Like That, Try This: Banned Book Edition
Every September, we celebrate banned book week - the annual period of time that I spend marveling at people's unwillingness to understand that, just because something makes you uncomfortable, doesn't mean it shouldn't be represented in literature.
“But,” some might argue, “If only we don't present kids with literary examples... People won't: question their sexuality, contemplate suicide, give and/or receive oral sex.”
Yeah... Not sure that's how it works.*
*Disclaimer - This is in no way intended to imply that all topics are appropriate for all ages. Parents should absolutely determine when their children are ready for certain books. I wouldn’t personally endorse my sons’ reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s intense novel “Twisted,” for example, until they are… oh… 30. But I would also never challenge the book’s presence in a library or school.
Now, I certainly don’t tend towards rebellion, as my pristine school disciplinary record will attest. Nevertheless, I’ve long been a reader of “banned” books.
TBH, usually the book’s not yet been challenged when I read it. I’m kinda the black widow, if you will. If I read a book and love it, it’s probably going to end up on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list.
Given that I’m such a purveyor of smut, I think it’s only appropriate that I encourage even more dangerous reading.
And to that end, I have compiled this list of suggested readings for all you other readers out there who find that your list of favorite books and the ALA’s list of challenged books tend to be one in the same.
If your heart was captured by And Tango Makes Three, which rests impressively high for a picture book at #4 on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list, try A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.
Like Tango, which tells the touching, true-ish story of two gay penguins who adopt a chick that, Marlon Bundo, a picture book about Mike Pence’s pet rabbit, provides a kid-appropriate illustration of the concept “Love is Love”.
It’s fun for all ages because, you know, it’s never too early to make sure your toddler is woke.
As in Perks of Being a Wallflower, which sits at #10 on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list, the protagonist in Highly Illogical Behavior is a bit of a loner — okay, a full-fledged loner thanks to his crippling agoraphobia.
Realistic, touching and searingly smart, this book will make you fall in love with John Corey Whaley — I mean, if you haven’t already. And, really, if you haven’t where the fuck you been?!?
If you’ve always had a special place in your heart for To Kill a Mockingbird — or even just Atticus Finch — you’ll fall in love with Copper Sun.
Set much earlier than To Kill a Mockingbird, this intensely unputdownable Sharon Draper masterpiece explores racism and prejudice in an exceptionally distinctive way by featuring dual protagonists, one a 15-year-old black girl who has been sold into slavery, and the other a 15-year-old white girl who is trapped in a system of indentured servitude.
To Kill a Mockingbird rests in the #21 on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list and, impressively, sits even higher on the 2017 Top Ten Most Challenged Books list, landing at #7. #ItsBeen54YearsGetOverItPeople
The similarity between Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Courtney Summers' Sadie rests not in the plots. Instead, connecting these two books is the fact that central to each is a tough-as-nails, experience-hardened protagonist who will resonate with readers while imparting painful lessons that sadly need to be learned.
While, in Speak, our struggling protagonist retreats within herself, becoming a selective mute, in Sadie, our protagonist's response is quite the opposite. She elects to leave behind all she's ever known and strike out on a solo quest for justice, determined to prevent any other girl from suffering her same fate.
The emotionally complex and mature subject matter featured in Speak, that earned the #60 spot on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list, is also present in Sadie — so you should probably pick this one up at your local library before some A-hole tries to ban it.
If you, like me, absolutely loved Mackler’s unparalleled ability to capture what it’s like to be a fluffy girl in a world that simply doesn’t prize that characteristic, then you need to read The Universe is Expanding and So Am I.
This over-a-decade delayed sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, a book that sits at #34 on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list, is one of those rare ones that actually improves upon the original. Adding new depth not just to protagonist Virginia Shreves, but also to secondary characters, it was worth the wait that I keep bitching about.
Though it’s surprising that people could find a book about friendship between two outcasts so objectionable, apparently people can because Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes managed to take the #85 spot on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list. Overweight protagonist Eric and burn victim Sarah have long been friends, but when Eric starts to lose weight and gain popularity, he worries that these changes for the positive will have a negative impact on Sarah.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl offers a similarly frank account of high school life and the complexity of friendship. Though Greg Gaines has long avoided relationships, sticking close only to his singular friend, Earl, he’s forced to step outside of his comfort zone and befriend a classmate with cancer in this surprisingly hilarious novel.
With the Netflix series bringing this 2011 novel to the attention of non-readers, it’s not surprising that 13 Reason Why took the #1 spot on the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2017 list. Detailing the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide, this novel centers around the search for answers — a search that is so often in vain in similar situations.
The dual protagonists in Lauren Oliver’s Broken Things are also seeking answers — but their quest is arguably more pressing. Mia and Brynn didn’t even have time to mourn the loss of the last member of their triad, Summer, because they were immediately suspected of guilt in what appears to be her murder. Now, five years later, Mia and Brynn reunite to try to solve the mystery once and for all, as doing so is the only way to get themselves out from under the cloud of suspicion that’s been following them around for the last half decade.
If you love the grit and honesty of The Hate U Give — which sat at #8 on the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2017 list — then you will absolutely dissolve into the world of Walter Dean Myers’ Monster.
Written in the format of a screenplay, this painfully powerful novel tells the story of Steve Harmon, a black teen who is facing criminal charges. Sparing no detail, regardless of how painful, the novel leaves you questioning the justness of society and the state of the juvenile justice system.
Between the title and the zoomed in-image on the cover, it’s not really a secret that Two Boys Kissing — the David Levitan novel that earned the #5 spot on the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2016 list — is about… two… boys… kissing. Centering around a gay couple trying to set a new world record for the longest kissing marathon, this based-on-a-true story novel gives teens what they have so-long needed — honesty, openness and acceptance.
What If It’s Us, the upcoming release co-authored by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, delivers the same powerful message, albeit in a more cutes-y package. Telling the story of two guys who are left questioning whether their meet-cute will evolve into something more, this novel is packing with content and characters to love.
Rainbow Rowell is a goddess among women who can capture the subtle, nuanced transition from like to love so fucking well. If you liked her breakout YA novel Eleanor & Park — which took the #10 spot on the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2016 list —then you absolutely must pick up Attachments.
This adult novel, which predates Eleanor & Park by two years, is just as stunningly well-written and will give you a whole new awkward-in-his/her-own-skin protagonist to fall in love with.
Like many nerds, I’ve been on the John Green train long before he was catapulted into fame by The Fault in Our Stars.
My first delightful experience with Green came when I read his first novel, Looking for Alaska. Along with winning a Printz award, this Green debut took the coveted #1 spot on the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2015 list before moving down to #6 in 2016 and then dropping off the list completely the next year — so, apparently, the world’s least erotic blowjob is okay now.
While I think that Looking for Alaska is amazing, my heart will always and forevermore belong to Green’s least talked about work, An Abundance of Katherines. This novel, about a child prodigy who is worried he won’t become an adult genius, contains literally the best use of footnotes I have ever personally experienced #WhoKnewFootnotesCouldBeSexy.
Though the jury might still be out on the mature intellect of protagonist Colin Singleton, his body of work — and this tragically often ignored book in particular — make it clear that Green is an adult genius.
The Hunger Games was more than a book — it was a cultural phenomenon. Given the attention the book — and the subsequent series of movies — garnered, it should come as no surprise that it’s been floating around on the most challenged top ten lists for a while now. In 2010, it held the #5 spot, before jumping to #3 in 2011 and the back to #5 in 2013.
Like this dystopian novel that challengers love to loathe, The Final Six offers a cautionary tale set in a bleak future in which teens are forced to literally risk their fucking lives. Riveting and unputdownable, this novel will introduce you to a whole new set of teens to nervously root for.
Though the contemporary YA thriller One of Us is Lying isn’t about a kidnapping, it has as many twists and turns and pure what-the-actual-fuck moments as The Face on the Milk Carton, which sits at #29 on the Top 100 Most Challenged Books (2000-2009) list.
Teens looking to dip their feet into the thriller genre — or adults who are fucking allowed to read YA if they want to dammit — will eat up this story about a detention gone very wrong and the investigation that follows just as they devoured Caroline B. Cooney’s classic.