Teen & Young Adult Banned Books - Teen & Young Adult books they tried to ban.

Published on September 19th, 2014 | by Bright Kids Books

Banned Books – Teen & Young Adult books they tried to ban

If you were writing a list of the greatest, most influential books written in the English language… then many of these banned books would be on that list. So who’s calling for these books to be banned? People who would rather ban a book than have their assumptions challenged. People who are intolerant of alternative viewpoints. People who only read to have their convictions confirmed. However, if you’re the kind of reader who LIKES to explore new ideas, you will be equal parts mortified and inspired by the books on this list.

On the plus side, you may gain a small amount of solace knowing that it’s rare for a book to be banned, and even rarer for it to be banned for long. In short, logic will eventually triumph over a ‘prude with a highlighter’.

A list of 12 banned books written for Teens and Young Adults.


The Catcher in the Rye
by JD Salinger

Since his debut in 1951 in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” And between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States – and thus tops this list of influential banned books. In 1960, school administrators at a high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, even fired an English teacher for assigning the book to an 11th-grade class. While the teacher later won an appeal, the book remained off the required reading list. Meanwhile, another community in Columbus, Ohio, deemed the book “anti-white” and formed a delegation to have it banned from local schools. One library banned it for violating codes on “excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence and anything dealing with the occult”. To paraphrase Holden Caulfield, “what a bunch of phonies”.


To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s immortal classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, was first published in 1960 to instant acclaim – despite her editors’ warnings that it probably wouldn’t sell all that well (30 million copies later that editor has some ‘splainin’ to do).

While in its first year of release To Kill a Mockingbird would garner rave reviews by The New Yorker and Time magazines, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, it was not without controversy. In fact, today, the American Library Association reports that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most challenged classics of all time. Racial slurs, profanity, and blunt dialogue about rape have led people to challenge its appropriateness in libraries and classrooms throughout the USA. Perhaps the first major incident surrounding the book was in Hanover, Virginia, in 1966 when a parent protested that the use of rape as a plot device was immoral. Several letters to local newspapers – which ranged from amusement to fury – expressed mostly outrage over the depictions of rape. Upon learning that school administrators were holding hearings regarding the book’s appropriateness for the classroom, Harper Lee sent $10 to The Richmond News Leader suggesting it to be used toward the enrollment of “the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice”. An amusing and appropriate response to these over zealous laggards.


The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

One of the genuine classics of the twentieth-century, this literary cornerstone is also a commonly challenged book, coming in at the top of the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged classics. The tale takes place in 1922, during that prosperous time in the United States known as the Roaring Twenties – when Prohibition made millionaires out of bootleggers and the social elite lived exceedingly extravagant lifestyles.

Gatsby is required reading in many American high schools, but this is also where it finds many of its challenges from parent groups – because of (some) bad language and sexual references. Did you know the majority of the copies that are read in schools have actually been changed from the original to make them “more acceptable” for high school readers? Never mind the fact that most of the language and other situations are really quite tame compared to today’s movies, television shows and video games!

Alas, it’s impossible to paint an accurate picture of a period in time by discussing only the good parts. The Great Gatsby was set in the Prohibition era – gangsters, booze, money, power mongers, and speakeasies. As The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession…”. It’s history. It did happen, no matter how hard some people try to sweep it under the rug. Or worse, ban books.


The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is among the most enduring documents of the twentieth century. Since its publication in 1947, it has been read by tens of millions of people all over the world. It remains a beloved and deeply admired testament to the indestructible nature of the human spirit. No matter. Recently the Holocaust classic was challenged in Michigan for the following reasons: “It’s pretty graphic, and it’s pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading. It’s inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when its really the parents’ job to give the students this information.” Though the book wasn’t banned in Michigan, it was briefly banned in Virginia in, wait for it, 2010. You’d think that creating banned books out of classics would have let up a little by now!


by George Orwell

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, 1984 is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. So it’s both ironic and fitting that 1984 would join the American Library Association’s list of commonly challenged or banned books given its bleak warning of totalitarian censorship. Written in 1949 by British author George Orwell (while he lay dying of tuberculosis), the book chronicles the grim future of a society robbed of free will, privacy and truth. Some reviewers called it a veiled attack against Joseph Stalin and the Soviet ruler’s infamous “midnight purges,” though, oddly enough, parents in Jackson County, Florida, would challenge the book in 1981 for being “Pro-Communist.” It’s also fitting that the book spawned terms like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Orwellian’ and continues to resonate even in pop culture today.


Lord of the Flies
by William Golding

Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954 – igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored on its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought and literature.

So it may come as a surprise that Lord of the Flies is also one of the most frequently banned and challenged books on this list of Banned books. The charges include: too frightening for children, excessive violence and its “demoralising” view implying that, “man is little more than an animal” (Owen High School, North Carolina US 1981).

Why? So many reasons, too numerous to list, but generally the gist seems to be that it encouraged rebellion in adolescents, undermined family values and contained frequent profanity (ie. ‘goddamn’). In 1978, it was officially banned in Isaquaah, Washington High Schools for being, “part of an overall communist plot.” Really? Did they even read the book?

For us,  Lord of the Flies is a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, and even perhaps a vision of the apocalypse. Confronting and scary for sure. But don’t ban it. Read it!


Of Mice And Men
by John Steinbeck

A controversial tale of friendship and tragedy during the Great Depression. Not strictly a book for children, but often taught in schools, this book has been challenged and banned for over 50 years due to its alleged provocative language and violence. Another complaint is that the book is anti-business. Is Steinbeck responsible for The Great Depression? In fact, John Steinbeck’s novels have been, and are still, routinely banned and challenged around the country. For instance Grapes of Wrath was once banned for its “leftist sensibilities”. If you don’t find this an outrage, we suggest you take a good dose of Steinbeck novels, followed closely by George Orwell’s 1984.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

Since its publication, Stephen Chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, and grown into a cult phenomenon with over three million copies sold.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

However, it’s also on this list of banned books. Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit. Or put more simply: just being a regular teenager. In fact, recently the great Judy Blume went to bat for this sexually explicit (and troubling) young adult novel which had been banned from a Chicago School District. Weirdly, the book’s most vocal opponent was The Illinois Christian Home Educators, a collection of parents who homeschool their children. That’s correct, homeschooling parents wanting to ban books in Public Schools.


A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L’Engle

First of all, Madeline L’Engle’s classic was rejected by 26 publishers because, according to the author, they disliked the notion of a female protagonist in a sci-fi fantasy novel. Wow! But the reason A Wrinkle In Time is on this banned books list? The old “magic is bad, Jesus is good” argument courtesy of the Jerry Falwell ministries. In which case you’d think they’d be more concerned with banning say… Las Vegas. We’re still waiting to hear back.


The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has created a soulful novel that tackles big subjects – life, death, love – with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. The two are kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm, and watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition – How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning? – has a raw honesty that is deeply moving. And it’s these provocative questions that have The Fault in Our Stars on this list of banned books. The reasons given: it’s depressing, it’s too “deep” for the age group, and… there’s teen sex. And while to our knowledge no-one has succeeded in banning The Fault in Our Stars, it has been challenged. And will almost certainly continue to be so.


Looking for Alaska
by John Green

Which brings us to another John Green novel, Looking for Alaska. Sixteen-year-old Miles Halter’s adolescence has been one long nonevent – no challenge, no girls, no mischief, and no real friends. Seeking what Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps,” he leaves Florida for a boarding school in Birmingham, AL. His roommate, Chip, is a dirt-poor genius scholarship student with a Napoleon complex who lives to one-up the school’s rich preppies. Chip’s best friend is Alaska Young, with whom Miles and every other male in her orbit falls instantly in love. She is literate, articulate, and beautiful, and she exhibits a reckless combination of adventurous and self-destructive behavior. She and Chip teach Miles to drink, smoke, and plot elaborate pranks.

Now cue calls to ban this book. By now you can probably guess the reasons; offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, etc. In fact, in 2012, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill stating that teachers cannot encourage “gateway sexual activity,” as part of the state’s abstinence-based sexual education movement. Seizing the opportunity implied by the new law, officials in Sumner County also banned Looking for Alaska from the school curriculum because it contains an oral sex scene – one of two mildly-erotic passages in the novel. The book had already been banned as pornography in Knox County in March, 2012 after a parent protested that the book went against what she was trying to teach her child. Is that really all you have to prove to have a book banned? Sheesh!


Nickel and Dimed
by Barbara Ehrenreich

For those not familiar, Barbara Ehrenreich is one of America’s sharpest and most original social critic and in Nickel and Dimed she goes “undercover” as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job — any job – can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. In short it’s a very thought provoking book and one that challenges a lot of paradigms. Hence the calls to ban it. Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and anti-religious viewpoint.

In fact, North Carolina state Republican lawmakers called for a ban in 2003, when it was assigned as required summer reading for incoming students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The lawmakers went on record in support of the ban by citing a “pattern” of the university being anti-Christian.


And finally… and we swear we’re not making this up. Cue drum roll.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

We kid you not. In 2010, the 10th edition was banned in several classrooms in California because it included the definition for “oral sex”. Enough said.


While you’re digesting this list, we’ll leave you with these two great counter-quotes to banned books:

“Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you’ve got to fight it.”
― Judy Blume

“If there’s one American belief I hold above all others, it’s that those who would set themselves up in judgment on matters of what is “right” and what is “best” should be given no rest; that they should have to defend their behavior most stringently. … As a nation, we’ve been through too many fights to preserve our rights of free thought to let them go just because some prude with a highlighter doesn’t approve of them.”
― Stephen King


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