Upwards of 11,000 books have been challenged in American libraries and schools since Banned Books Week was born in the last week of September back in 1982. We wanted to draw some attention to books that have been censored over the years, so we got in touch with Sarah Murphy, a school librarian and co-founder (with Maria Falgoust) of The Desk Set, a “social and philanthropic group for librarians and bibliophiles.” Sarah writes, “Those who attempt to ban books are probably afraid of whatever is inside. So, what are they most afraid of? Judging from the dangers cited this year, it’s sex.” She continues, “If you read about sex, you might get the idea to have some. Or think that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You might start to believe that you’re not the only person in the world to like it, hate it, want it, or be confused by it. Let’s celebrate our freedom to read by checking out the books that got the would-be book banners’ totally chaste knickers in a knot. Here are ten suggested titles; some are new to the list, others have been challenged for decades. All have been accused of being too darn hot.” So read on, dear readers, and let us know what racy books you hid from your parents and teachers when you were young and precocious.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This book was called “soft-pornography” last year, and ruffled a lot of parents’ feathers because, as Sarah writes, “it’s a beautiful and thoughtful book about a young girl’s rape.” The snarky young protagonist says, “If I were an After-School Special, I would speak in front of an auditorium of my peers on How Not to Lose Your Virginity. Or, Why Seniors Should Be Locked Up. Or, My Summer Vacation: A Drunken Party, Lies, and Rape.” An important read for any girl on the cusp of adolescence.
Forever by Judy Blume
Judy Blume — how would we have survived the ’90s without you? We honestly don’t have an answer to that question. Sarah writes, “Teenage girls have sexual desires? Oh, no!” She explained that this is the “#7 most frequently challenged book from 1990 – 1999, slipping to #16 in the following decade.” Though you may have been upstaged by all the young upstarts, we still have your back, JB.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Sarah writes that this was “challenged in 2011 for teenage sex, homosexuality, and bestiality.” She continues, “I must confess I don’t remember the sex with animals part, but the way teenage sexuality is treated is quite touching and brilliantly funny.” We agree, and can’t wait for the film adaptation, which stars Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, to hit theaters.
The Goats by Brock Cole
A boy and girl are stripped of clothes and belongings by their peers at camp and delivered to a small, isolated island, where the tradition goes that they are then supposed to find their way back. Except the kids decide not to return. (We don’t blame them.) Sarah writes that this is “the 26th most frequently challenged book of the ’90s” and is “a very honest and surprisingly good look at two outcasts.”
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Jerry Renault, a student at Trinity High School, waxes philosophical and learns to challenge the mob rule at his terrible Catholic school, where he resists selling chocolate to the masses to benefit the system that enslaves him. Sarah writes, “Its sexual content knocked Harry Potter off the top of the list in 2004 and is frequently challenged by parents.”
Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Sarah writes that this book was “astonishingly challenged in 2011 for sexual material and homosexual themes.” We’re going to bank on the fact that any book with an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt isn’t going to be depraved, especially one written by a young girl hiding in an attic trying not to die in the Holocaust. However, it is true that Frank does write openly about her desires in her diary, because it’s HER DIARY. In one section she writes, “I’ve told you more about myself and my feelings than I’ve ever told a living soul, so why shouldn’t that include sex?” Why not indeed.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Sarah writes that Toni Morrison’s 1977 award-winning novel was “challenged in 2010 — and nearly every other year it made ended up on a syllabus — for sexual content.” Morrison expertly writes about four generations in the life of a black family on Not Doctor Street. There’s incest, betrayal, and a whole lot of secrecy, which we think always makes for a good novel. Oh, and flying. Beautiful scenes of flying. Just read this book if you haven’t already — it’s the perfect week for it.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Sarah writes that Nabokov’s pervy cri de cœur was “banned and challenged since the moment it was published.” In the novel, Humbert Humbert defends himself by saying, “We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eared gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet.” Okay, we understand why parents are concerned about this one, but if we can’t explore dark themes in fiction, than what’s the point of writing anyway?
Push by Sapphire
This book was challenged this year, and probably will be again, for language, sex, and violence. Claireece Precious Jones is an overweight, illiterate 16-year-old who is street savvy but not yet school smart. She’s also pregnant with her father’s second child — and her mother violently resents her for it. So…there’s a lot here. In the novel, Precious explains, “Some people tell a story ‘n it don’t make no sense or be true. But I’m gonna try to make sense and tell the truth, else what’s the fucking use? Ain’ enough lies and shit out there already?”
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut wrote this sci-fi masterpiece after experiencing firsthand the bombing of Dresden during World War II, and it has been a contested staple in libraries and schools throughout the country since its first printing in the late 1960s. It was even banned from a school in Missouri last year for profane language and “shocking material.” In the beginning of the novel, Vonnegut writes, “All of this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway,” and we believe him. But if you want to find out more about who exactly wants to do all this banning, read this smug cretin’s take on the novel here.