoking read.
by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is a heart-wrenching exploration of societal standards, racial identity, and the impact of trauma, making it a must-read for those seeking to understand the complexities of human experience. Regrettably, this groundbreaking novel by Toni Morrison has faced bans and challenges due to the depiction of child sexual abuse and sexually explicit content, both of which are necessary to portray the reality faced by the characters accurately.
Set in 1941, the story follows Pecola Breedlove, a young African American girl who yearns for the beauty and acceptance she believes is found in blue eyes. Through her journey, Morrison exposes the damaging effects of internalized racism and self-hatred and the tragic consequences of abuse and neglect.
As you immerse yourself in this powerful narrative, you’ll be confronted with the stark truths that lie beneath the surface of our society, offering a profound understanding of the factors that shape our lives. The Bluest Eye is a testament to Morrison’s exceptional storytelling and a crucial reminder of the importance of compassion and empathy in a world that can often seem harsh and unforgiving.
by Mark Haddon Reasons
Step into a touching and insightful novel that offers readers a rare glimpse into a unique perspective on life. While this extraordinary story has faced challenges and bans due to language, religious viewpoint, and alleged unsuitability for specific age groups, as well as for “profanity and atheism,” it remains an essential and illuminating exploration of the human experience.
Told through the eyes of 15-year-old Christopher, a boy with autism spectrum disorder, the story unravels the mystery surrounding the death of his neighbor’s dog. As Christopher embarks on this journey, he presents a fresh and compelling outlook on the world, capturing the obstacles and victories of living with a distinctive cognitive perspective. Haddon’s heartwarming and powerful narrative invites readers to embrace the beauty of diversity and the significance of empathy in our complex web of human connections.
by John Green Reasons
Looking for Alaska offers readers a touching and emotionally resonant exploration of love, loss, and the journey to self-discovery, making it an excellent read for those seeking to connect with the many facets of the adolescent experience. Regrettably, this novel has faced challenges due to a sexually explicit scene, with some critics claiming it may lead students to “sexual experimentation.”
Set in the halls of an Alabama boarding school, the novel follows the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter, a young man searching for a greater sense of purpose. When he meets the enigmatic and captivating Alaska Young, his world is turned upside down as they embark on a whirlwind adventure of friendship, love, and self-discovery. Throughout the story, Green masterfully delves into the complexities of the teenage experience, exploring themes of identity, belonging, and the power of human connection.
by Ashley Hope Pérez
Out of Darkness is a heartrending tale exploring love, race, and violence during a dark period in American history. Though it has faced bans and restrictions due to depictions of abuse and sexually explicit content, these elements are essential to convey the realities of the character’s lives and the brutality of the era.
Set against the 1937 New London school explosion in Texas, Ashley Hope Pérez’s novel follows Naomi, a Mexican-American girl, and Wash, a Black boy, whose love transcends societal boundaries in a segregated world. Pérez addresses race, class, and love in a time of deep-rooted prejudice, challenging readers to examine their understanding of these issues.
As you journey through Out of Darkness, you’ll be moved by the resilience and strength of the characters as they face insurmountable obstacles in their search for love and acceptance. Embrace the opportunity to explore the transformative power of love and the enduring human spirit that transcends even the darkest of times.
by Susan Kuklin
Beyond Magenta is a thought-provoking and inspiring exploration of the diverse experiences of transgender and gender-nonconforming teens, shining a light on the strength and courage it takes to live authentically. Regrettably, this important work by Susan Kuklin has faced bans and challenges due to LGBTQIA+ content and its perceived sexually-explicit nature. Beyond Magenta is a crucial resource for fostering understanding, empathy, and support for the transgender community.
Through a series of deeply personal interviews and stunning photographs, Kuklin captures the stories of six transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals as they navigate the challenges of self-discovery, acceptance, and transition. These intimate accounts offer readers a unique window into the lives of those who courageously defy societal expectations to embrace their true selves. As you delve into the pages of Beyond Magenta, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for these remarkable individuals’ resilience, determination, and humanity.
by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park is a heartwarming and unforgettable love story that captures the beauty of first love and the power of human connection. Despite its universal appeal, this charming novel by Rainbow Rowell has faced challenges due to the use of offensive language. However, the authentic depiction of teenage experiences and emotions shines through, making it an essential read for those seeking a genuine and emotionally resonant narrative.
Set over one school year in the 1980s, Eleanor & Park follows the lives of two misfit teenagers from different backgrounds who find solace and understanding in each other. As their relationship blossoms, they navigate the ups and downs of young love, family dynamics, and the challenges of adolescence.
Rowell’s masterful storytelling captures the vulnerability, uncertainty, and tenderness of navigating the complex landscape of teenage life. As you delve into the pages of Eleanor & Park, you’ll be transported back to those tender moments of first love, the strength found in genuine connections, and the resilience of the human spirit.
by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner, a sweeping tale of friendship, betrayal, and redemption, has faced bans and challenges due to the inclusion of homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoints, and sexually explicit content. Despite these controversies, “The Kite Runner” is an undeniably powerful story that offers valuable insights into the human spirit, the complexities of relationships, and the lasting impact of our actions.
Set against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s turbulent history, the novel follows the lives of two young boys, Amir and Hassan, who share an unbreakable bond despite their vastly different social backgrounds. As they grow older, their friendship is tested by the brutal realities of war, cultural divides, and personal guilt.
Through their compelling story, Hosseini reveals the lengths we may go to to find redemption and the power of forgiveness in the face of heartbreak and loss. As you delve into this captivating narrative, you’ll immerse yourself in a world of rich cultural heritage, exploring universal themes of love, loyalty, and sacrifice.
by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a breathtaking and transformative novel that delves into the depths of love, pain, and the human spirit, serving as a testament to the power of resilience and redemption. However, this stunning work by Alice Walker has faced challenges and bans due to offensive language, sexually explicit content, and claims of being unsuited to its age group. It remains an essential read that offers profound insights into the complexities of life, love, and the strength of the human heart.
Set in rural Georgia during the early 20th century, the story revolves around the lives of two African American sisters, Celie and Nettie. Separated by time and distance, the sisters endure unimaginable hardships, including abuse, racial prejudice, and the struggle for self-discovery.
Told through a series of letters between the sisters, the novel beautifully captures the transformative power of love and forgiveness, revealing the resilience and courage that can be found even in the darkest times. As you journey through this poignant tale, you’ll be moved by the characters’ indomitable spirits and inspired by their unwavering determination to overcome adversity.