5 Challenged/Banned Books You Should Read
by Treehouse Editors
On the American Library Association’s website, as part of the introduction to the Banned Books Week content, there is a quote from Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.’s decision in the landmark Texas v. Johnson case upholding freedom of expression. In lieu of my own introduction, I’m going to repeat that excerpt for you here:
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. If we are to continue to protect our First Amendment, we would do well to keep in mind these words of Noam Chomsky: If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
And for all that, the challenging and banning of books is a practice alive and well today.
1. The Giver – Lois Lowry
I know what you’re thinking: “Why the hell is The Giver on the banned books list?” It’s either that or, “Isn’t there something about colors in that book?” The answer to the first question is that some parents considered the content of the book “lewd” and “twisted,” speaking specifically about the lethal injection of non-functioning members of society and one girl’s suicide, among other things. (The answer to the second question is yes, there is something about colors in this book. For more information, read The Giver.) Until a few days ago, I hadn’t read this book since 7th grade and all I remembered about it was the color thing, that I loved it, and that it inspired the first complete short story I ever wrote. I reread it a couple of days ago and came to several conclusions: I still love it, it doesn’t belong on the banned books list (what book does?), and I’m fairly sure I misinterpreted the ending fifteen years ago. The story is full of hope, and if you’re reading it at age twelve, it ends on a hopeful note. If you’re reading it as an adult, you might read a more glass-half-empty kind of ending – of course, if you’re a glass-half-empty kid, you might pick up on that the first time around.
2. The Awakening – Kate Chopin
People have been trying to get rid of The Awakening since it was published, probably because of something along the lines of “keeping women in their place.” My favorite attempt was a few years ago by a school board member in Arlington Heights, Illinois. She tried to ban this and eight other books based off excerpts she read on the Internet. Nothing like not actually reading the book to bolster your credibility. Well, I’m a sucker for a story about a bold female protagonist challenging the conventions of her time. Tell me that there are people who don’t want anyone reading this book, and you’ve guaranteed I’ll pick it up. Edna is a uniquely complex female character, especially for the time period in which the story was published, and I quickly became invested in the story of her struggle to reconcile her feelings and desires with the need to meet her society’s expectations of social custom and propriety. Sure, she abandoned her family and that’s kind of a shitty move, but the girl was in love, y’all. Also, feminism!
3. The Hunger Games (series) – Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games made the top ten list two years in a row, hitting three of the most cited reasons for challenging books: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence. One mother tried to have it banned from her eleven-year-old daughter’s school because it gave the kid nightmares. (Maybe don’t let your eleven-year-old read a book about a death match?) In addition to being a gripping read, The Hunger Games illustrates just how influential one person, one dissenting action, can be on an oppressed population. The series shows all aspects of revolution, that it consists of triumphs and failures and is never without great costs and consequences. And Collins does this with a heroine who is flawed, conflicted, and complicated – Katniss is not a perfect savior-figure impervious to doubt or mistakes. This makes her easier to identify with and root for, and her struggle seems that much more real, even if it’s set in a fantasy world.
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Haddon’s story of a teenage boy investigating the death of his neighbor’s poodle made the banned books list twice. A challenge in Galveston, TX said it could “pollute young minds,” while a school in Michigan removed it from their reading list because of “foul language.” The story is told from the first-person point of view of Christopher, who exhibits several characteristics similar to those of people on the Autism Spectrum though the book never states explicitly that Christopher is diagnosed with Autism. What is true about Christopher is his incredibly unique way of seeing and understanding the world around him. It gives insight into a different way of thinking, and it also happens to be a pretty intriguing murder mystery.
5. His Dark Materials (series) – Philip Pullman
Anyone paying attention when the movie adaptation of the first book in the trilogy, The Golden Compass, was released should be familiar with the objections that the books are anti-God, anti-religion, and anti-Catholic. The series has been on the banned books list for years, hitting the top ten list two years in a row. My favorite resolution to the issues of religion in the book comes from a publicly-funded Catholic school district in Ontario, Canada. They decided not to ban the book, but stocked it with a sticker on the inside cover which read: “Representations of the Church are purely fictional and are not reflective of the real Roman Catholic Church or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Apparently shelving the book in the fiction section didn’t accurately deliver that message. This series is among my all-time favorite works of fiction, if not the top of the list. Though religion plays a major role in the plot of His Dark Materials – like magic does, for example, in Harry Potter – it is not the theme of the books. At once heartbreaking and triumphant, His Dark Materials is a richly detailed story of friendship and loyalty, truth and deceit, love and honor, destiny and growing up, backdropped against a true war of the worlds. Equally devastating and uplifting, this story will seep into your skin and graft itself to your bones.