Banned and burned: Restricted books throughout history
Throughout the course of literary history, plenty of novels have been challenged, banned, and ejected from curriculums due to their mature content, intense themes, or presumed intentions. Whether they were accused of promoting sexuality, glorifying violence, or encouraging Satanism, these novels have all found their way to the top of the most disputed books lists. Fortunately, while these all have been historically antagonized, they’re all available for you to pick up on our site. Who can resist the chance to read a banned book? These are few books with wild reputations that have been historically banned in the U.S.
‘Animal Farm’ (1945)//George Orwell
It’s no major surprise that George Orwell’s highly satirical and politically-rooted ‘Animal Farm’ has made it onto a plethora of banned book lists. The novel, which tells of farm animals revolting against their farmer to create a more equal and happy society for themselves, was written as a critique of blind totalitarianism. It also mirrors the events leading up to Soviet Russia and the Stalinist era, directly criticizing Stalin and the severity of the dictatorship within the Soviet Union. Although this book has clearly gone on to great success (and is now studied in numerous classrooms in the U.S.), it met a great deal of criticism upon its release. It was banned entirely from the U.S.S.R., along with plenty of pushback from British and U.S. publishers and classrooms. At one point, The New York State English Council's Committee on Defenses Against Censorship indicated that the book might be problematic in a classroom setting, citing, “Orwell was a communist.” To this day, it is still banned by the United Arab Emirates for its depictions of pigs, alcohol, and other content that conflicts with Islamic values.
Get your hands on a copy of ‘Animal Farm,’ here.
‘The Hunger Games’ (2008)//Suzanne Collins
This dystopian novel series has faced some serious heat in classrooms and libraries. In ‘The Hunger Games,’ Katniss Everdeen volunteers “as tribute” in place of her younger sister to compete in a publicized arena competition to the death. All of the books in the series, including ‘Catching Fire’ (2009) and ‘Mockingjay’ (2010), have found their way to the top of the most challenged books lists. Worldwide, the Mockingjay has previously become a symbol of resistance movements, earning the novel series notoriety (good and bad) on an international scale. In the U.S., the novels have come under fire for numerous reasons. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the violence. After all, the whole series, as incredible as it is, centers around a massive death tournament and a violent uprising against a tyrannical government. However, some of the other claims against the book seem to come from way out of the ballpark. Some have tried to argue that the book is occultist, Satanic, and sacrilegious, despite the fact that religion is never mentioned in the novel. Others have claimed that it is “anti-family,” which, while vague, is a bit tough to prove. Katniss may not be the closest to her struggling mother, yet she quite literally sacrifices her freedom for her sister’s safety, which is about as pro-family as you can get. Either way, any complaints didn’t stop the series from climbing up the bestseller charts and becoming the most popular sci-fi series of the 2000s.
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (1999)//Stephen Chbosky
This emotional coming-of-age novel is, perhaps, one of the most popular young-adult books of the 21st-century. Still, like ‘The Hunger Games,’ it’s popularity is not enough to keep it off the banned books list. The novel follows Charlie, a higher schooler with PTSD, as he navigates his freshman year with an eccentric pack of senior friends who are all experiencing their own fears, traumas, and dreams. Back in 2009, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ was at the very top of the list of banned and challenged books. Many people who criticized the book had an issue with the fact that it was classified as “Young Adult” despite the fact that the book includes sex, masturbation, drugs, alcohol, suicide, and more. While many young people are exposed to these topics outside of the bookish world, the novel still met immense criticism in numerous school districts. English teachers who have tried to incorporate the book into their classroom curriculum have experienced backlash from parents, and some schools have even required parental permission slips to check the novel out of the library. The novel has helped plenty of “wallflowers” feel visible, but it still draws parental criticism to this day.
‘Persepolis’ (2000)//Marjane Satrapi
This powerful memoir from Marjane Satrapi examines the toll of experiencing one’s childhood through the conflicts of the Iranian Revolution. In the graphic novel, Satrapi details her upbringing in Tehran through black-and-white comic panels, examining her life (and the lives of her Marxist parents) from ages six to fourteen. The intense and poignant book illuminates the dangers of political repression. In certain sections, it highlights direct violence against Iranian dissidents, including public whippings and other forms of torture. These panels are slim in the overall narrative, yet they were commanding enough to get the Chicago Public School District to pull the books out of classrooms for an investigation of its content. By 2013, ‘Persepolis’ was at the top of the most challenged and banned books in the U.S. However, students who wanted access to the book argued that much of the imagery was no more violent than that which they were shown surrounding other wars, genocides, and revolutions. Proponents of the book have also had to square off with Islamaphobic people, some of whom have attempted to get the book banned from K-12 schools due to the novel’s authorship and its focus on Islamic life. Fortunately, despite it’s frequently challenged status, it’s received literary awards and acclaim tenfold to its criticisms.
Grab your own copy of the poignant ‘Persepolis,’ here.
‘Captain Underpants’ (1997)//Dav Pilkey
How did this goofball children’s series end up on the banned books list? This beginner book series has been challenged time and time again, despite the seemingly innocent nature of its premise. In the ‘Captain Underpants’ novel series, two Elementary-aged boys see their shared cartoon come to life in the form of an underpants-wearing superhero called Captain Underpants. Like any good superhero, he has his own catchphrases, fights bad guys, and saves the day (almost) every time. These silly novels are as clever as they are flippant, but not every parent is a fan of introducing their kids to reading through these funny books. School districts in several states have attempted to ban the series, citing wild behavior from their students to the material in the novels. Other schools have tried to eject the book from their libraries due to the hero-versus-villain fight scenes and the questionable language (potty-talk isn’t everyone’s cup of tea). Fortunately, the challenges to the book’s content seem not to have deterred creator Dav Pilkey from continuing to add books to the series, which currently has 14 books. It’s hard to imagine too much trouble would come from letting your kids read this series...though they might try to hypnotize their principal.
Get any of Pilkey’s hilarious ‘Captain Underpants’ books, here.
‘Looking for Alaska’ (2005)//John Green
John Green has solidified himself as a YA favorite author across the board. His most popular novel, ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ has been taught in classrooms across the country and been consumed by millions of teenagers and adults worldwide. However, another one of his famous novels, ‘Looking for Alaska’ (which scored its own television series this year), has not always had the same luck. The book follows a young man named Miles Halter who goes away to boarding school in search of adventure and finds himself crossing paths with a fascinating and troubled girl named Alaska who changes the course of his life. While the book has a huge readership, it has also been challenged frequently, becoming one of the most challenged novels of 2012 and 2013. In 2015, it was the number one top challenged novel in the country. What made this book so controversial? Sex, drugs, alcohol, and language. The young adult book came under fire for allegedly exposing teenagers to sexual behavior that could influence them in their own sexuality, as well as glorifying drinking and drug use.
John Green pushed back against the controversy, saying that teenagers are smart and independent thinkers who can determine their own capacity for sexual encounters without his book pushing them into uncomfortable situations.
In a YouTube video, Green said, “Text is meaningless without context. What usually happens with ‘Looking for Alaska’ is that a parent chooses one page of the novel to send to an administrator and then the book gets banned without anyone who objects to it having read more than that one particular page...If you have a worldview that can be undone with a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.”
Grab your copy of the striking ‘Looking for Alaska,’ here.