We can think of no better way to celebrate Banned Books Week than to share with you our faves. What are your favorite banned or challenged books? If you don’t have one, check out this list. You might enjoy some of these titles. In the meantime, take a look at our picks.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Barbara Sirois Doyle: On some level, I understand the trepidation about this marvelous miracle of a book. It is a story of recovery from abuse—begins with scenes of a terrified and defeated girl who is impregnated by the man she believes is her father—and it is not one I would want my sons to pick up without being able to discuss the huge issues it covers, including racism, child abuse, domestic violence, falling in love with an unlikely candidate, moving through emotional and physical pain, and deep spiritual questioning. But oh, that prose. That beautiful story. Those poignant, earnest, quotable sentences. As the narrator discovers who she is and what she wants, Celie experiences many things I never did and never will. I am not black. Not poor. Not trapped in a horrible marriage or silenced by society. Still, this story feels like my story. Like everyone’s story. Anyone who knows me would understand why I would respond to the tale of two sisters who are soulmates, why I would connect to a story about a woman who manages to find peace after abuse in her childhood, and why I would adore reading about two women friends who lovingly teach each other about what it means to be both spiritual and human. The truth is, there is just so much reminding the reader that, despite everything difficult that we go through, we are lucky to be alive in this great and wondrous world. People reduce it to a book of horror and pain when really? This is the story of Celie’s journey toward beauty and peace. That, in my eyes, should make it required reading.
Looking For Alaska by John Green
Shandle Blaha: Banned books are the best books and Looking For Alaska, in my opinion, is John Green’s best book. Looking For Alaska was my introduction into the genius that is John Green, his crafting of characters that are so imperfectly perfect, you can’t help but find them relatable. You all can keep your Hazel and Augustus and I’ll take Miles “Pudge” Hood and Alaska Young. Alaska is so beautifully broken you can’t help but love her ,and you have to root for Miles, whose self-deprecating humor and wit make you wish for a happily ever after for the pair. I love it for its brutal honesty, humor, and heart. It pushes the reader past their comfort zone into the world of teenaged angst. It’s one of those coming of age stories about love, life, and loss all wrapped up in beautiful language and famous last words. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it inspired me to go after my own “the Great Perhaps.” It was banned for Green’s honest portrayal of teenagers acting like they are invincible and his depiction of their reckless behavior of drinking, drugs, and sex.
The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Amy McElroy: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn transports readers of all ages back to a time of atrocious injustices in United States history that should never be forgotten. Banning such novels presumes readers do not have the intelligence to draw their own ethical conclusions or place books in their contextual history. It’s the story of one boy’s courage to illuminate the mistakes of an entire culture. The author, Mark Twain, consciously juxtaposed racial tensions—including common racial slurs of the time—against the deep bond between a boy and a beloved slave to demonstrate the injustice of slavery.
The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
Emily Parker: I have always suspected that The Catcher in the Rye is a novel which resounds most heartily when one reads it at the same age as the main character, Holden Caulfield. At 13 or 14 years old, I felt like Holden and I were kindred spirits; railing against the adult world as much as we desperately wanted to be a part of it. Salinger perfectly captures the precipice between childhood and adulthood; that period where you are deeply suspicious of adults and their inherent phoniness, and also resentful that none of them will treat you like one. I read it thinking “Nobody understands me either, Holden!” I wanted to be his girlfriend, and envisioned us dropping out of school and adventuring in New York City together, having the deepest, most fantastic conversations. Surprisingly, this book holds up when you re-read it years later. Not in the sense that you relate directly to Holden, but he’s such an endearing, true-to-life character that you want to hug him, and tell him that adults feel about the same way about the world as he does; that he’s not the only one that sees things for what they are. Simultaneously, you wonder when you stopped being so angry and cynical about the ways of the world and started accepting them. Holden has so much maturity and self-awareness that it makes him a character for the ages. The Catcher in the Rye perfectly captures the bittersweet beauty of growing up.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wendie Burbridge: A few weeks ago I visited the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, the only museum in the world devoted to the icons of the Roaring 20’s. When I met the curator, who asked what brought me to “Scott and Zelda’s house,” I shrilled like a middle school girl meeting her first celebrity, “I love “Gatsby”— it changed my life!”
He was gracious enough not to laugh.
Yet, it really is true. When my 11th grade American Literature teacher, Gary Obrecht, put that book into my hands, with Francis Cugat’s famous cover art ogling me— the image of naughty sad eyes, red lips, and its lone tear— promised more than I could imagine. I don’t know how long it took me to read it the first time, but I immersed myself into the story and fell in love with the characters before I even knew what love even meant. I certainly had no clue about pain— that would come much later.
Still, I fell in love with how Fitzgerald used words. I marveled over his beautiful and haunting sentences. How he could take such mundane words and turn each page into a painting of a time I had never seen before, made me eager to try it myself. The story stabbed me, killing me with desire and love, hurt and betrayal, yet Fitzgerald’s words and his brilliant use of the dash— brought me back to life.
I wrote my first novel in 12th grade, a horrible tale about Fancy and Angel, set in a Speakeasy in New York, young lovers separated by gangsters and newspaper men and money. There was a lot of bathtub gin, gun fights, and bad poetry. And a whole lotta dashes. But I wrote a book. And my love of words and writing was set ablaze.
If the book had been banned at my school, I know Mr. Obrecht still would have put it into my hands. He loves the novel too. He taught me to love books on a deeper level than just being a mere reader. And Fitzgerald taught me about how to use words to create beauty. I think if Fitzgerald would have known his book would one day be banned by schools and states, he would have been thrilled. He would have loved the fact that to read his words was somehow illegal and forbidden. He might have even thrown a party to celebrate his criminal literary status. A little party never killed nobody. And neither has The Great Gatsby. Banned or not.
Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
Nanea Hoffman: I was stunned to discover that Junie B. Jones was on the list of challenged books. My daughter was given her first set of Junie B. Jones books by my best friend, who had read them with her daughter and loved them. She knew they were perfect for my Samantha because they shared, shall we say, certain personality traits. Thus, in true Junie B. fashion, my kid refused to read them for a year. She picks the books. You don’t pick them for her. Then one day, she started reading one and fell totally in love. She devoured every Junie B. book she could get her hands on. These were the very first chapter books my daughter loved. “They don’t even have very many pictures or ANYTHING. They’re mostly words, Mommy! And I still like ’em!” We loved the spunky heroine who was often in trouble for saying things that everyone who’s ever been a child has thought or felt at one time or another. My girl identified with her in all the best ways. In fact, when I tell Samantha that Junie B. made the list of books that some grown ups think should not be read, she’ll probably want to reread the whole series. Here she is below dressed as Junie B. for Halloween a couple of years ago. I couldn’t have been more proud.