It’s Banned Book Week, one of my favourite international literary celebrations! Over the course of one week, from 25 September to 1 October, a community of readers comes together to support the freedom to express ideas, especially those that are considered nontraditional and upsetting to the status quo.
Websites like bannedbooksweek.org seek to educate people over the issues of book censorship and advocate for the freedom of reading and ideas. They frequently post on current issues regarding censorship and study the reasons and effects of banned books. Did you know that the majority of banned books are excessively by diverse authors? Banned Books Week seeks to find an answer to this question and more. Check it out here!
I firmly am against book censorship, no matter what the content, and I was startled to discover how many YA books have also been banned/challenged (and the ridiculous reasons why). Here is a collection of 8 popular YA books that have, at one time or another, been banned/challenged and why.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I’m sure no one is surprised to see the Harry Potter series as the first on this list. It was banned due to its depiction of witchcraft and excessive violence. Head Teacher Carol Rockwood of St. Mary’s Island Church of England school explained that, “The Bible is very clear and consistent in its teachings that wizards, devils and demons exist and are very real, powerful and dangerous and God’s people are told to have nothing to do with them … I believe it is confusing to children when something wicked is being made to look fun.” You know, because children are incapable of understanding when something is clearly made-up.
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
I was surprised to see His Dark Materials on a banned book list, but the last time I read this series was many years ago as a child, so I can’t even remember what it was about! It was banned because it attacks Christianity and the Catholic Church. Not surprising, given that the author himself has given many interviews expressing his problems with the establishment. Although, Pullman has stated he has no problems with god or religion, but rather the people and organisations that act in its name.
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Like Harry Potter, I’m sure no one is surprised The Hunger Games is considered a banned book, but the why certainly surprised me. The Hunger Games trilogy was supposedly banned because it is anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive, contains offensive language, depicts occult/satanic themes and violence, promotes different religious viewpoints and is unsuitable for the recommended age group. It seems to me that the issues surrounding this novel is children breaking from the status quo and thinking for themselves. God forbid children should have their own minds!
Looking for Alaska by John Green
I don’t think anyone was as surprised and as angry at Looking for Alaska being banned as the author himself. Watch John Green talk about it here. This book was banned from school curriculum due to offensive language and sexually explicit descriptions. John Green is one of those authors who just gets teenagers, and to see one of his novels banned is truly upsetting. In the past, Green has also been accused of making his teenage characters “too smart”; I assume these same people are the ones who probably had an issue with Looking for Alaska.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
This book has not been officially banned (although I’m sure some schools have), but it is frequently challenged almost every year since its publication by parents for schools and libraries. This is tricky case, as the conservatives claim the reason they want it banned is due to the explicit language, but it is obvious this is not the case: they want it banned due to the LGBTIQ+ issues and the gay protagonists. Some parents even claim that the book doesn’t appeal to a wide range of audiences, but last time I checked, gay people exist, so that reasoning is easily debunked.
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
When I found out this book was banned, I started laughing hysterically. Georgia Nicholson is like a young Bridget Jones – she is hilarious. Apparently, the novel’s “frank discussion of boys, and references to lesbianism, pornography and erections” is why many US schools have banned Angus. This is just ridiculous: the sexual descriptions are practically non-existent, there is no swearing, and no characters engage in sexual activity, drinking, or drugs. The most they do is kiss, but, seeing as that’s all Two Boys Kissing focuses on too, it really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Angus is banned.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
When Rainbow Rowell found out her novel was challenged, she wrote on her blog, “When these people call Eleanor & Park an obscene story, I feel like they’re saying that rising above your situation isn’t possible. That if you grow up in an ugly situation, your story isn’t even fit for good people’s ears. That ugly things cancel out everything beautiful.” I can’t help but agree. The book has been challenged due to offensive language and profanity. One parent even went through the book and “counted 227 offending words, including 67 Gods, 24 Jesuses and 4 Christs” according to the 13-page report they filed. I think this is a classic example of people not reading the context of the novel to understand why the language was included in the first place. Trying to prevent your children from reading curse words is just plain silly. I’m sure they hear it, and much worse, at school.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This famous poignant coming-of-age was banned from a high school’s curriculum after a parent complained about the content which includes drinking and drug use, sex, rape, depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s disappointing that the novels that help teens the most are the ones that are so often banned. As Chbosky said, “I would think for parents, with the way that society is now, that they would prefer some of these issues to be discussed in a much more structured setting, as opposed to keeping them in the dark. The more you talk about it, the more you take away its power and its mystery, and people can make much more informed and mature decisions about these things.” So true. Having mature conversations about difficult issues like sex and drugs can assist teens who have no one else to turn to make the right decisions.
This is why books should not be banned. No matter the content, there is always a lesson to be gleaned from the story – and in YA books, those lessons have a significant and direct correlation to teenagers’ lives.
Show your support for banned books this week too!