The 10 Most Frequently Banned Books and Why You Should Read Them

The 10 Most Frequently Banned Books and Why You Should Read Them

This country has a very controversial history of banning books. We ban classics, we ban new releases and last week, the American Library Association released a list of 2013's most frequently challenged titles

A book is considered "banned" when it's removed from a school or library, usually under the guise of protecting that institution's young people from being exposed to challenging or difficult topics and ideas. The counter-argument to banning books, of course, is that any form of censorship is harmful, and that perhaps this even steps on the toes of the First Amendment.

Looking at the list of 2013's most frequently banned books across the country, some trends emerge. First, 7 of the 10 books target young readers. And second, material considered "sexually explicit," containing "offensive language" or being "unsuited for any age group" are the types of books most likely to be banned. 

A look at last year's 10 most frequently banned books, as recorded by the American Library Association, highlights some interesting truths about what many Americans do and don't want their children reading. For the record, we disagree with this list. Not only should banning books go the way of the dodo, but most of the books on this list highlight important narratives that readers should have access to, especially young readers.

Here are the 10 most wrongfully (and frequently) banned books of 2013. 

1. 'Captain Underpants' (series) by Dav Pilkey


Image Credit: Scholastic 

The premise: A novel series about two fourth-graders who draw comics and what happens when one of their characters, Captain Underpants, comes to life. 

Why it's frequently banned: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence.

Why it's worth reading: The series offers some great insights on when and how to disobey authority — which is honestly one of the most important things to learn when growing up. It also is a series all about imagination, which should always be celebrated. We have a feeling the word "underpants" turns off some squeamish critics. 

2. 'The Bluest Eye' by Toni Morrison


Image Credit: Wikipedia 

The premise: A young African-American girl — surrounded by a sea of blond, blue-eyed young girls in Ohio — develops a massive inferiority complex because of her eye and skin color.

Why it's frequently banned: Offensive language, sexually explicit (it deals with child molestation), unsuited to age group, violence.

Why it's worth reading: Because both sexual abuse and the oppressiveness of white beauty standards against non-white bodies aren't going away unless we talk about them.

3. 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie


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The premise: A YA novel with a first-person narrative from the perspective of a Native-American teenager. The book follows the main character as he leaves the reservation to go to an all-white public high school. 

Why it's frequently banned: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Why it's worth reading: If the important, and under-represented, Native American YA perspective weren't enough, all the topics allegedly above the high schoolers' age group are actually what teenagers are really thinking about. So why shouldn't they read about it too? 

4. 'Fifty Shades of Grey' by E.L. James



Image Credit: VikiSecrets

The premise: An erotic romance novel about the relationship between a college girl and a businessman. 

Why it's frequently banned: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Why it's worth reading: Arguably you shouldn't, but only because the kink community will tell you it promotes a deeply unhealthy, abusive and non-representative vision of BDSM. Click over to some good fanfic that playfully and persuasively deconstructs the book's issues instead.

5. 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins



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The premise: In a dystopian future, children and teenagers are sent to fight to the death in a reality-style competition called The Hunger Games

Why it's frequently banned: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group.

Why it's worth reading: Because it's as pointed a critique of violence, celebrity culture and objectification as you'll ever read, and it shows readers that there's nothing glorious about any of it.

6. 'A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl' by Tanya Lee Stone


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The premise: A poetry-style novel about three high school girls who fall for the same boy. 

Why it's frequently banned: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit.

Why it's worth reading: Teenage desire doesn't vanish because you say it should, and talking kids through those feelings is a lot more productive than shaming them for it.

7. 'Looking for Alaska' by John Green



Image Credit: Amazon 

The premise: A high schooler who doesn't fit in leaves home for boarding school where he meets a girl who changes his life. 

Why it's frequently banned: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Why it's worth reading: "Some people say, 'You wrote a dirty, dirty book.' But there are very old-fashioned values and even a lot of religion in it," said Green. "There are some adults who think that the only kind of ethics that matter are sexual ethics. So they miss everything else that is going on in the book."

8. 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky


Image Credit: Amazon 

The premise: The book follows the shy, unpopular Charlie through his first year of high school as a wallflower. 

Why it's frequently banned: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Why it's worth reading: Following a sympathetic protagonist who not only needs mental health support but who seeks it out is the right way to normalize the idea that not everyone is fighting the same battles. 

9. 'Bless Me, Ultima' by Rudolfo Anaya


Image Credit: Amazon 

The premise: A look at Chicano culture, the book follows the protagonist's coming-of-age under the guidance of his mentor, Ultima. 

Why it's frequently banned: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.

Why it's worth reading: Not only is it the best-selling Chicano novel of all time, but it won the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol literary award in 1972.

10. 'Bone' (series) by Jeff Smith


Image Credit: Amazon 

The premise: A comic book hero's journey about the three bone cousins tasked with saving their world. 

Why it's frequently banned: Political viewpoint, racism, violence.

Why it's worth reading: Ten Eisner Awards and 11 Harvey Awards. The comics industry doesn't give those out for peanuts.