Banned or Challenged Books

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice. 

The following list is compiled of books challenged, restricted, removed, or banned as reported in the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie


This book tells the story of Junior who leaves his high school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school. Challenged for reasons ranging from offensive language to sexually explicit scenes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was banned in the high schools of the Meridian district in Idaho. This ban was met with protests and condemnation from students, staff, and national organizations. Learn more here and find the book in the library catalog.

The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende


Originally published in Spanish and now printed in over 37 different languages, The House of the Spirits details the life of the Trueba family, spanning four generations, and traces the post-colonial social and political upheavals of Chile. A parent at Watauga High School in North Carolina wanted the book removed from the district entirely, claiming its “challenging themes and ideas” are lost among graphic descriptions of violence. This challenge was faced with national opposition, including a defense of the book by the author herself. Isabel Allende's comments can be read here and the book can be found here in Collins Library. 

Bless Me, Ultima – Rodolfo Anaya


This novel reflects the Chicano culture of the 1940s in rural New Mexico. Anaya’s incorporation of Spanish and mystical depiction of the New Mexican landscape gives readers a sense of the influence of indigenous cultural ways that are both authentic and distinct from the mainstream. Due to references of paganism and an alleged magnitude of profanity, Bless Me, Ultima has been challenged and/or banned multiple times over the past few years. In one case, a school superintended authorized parents to dispose of copies by burning them rather than selling them or donating them to another library. Read more about the book and its banning here and check it out from Collins here

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood


Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Margaret Atwood creates a dystopian future in which she explores women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency under a totalitarian Christian theocracy. The book has been challenged for over 10 years now across the United States and is claimed to be "sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt." Read some of the author's comments on her book here and the book here in Collins Library. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky


This coming-of-age novel is written as a series of letters from the main character, Charlie, to an anonymous friend, describing his high school experiences as a wallflower in the wake of the deaths of his aunt and close friend. Charlie is befriended by two high school seniors who help him to open up and "participate" more in life. Perks has been banned and challenged numerous times for its discussion of drugs, alcohol, sex, homosexuality, and abuse, among other mature content and themes. Read about how author Judy Blume even spoke out against an attempt to ban the book in Chicago here and check the book out from Collins here

Invisible Man ­­– Ralph Ellison


First published in 1952, Invisible Man still remains a controversial book, addressing many of the social and intellectual issues facing African-Americans early in the twentieth century, including black nationalism and the relationship between black identity and Marxism. The book was most recently banned, but later reconsidered, by a school in North Carolina. Read more about the ban and the author's original attempts to shape "his novel so it would be more palatable to the masses" here and find the book in our catalog here

The Middle School Survival Guide Arlene Erlbach


The Middle School Survival Guide covers every issue, inside school and out, from the most trivial concerns to the most serious issues that middle school students face today. Arlene Erlbach consulted over 200 kids between fifth and tenth grade in an attempt to provide kids with advice about topics from cracking a locker combination, to dealing with multiple teachers, to sex and dating. The book was removed from the Walnut Street School library in New Jersey because it "provided too much information about sexual issues for middle school students.” Find the book at Collins Library here. 

The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett


This historical novel is set in the middle of the 12th century during the anarchy after King Henry I is left without an heir. It follows the lives of a prior, his builder, and their community, as they seek to build a cathedral as protection during the tumult of their time. The book was selected for Oprah's book club in 2007 but faced recent opposition from parents in Pennsylvania due to its passages of explicit sex. Check the book out from Collins here.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank


Now published in more than sixty different languages, the diary of Anne Frank recalls the two year period she spent hiding from the Nazi's in Amsterdam. A school in Michigan recently attempted to ban the book because of its anatomical descriptions, but the ban was overturned. A letter written in response to the ban “emphasized the power and relatability of Frank’s diary for middle school students.  Frank’s honest writings about her body and the changes she was undergoing during her two-year period of hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam can serve as an excellent resource for students themselves undergoing these changes.” Find the book in the Collins' catalog here.

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman


Neverwhere focuses on the ordinary life of Richard Mayhew, a young business man, that is suddenly altered when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. Richard is transported into a new world existing in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations. The book was temporarily removed from a high school library in New Mexico because of what one parent calls “inappropriate content.” Neil Gaiman himself spoke on the topic of book banning and censorship, saying that "Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading." Read more of Gaiman's comments here and find the book here in Collins Library.

Looking for Alaska John Green


In this wildly-popular young adult novel, a young man Miles Halter, obsessed with famous last words, lives an uneventful life at home until he heads off to Culver Creek boarding school. There, after he meets a girl named Alaska Young, his life is never the same. Despite being a New York Times bestseller and having the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature, the book was challenged in a New Jersey high school because a parent found its sexual content inappropriate. Find the book in Collins here.

The Popularity Papers – Amy Ignatow


This children's book, written in journal form by the two main characters, follows their quest to unlock the secrets of popularity in middle school. One of the girls has two fathers; the other has only a mother. The book was challenged, but kept in two elementary school libraries in Washington. The book is available from Collins Library here. 

I Hunt Killers ­­– Barry Lyga


This novel follows the son of a serial killer who joins the police force in an effort to prove himself unlike his father. With his father already in jail, Jazz is investigating a number of unsolved murders, but holds a secret of his own. The book was challenged in a Kentucky high school on account of being too violent for its target audience. 

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison


This novel shares a year in the life of a young black girl named Pecola who develops an inferiority complex due to her eye color and skin appearance. Set in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest during the years following the Great Depression, the book discusses complex and controversial themes such as racism, incest, and child molestation. The book was most recently challenged in high schools in both Colorado and Ohio. Find The Bluest Eye in Collins here.

Fallen Angels – Walter Dean Myers


Set during the Vietnam war, this novel tells the story of a young man from Harlem, New York, who joins the military because he cannot afford to go to college. The book depicts the harsh reality of the Vietnam war, often including gruesome descriptions of combat and foul language. For these reasons, the book was recently challenged at a middle school in Ohio. Find the book here in Collins Library. 

Intensely Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor


This coming-of-age story deals with friendship, family, love, sex, loyalty, faith, work, and loss. 17-year-old Alice is a bridesmaid at her cousin’s wedding, volunteers at a homeless shelter, visits her boyfriend in his college dorm, and more. The book was challenged but retained in a Missouri middle school because of "very questionable pages" that discussed a safe sex scene.

Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism – Norani Othman ed.


This book shares the challenges that Muslim women face every day. It was banned by the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs in 2008 for being “prejudicial to public order.” The Malaysian High Court overturned the ban on January 25, 2010, and on March 14, 2013, the Federal Court threw out the government’s appeal to reinstate the ban. Read more about the book and its victory for free speech and academia in Malaysia here

And the Earth Did Not Devour Him – Tomas Rivera


Taking place over just one year, this book tells the story of a young Mexican boy who works as a migrant farmer alongside his family in the 1940s. The young boy narrates the story, dealing with family life and tensions, getting an education, and growing up. The book was challenged but retained in a Georgia school because of “a paragraph in the book full of offensive language.” 

I Am Bane – Lucy Rosen 


This book tells the story of the villain Bane and his attempt to take over the New York City Stock Exchange. It was challenged but retained in Illinois despite concerns that the images were too scary for young readers.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell


Set in a poor Omaha neighborhood, Eleanor & Park tells the love story of two outsider teens in the 1980s who find a common bond in music amidst issues such as poverty, abuse, racism, and budding sexuality. The book was challenged, but retained, at a county library in Minnesota, because parents objected to the book’s use of profanity and its treatment of sexuality.

The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality – St. Stephens Community House


Created by a diverse group of teen girls at a community center, The Little Black Book for Girlz uses the collected stories, poetry and artwork from youth, alongside interviews with frontline health experts to get solid facts about the personalities and pressures that young women have to deal with. The book discuses everything from periods to relationships and sex, and even provides helpful resources and contact information on those issues. You can find the book in Collins Library here.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood – Marjane Satrapi


This autobiographical graphic novel tells the story of the childhood of Marjane Satrapi as she grew up during the Islamic revolution in Iran. The book was removed from all Chicago public schools in 2013 due to “graphic illustrations and language” and concerns about “developmental preparedness” and “student readiness.” This banning was met with wide opposition from students who organized a media campaign, eventually overturning the ban. The book can be found in Collins Library here.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl – Tanya Lee Stone


Written in a poetry format,this first novel by Tanya Lee Stone follows the story of three girls who fall for the same bad boy intent on seducing every girl in school. The book explores friendship, reputation, love, and more. It was challenged but retained at a high school library in North Carolina due to what one parent called "pornographic" content. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl is available in Collins Library here

The Color Purple – Alice Walker


Set in the American South in the 1930s, The Color Purple focuses on the lives of women of color  and their social position, often discussing themes of race, gender, and violence. For these reasons, the book was recently challenged, but retained, as part of a honors curriculum at a high school in North Carolina. Find the book here in Collins Library. 

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan – Jeanette Winter


The book is about the Taliban taking control of an Afghan village and preventing girls from going to school.  After Nasreen’s father is kidnapped and presumed killed, her grandmother smuggles her each day to an underground school where she can learn to read and write. It was challenged in New York schools because of its violent illustrations and storyline. Find the book in Collins Library here

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq – Jeanette Winter


The book is about a librarian who sneaks books out of a library during the U.S. bombings in Iraq. The librarian works with members of the community to keep the books safe until the war is over and a new library can be built. It was challenged in New York schools because of its violent illustrations and storyline. You can read the story of Alia Baqer, the librarian the book was based upon, here, and you may find the book here in Collins.