Martha’s Favorite Banned Books

In honor of Banned Books Week, I have put together a list of my favorite banned books. Celebrate your right to read and check one of these out today!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
c. 2004
[Juvenile Fiction (Hardcover and Paperback)]
[Juvenile Audiobook]

Summary: Harry Potter has returned to Hogwarts with the hope that his fourth year will be less eventful than the last three. But when he is unwittingly signed up to be a champion in the Triwizard Tournament, Harry must once again deal with the fact that someone wants him dead.

Why it’s been banned: Some religious groups have issues with the novel’s focus on sorcery, magic, and witchcraft. Other parties have argued that the protagonists set bad examples and that some of the themes discussed in the novels (namely death) are too dark for younger readers.

Why I like it: The real strength of this book and the entire Harry Potter series is how rich and alive it is. Lesser fantasy novels tend to present a world that is interesting, but not three-dimensional. J. K. Rowling presents a world that is believable not because it is a modern story, but because her characters and her world have this great sense of realness. Harry is a boy that you could easily know in the real world—he has flaws, insecurities, and fears. He acts like a teenager rather than some miniaturized version of an adult. As a young reader, I could relate to Harry and the other characters in the book, which made the reading experience that much more enjoyable.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
c. 1999
[Young Adult Fiction]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook)]

Summary: All it took was one phone call for Melinda Sordino’s social standing to plummet to somewhere around zero. Abandoned by her friends and disliked by almost everyone else, Melinda shuffles through the motions of freshman year and retreats into herself. What no one else knows—what no one bothered to ask—is why she called the cops the night of the end-of-the-summer party and the horrible secret she’s been keeping since.

Why it’s been banned: Speak deals with the issue of sexual assault. A recent ban was proposed by a Missouri State professor. To read about the challenge and the resulting blog storm it generated, click here.

Why I like it: Speak is a beautifully moving book that sensitively and maturely discusses important issues. The message of the novel—to speak up—is one that I think that is hugely important for young adults, and not just ones who have experienced a trauma like the protagonist. The positive response to this book is overwhelming—I would recommend reading some of the blog posts about readers’ positive experiences with this book.  And not only is Speak an important novel that discusses prescient and important issues, it is beautifully written in a unique and authentic voice.

See Carlen’s review of Speak here.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
c. 1985
[Adult Fiction]

Summary: Set in a future totalitarian theocracy in the former U. S., The Handmaid’s Tale is an account of Offred, a Handmaid whose value is determined by her fertility.

Why it’s been banned: Some groups have objected to some of the issues concerning sexuality and religion.

Why I like it: Margaret Atwood is a master storyteller, particularly in the dystopian genre. The Handmaid’s Tale presents a vision of a future that is not necessarily comfortable or desirable, but it provokes fascinating questions about society and human nature as a whole. Atwood’s world is also very inventive and takes readers in an often unexplored direction.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
c. 1954
[Adult Fiction]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook]

Summary: Ralph is elected leader of a group of English schoolboys whose plane crashes on a desert island. Utterly alone, Ralph’s attempts to instill order and responsibility gradually deteriorate until he finds himself being hunted by the other boys.

Why it’s been banned: The book contains some violence and profanity.

Why I like it: I loved the intensity of this book. It is packed with adrenaline and adventure. The questions it raises about human nature are also deeply fascinating and provoke a lot of interesting thought.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
c. 1954, 1954, and 1955
[Juvenile Fiction]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eBook)]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook)]

Summary: Hobbit Frodo Baggins embarks on a dangerous quest to destroy the Ring of Power and save the world from certain doom.

Why it’s been banned: The presence of magic in the books has led some people to conclude that the book preaches a satanic message.

Why I like it: For me, Tolkien’s appeal stems from the sheer richness and complexity of the world he creates. All aspects of Middle-earth are highly developed—Tolkien has written many volumes outside of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that examine the various cultures of Middle-earth and their origins. The epic scope of the trilogy is also very well done and immensely appealing.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
c. 1953
[Adult Fiction]
[Teen Fiction]
[Juvenile Fiction (Paperback and Hardcover)]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook)]

Summary: In a future America, reading is outlawed and thinking is discouraged. Guy Montag is a firefighter whose job is to burn books. However, Guy’s devotion to his government’s cause is undermined when he accidentally reads a line from a book.

Why it’s been banned: Initially, the complaint against the book was an objection to two instances of harsh language. Later, some challengers objected to the fact that in the novel, a Bible is one of the books that is burned (in a society where all books are burned) and that Bradbury was advocating Bible burning. Some have also suggested that challengers’ real objection is to the fact that it is a novel that deals with an oppressive government that advocates censorship.

Why I like it: I like this book for a lot of reasons, but I think it’s important because it not only serves as a reminder of our essential need for literature, but makes us ask why it’s essential.

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
c. 1977
[Juvenile Fiction (Paperback)]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook)]

Summary: Two fifth graders, Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke, become best friends and create an imaginary kingdom where they can learn about themselves and confront the problems in their lives.

 

Why it’s been banned: Some object to the fact that the novel involves a death. Others say that the book promotes secular humanism or New Age religion because of its focus on imagination and nature. Others complain that the novel has occasional bad language and the word “lord” is used outside of prayer.

Why I like it: Frankly, I’m always a little surprised to see this on the banned books list. It is a simple story about growing up that will break your heart in the best way possible.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
c. 1960
[Adult Fiction]
[Juvenile Fiction (Paperback)]
[Audiobook Fiction]

Summary: Six-year-old Scout Finch recounts the summer her father is appointed by the court to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman.

Why it’s been banned: The complaints against the book stem from some of the language contained in the narrative.

Why I liked it: Although it is beautifully written, I think the strength of To Kill a Mockingbird lies in the fact that it doesn’t try to force a fairy tale ending on its readers. Race relations in Alabama in the 1930s were not comfortable and the book does an excellent job at exposing the reader to that reality. It is a book that forces you to think.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
c. 1989
[Adult Fiction]

Summary: In present day 1987, John Wheelwright reflects on the life of his best friend Owen Meany, a remarkable boy who believed he was the instrument of God.

Why it’s been banned: This novel has been censored or banned for some of its views on religion as well as criticism of the US government during the Vietnam War and Iran-Contra Scandal.

Why I like it: In some ways, John Irving reminds me of a modern Charles Dickens (who is, incidentally, one of my favorite authors). Like Dickens, Irving tends to believe in the credo that “more is better” when it comes to overall word count. Additionally, A Prayer for Owen Meany features a varied and entertaining cast of characters and effortless shifts between laugh-out-loud funny and truly heartbreaking.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
c. 1966
[Adult Nonfiction]
[Electronic Resource (MyMediaMall eAudiobook)]

Summary: Often considered the original nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood reconstructs the 1959 murder of a Kansas farm family and the subsequent capture, trial, and execution of their killers.

Why it’s been banned: There was an objection that the book contained sexuality, violence, and profanity.

Why I like it: It is very difficult to tackle “true crime” without resorting to sensationalism and melodrama. Capote deftly avoids both—he manages to be realistic without being lurid or insensitive. Also intriguing was his portrait of the criminals. Although it would be easy to give into negative bias, Capote manages to effectively get inside their heads without inserting his own views or agendas.

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