My friend Milcom Miasma on Mastodon is determined to read the American Library Association’s Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019 and write short book reports about them (500 characters to fit the confines of Mastodon posting).
I absolutely loved the idea of this and wanted to collect his reports somewhere, so I’m posting them in this blog post. What a wonderful way to showcase what people think we shouldn’t be able to read.
As of February 20, 2023, Milcom has read 39 of the books and has 61 to go.
As of February 27, 2023, Milcom has read 42 of the books and has 58 to go.
As of March 15, 2023, Milcom has read 48 of the books and has 52 to go.
As of March 23, 2023, Milcom has read 51 of the books and has 49 to go.
More than half way!
As of April 4, 2023 Milcom is up to 57 books!
As of April 12, 2023 Milcom is up to 60 books! Only 40 more to go!
As of April 28, 2023 Milcom is up to 66 books! Only 34 more to go!
As of July 1, 2023 Milcom is up to 75 books! Only 25 more to go!
I admit I’ve not read all of these books yet either. Some just don’t interest me, such as the Captain Underpants series of books. Many are recent children’s picture books. Others I’ve just not gotten around to reading. If I have read a book myself, I’ll make a note in the review.
Milcom has not yet gotten around to reading a couple I’ve read on the list that were simply wonderful books. The Kite Runner is a book I recommend all people read. The Hunger Games is an interesting dystopian series that teenagers can read to better understand politics and power. The Glass Castle is a woman’s memoir of her unique childhood with dysfunctional, yet loving parents. The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary tale about the desire to control women and their reproduction. To Kill a Mockingbird is about injustice and should be read by all teens and adults. A Brave New World, Of Mice and Men… The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn… Beloved… The Color Purple… Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl…. Ender’s Game…. No, none of these should be banned. We cannot sanitize the world for young people and expect them to function in society. We can’t correct injustice if we refuse to acknowledge it.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie. Young Adult.
Mr. Alexie’s semi-autobiographical account of a young Native American who leaves his best friend to attend a high school off of the reservation. Humorous, self-effacing, poignant and eventually triumphant. I don’t know how anybody could not love Junior and Rowdy by the end of this book. 5/5
- The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Book 1 in the series)
by Dav Pilkey. Middle-Grade.
Two young boys idea of a superhero and his adventures. Granted it’s 3rd grade boy’s bathroom humor, but it’s hard to see why this is number 2 on the list. Some sites said “nudity” – there’s no nudity. One character spends time wearing a barrel. Maybe in one of the other books in the series. 3.5/5
- Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher.
The format was unconventional but made sense to the story being told. A girl in high school commits suicide but leaves behind tapes explaining the why to those involved in her story. I get why some adults don’t like the book. Teen suicide, under-age drinking, sexual assault, all tough to read about. Imagine living through it… 5/5
- Looking for Alaska
by John Green. Young Adult Fiction.
Miles Halter goes to a prep school in Alabama looking for the “Great Perhaps.” Touching and funny with clever and realistically complex characters and their problems. The book got banned for an awkward, funny attempted oral sex scene that got the censors blushing. It’s a great book. I’d recommend it for anyone YA or up. 5/5
- And Tango Makes Three
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. Picture Book.
Anybody who isn’t charmed by the true story of Roy and Silo (two male chinstrap penguins in the NY Central Park Zoo) and Tango, their adopted daughter just doesn’t have a soul. No preaching, no moralizing, just a happy story for young first readers. The artwork by Henry Cole is also first rate. 5/5
by Raina Telgemeier. Young Adult Graphic Novel.
Callie is a middle-school student with a passion for school plays. The main plot is about how Callie and her friends make the show happen. Along the way some of Callie’s friends start to discover their sexual alignment as crushes develop. Seemed pretty tame to me. Nothing graphic or explicit. No idea what caused a fuss. 4/5
- ttyl (Book 1 of the Internet Girls series)
by Lauren Myracle.
249 pages of IM texts between three teenage girls. That’s the format of the entire book. The book is on the list because the girls sometimes talk about sex and two of the girls get into compromising situations. If I ever have to read more of this series I’m going to give up reading. No really, I am. 2/5
- The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison. Fiction.
Banned because of themes of racism, incest and child molestation. Brutal story of sadness visited on the most innocent. Toughest read I’ve had so far. I wanted to quit reading it several times. Only the author’s incredible talent saw me through it. This book will make you sad and break your heart but you won’t regret reading it. 5/5
- I Am Jazz
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. Easy Reader Non-Fiction.
Gender dysphoria – hot topic right now. Problematic since some doctors have criticized the book for inaccuracies and omissions. Not sure an author can make a subject as complex as this understandable to a young reader without oversimplifying as this does. Still shouldn’t be banned but not a great book. 2/5
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Book 1 of The Scary Stories series)
by Alvin Schwartz. Horror.
The author researched and included many of the ghost/horror stories we told each other around a campfire or in a dark bedroom during a sleepover. Banned for graphic violence but seemed relatively tame to me compared to where the horror genre has been for thirty-five years. 3/5
- The Things They Carried
by Tim O’Brien. Fiction.
Drafted to fight in Viet Nam, the author writes to make sense of all that happened to the character Tim O’Brien during and after the war. Banned for profanity, and called “vulgar” and “complete garbage trash.” It’s not any of those things, I think it is a beautifully written attempt to reconcile everything he went through. 5/5
- Bad Kitty
by Nick Bruel. Picture Book.
Bad Kitty doesn’t like when her owners run out of her food and she misbehaves alphabetically. Cute book using a bad kitty to teach young readers their ABC’s. Apparently some folks didn’t like it when the author used $%@# symbology for cuss words. Yeah, it’s really that stupid of a reason. Light-hearted and definitely about a cat. 4/5
- Slappyworld: Slappy Birthday to You (Goosebumps series)
by R.L. Stine. Middle Grade Fiction.
Talk about a franchise. I picked book 1 of the Slappyworld series. It was a mild horror story that you might tell a 4th through 6th grader. Boy gets evil ventriloquist’s puppet as birthday gift. Puppet tries to enslave boy and his family. Very mild compared to real-life horror I think. 3/5
- The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger. Fiction.
This 77 year old story about lost innocence and not trusting adults didn’t really grab me until the end. The proto-Beatnik style narrative is a bit dated, but in the end Holden Caulfield gets his message across to the reader with Phoebe’s help. There is still some relevance to be found in this story for a young reader. 4/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I have read this book as well and with what has been happening in the world lately, it now makes me think of incel (involuntary celibate) culture. This is just my observation on the main character’s self-obsessed teenage angst, alienation, and general frustration at his virginity. He’s also angry at the world for its superficiality. He’s awkward and often makes odd choices and mistakes when trying to deal with others. His jealousy causes a fight with a good friend. I note that there have been several shootings associated with this book. For example, the man who shot John Lennon had a copy of the book he purchased that same day and wrote “To Holden Caufield, From Holden Caufield, This is my statement.” I decided to look this up in Google and I notice that others have made this incel connection as well. G. Scott Huggins discusses the general selfishness of Holden, his sense of superiority, and also picks up on the incel comparison I’m not making a statement on whether it should be banned or not. Just some observations on this particular title.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon. Young-Adult Fiction.
Christopher Boone is a 15 year-old with autism and all of the challenges that go with it. The author does a good job making the reader feel Christopher’s need to constrain, control and anticipate his environment just to feel safe. Banned for being profane and promoting atheism. Yikes. 4/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I have read this book as well and can’t imagine how it could possibly be banned. It’s a wonderful story that allows readers to imagine what it might be like to be autistic. It’s very well written and it’s terribly sad that it’s on this list. I’m heart broken.
- This Book is Gay
by Juno Dawson. Non-Fiction.
*Very* straight (sorry) talk from a former educator aimed at high school or older people who are trying to determine their sexuality and at the people who care about them. LGBT* is the term the author uses frequently and the book is a “how-to” guide for all facets of the LGBT* culture. No holds barred, no topic taboo. 4/5
- The Giver (Book 1 of The Giver series)
by Lois Lowry. Young-Adult Fiction.
Twelve year old Jonas lives in a well-mannered society with little sadness. Receiving his work assignment he learns the ugly cost of such a society. Banned for infanticide and senicide as central points in the plot, I wonder if the headlines a tween sees about real life are somehow less upsetting. 5/5
- Go the Fuck to Sleep
by Adam Mansbach. Humor.
It’s not really a book for children. Which makes the fact they they’re trying to ban it all the more insulting. A frustrated and exhausted new parent wonders why everything on earth has gone the fuck to sleep except their child. Funny, well written with just the right amount of sauce and fatigue. Illustrations are good as well. 5/5
- Jacob’s New Dress
by Sarah and Ian Hoffman. Easy Reader.
Jacob is a little boy who likes dresses. The term is “Gender Non-conformity.” The book shows us the reactions of Jacob’s parents, teacher and friends at school to a dress he wears to school. The authors do a good job trying to give the reader a sense of how Jacob feels with each interaction, both good and bad. 5/5
- Nasreen’s Secret School
by Jeanette Winter. Picture Book.
A beautifully written and illustrated book about a young girl and her grandmother living in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the first time. Her parents were taken and her grandmother finds a secret school where she can learn to read and write. Challenged as “un-American and upsetting.” Well, no kidding. 5/5
by George Orwell. Fiction.
Perhaps the grandfather of all dystopian novels. Reading it for the first time at 61, I realized how much of the story would have been lost on a younger me. I know I would have likened the absolute control, oppression, despair, and dingy grey existence to just another day as a teenager. Bad jokes aside, it’s an important book to read. 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: Banning this book has ensured more people have read it. Banning books critical of authoritarian governments only leads to distrust of governments and more exposure of the book. It’s also interesting to note that this book was nearly impossible to get, and dangerous to possess, in the former Soviet Union. Having said that, I do find this work of fiction often cited as a reason to allow hate speech to proliferate on social media by free speech absolutists.
- Heather Has Two Mommies
by Leslea Newman.
Written for early readers, it’s a completely charming book about Heather’s first day at school. The illustrations and writing are adorable and the sentiment is just kind in a “this isn’t a big deal to kids” sort of way. I wish it had the same effect on pearl-clutching adults that spend too much time and vitriol trying to ban it. 5/5
- Uncle Bobby’s Wedding
by Sarah S. Brannen. Picture Book.
Another charmingly done picture book for young readers about Chloe and her uncle Bobby. Chloe has worries about where she fits in if uncle Bobby marries Jamie. The adult’s answers are kind, loving and reassuring. How can you not love the sentence “Everyone danced until the moon rose”? Great illustrations as well. 5/5
- Sex is a Funny Word
by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth. An illustrated book.
It’s a script, that’s all. A script on how to talk to prepubescent kids about their bodies and their feelings. I think it would make those conversations much easier and less awkward but I don’t have kids so I don’t know. I can see why conservatives flip out about it since it tries to be inclusive. 4/5
by Natasha Friend. Young Adult Fiction.
13 year-old Sam is an 8th grader and along with the usual teenage issues, she has one very adult-sized problem. Her father is an alcoholic. Luckily, she has an adult-sized friend that she doesn’t even realize she has. Challenged for drugs, language and mild sex talk/activity. It’s a much better book than I expected it to be. 4.5/5
- In Our Mother’s House
by Patricia Polacco. Picture Book.
Marmee and Meema make a home for their three adopted children. The illustrations show a wonderful childhood full of time spent with the mothers, grandparents and neighbors. One local mom isn’t a fan and tries to make the family feel bad for being different. Very quotable – “The walls still whisper our mothers’ names.” 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: Milcom wanted to mention a few other lovely quotes from this book, such as: “We never measured words” and “Of course our hearts never left our mothers’ house, and over the years Will, Millie and I returned to be married in the garden, back under Thistle house.”
- The Librarian of Basra
by Jeanette Winter. Picture Book.
Written at the height of U.S. air-bombing of Iraq, this true story is about Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian of Basra. Fearing the loss of irreplaceable books during the war, Alia does all she can to move the books to safer locations in the early part of the war. The art depicts violence, but no death. I liked it. 4/5
- A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo
by Marlon Bundo with Jill Twiss. A children’s book(?).
Who doesn’t love political satire disguised as a children’s book? (Sadly, I know who.) Marlon the bunny doesn’t like being told whom he can marry by the Stink Bug with the haircut and morality code of Mike Pence. I recommend it for everyone who eats their sandwiches crust-first. 5/5
- The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby
by Dav Pilkey. A cartoon book.
Deeper we go into the toilet humor that 5th grade boys know and love. Although this book has a few subversive messages not in Captain Underpants: “Don’t forget to boycott standardized testing!!!” I’m guessing that message is probably for the adult readers auditing the book. Cartoon violence, potty humor. 3/5
- It’s Perfectly Normal
by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.
This is the mother lode for conservative fear and dread. Written for children age 10 and up it covers pretty much everything and I do mean everything about sex, sexuality, biology, behavior, consequences, *ALL* of it in detail and with illustrations. I wish my parents had given me something like this. 5/5
- Draw Me a Star
by Eric Carle. Picture Book.
Almost more folklore than a children’s story. An artist is asked to paint all
the things that inhabit his world throughout his life. The image that has some people upset is a non-detailed nude drawing the artist draws of a man and a women. If that offends a parent, sadly I hope they never take their child to an art museum. 4/5
- The Awakening
by Kate Chopin. Classics Fiction.
One of several stories published as a book in 1899. The author tells the story of Mrs. Edna Pontellier, wife, mother and member of the upper-class social circles in New Orleans during the 1890’s. But Edna awakens to the other things life offers and is no longer satisfied with the script. How dare she want something else? 3.5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: This book was written in 1899 and is a feminist work from that time. It’s about a woman’s struggles with her role expectations and her inability to control the direction of her life. It’s interesting that it’s on this top 100 list in this day and age.
- Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan. Young Adult.
A Greek chorus of the ghosts of gay men lost to the 80’s AIDS epidemic watches the stories of seven high school LGBTQ boys. Two boys try to break the “longest kiss” record, which provides the timeline for the other couples’ stories. Book-banners didn’t like the public affection depicted. Sad, but with some hope. 5/5
- It’s a Book
by Lane Smith. Picture Book.
Simple, clever and with a plain message – a story is more important than
technology and gadgets. Monkey and Mouse struggle to explain to Donkey that a book doesn’t scroll, tweet or blog, it’s a book. Fun illustrations. The book got into trouble with the censors when Mouse looks down at Donkey and says “It’s a book, Jackass.” 3.5/5
- Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville
by Jeff Smith. Graphic Novel.
Fone Bone and his two cousins get kicked out of town because one cousin is a greedy, con-man trying to swindle the townsfolk. Outside of town they quickly get lost and meet new critters in their attempt to get home. Violence?, racism? and political viewpoint. Well, his cousin did behave like a Republican. 3.5/5
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Steven Chbosky. Young Adult Fiction.
Charlie is a gifted high school freshman and a shadow to almost everybody he knows. Quiet, emotionally brittle but smart and loyal, we follow Charlie through the school year and everything he experiences and discovers. I know why they wanted to ban the book but it’d be a spoiler so read it yourself. 5/5
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain. Classic Fiction.
Banned by the left, it was hard not to wince reading the N-word repeatedly. Published in 1885, the book is set in the 1830’s. Huck’s adventures feature the river, a raft, an escaped slave (Jim) and two con men. Jim and Huck share a bond of decency that makes me think Twain was trying to tell us something. 4/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I’ve read this book as well and there’s a wonderful bond between Huck and Jim. To me, the book has an anti-racism message, despite the use of the N-word. However, critics have said that the depiction of Jim is very stereotypical to the point of minstrel show-style and tends to reinforce racial stereotypes rather than speak against them. In my opinion, it’s still an interesting novel for discussion for these very reasons. Knowing that in history, the N-word was commonly used, for example. Or there could be discussions on both the pros and cons of the book in terms of racism and racial stereotypes. This is what learning should entail, as it teaches people to look more closely at what they are reading. All of this discussion could take into account the time the book was written where it was criticized more for its course and inelegant nature, as opposed to anything to do with racism. There is a sort of protective banning from the left over teaching the novel because of the novel’s use of the N-word. This seems to come from an idea that young people shouldn’t have to be exposed to difficult topics. I personally don’t think this is best for children. Children need to be exposed to difficult topics in order to understand the world around them.
- My Mom’s Having a Baby
by Dori Hillestad Butler. Picture Book.
Challenged in Florida and Texas. Young Elizabeth is getting a baby sister or brother. The book walks Elizabeth through how the baby was created, how it develops and how it will finally be born. No details are excluded but the words and explanations are kept as simple as possible. The art is clear and well done. 4/5
- My Princess Boy
by Cheryl Kilodavis, Art by Suzanne DeSimone. Picture Book.
Written by the mother of a young boy who prefers feminine clothes, it reads as a request for compassion and understanding for a little boy who is unique. Challenged for promoting “perversion” and “the gay lifestyle.” Yeah, everybody knows seven year olds are big into tearing down cultural norms. 3/5
- Melissa (formerly titled “George”)
by Alex Gino. Young Adult Fiction.
Banned and restored in several states, young Melissa is a 10 year-old
transgender girl struggling with her life and the people who care about her. I have to say this book made me think about pronouns and the ways society casually reminds trans people of their circumstance. Her friend Kelly is a treat. 4.5/5
- The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas. Young Adult Fiction.
A young black girl witnesses her friend shot by a frightened police officer.
What happens as a result makes for very good book. Honest and straight-forward, worthwhile enough that everyone should read it. Challenged in several districts, a police org wrote “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police…” No kidding? 5/5
- The Family Book
by Todd Parr. Picture Book.
Banned in 2013 by Erie, Illinois for the sentence “some families have two moms or two dads.” Yeah, you read that right. It’s a simple picture book explaining some of the ways families can be different and many of the ways in which they are all the same. Like loving each other no matter what. Lighten up people, sheesh! 4/5
- Fifty Shades of Grey
by E.L. James. Fiction. Romance.
Ugh. I think someone at Hallmark Channel wrote a porn novel. The innocent and inexperienced Anastasia Steele falls for rich, handsome, heavily damaged Christian Grey and you get to spend 500 pages turning your imagination into a naughty BD/SM webcam. I think I may have to punch myself in the face for reading this book. 2/5
- Madeline and the Gypsies
by Ludwig Bemelmans. Picture Book.
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” A delightful book full of illustrations and clever
poetry. Madeline and Pepito are forgotten at the Gypsy Carnival so they join the circus. All’s well in the end. Banned for racism (Gypsies). 4/5
- So Far From the Bamboo Grove
by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. Young Adult Fiction.
Set in 1945, Eleven year-old Yoko, sister Ko, and mother flee North Korea at the end of WWII. Hatred of Japanese by Koreans was rampant and staying alive, finding food and making their way back to Japan was a real-life Hunger Games. Implied rape scenes and un-American values(!?) got it banned. 4.5/5
- The Agony of Alice (Book 1 in the Alice McKinley
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Young Adult Fiction.
Twelve year-old Alice is in sixth grade and hoping for a fresh start in a new
town and new school. She learns life has other plans, but she learns things that are more valuable in the long run. Well written, funny, poignant and insightful – a very good book to read. 5/5
- A Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood. Classics. Fiction.
Extraordinarily well-written foretelling of a theonomy in all it’s brutal and
controlling conformity. I guess nobody sees the irony in trying to ban a book that tells of a future where women are forbidden to read or write. Published in 1985, the book never lets the reader catch their breath or feel like Offred is safe. 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: This classic work of fiction is up there as a must read, just like 1984, A Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. All these books are interesting, but often used a little too freely for comparisons of current events in our modern world. They are cautionary tales and absolutely worth reading. Humanity is capable of truly terrible things and we do need to be vigilante.
- This Day in June
by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten. Picture Book.
This book celebrates the Gay Pride parade held in San Francisco every year. It’s filled with colorful illustrations and simple rhymes. Challenged for “promoting LGBT lifestyle” it’s still most on library shelves. Not a lot of meaning in the content but then it’s for children ages 4 to 8. 3/5
NOTE FROM LEA: This sort of book always stirs controversy… It seems people don’t think elementary school kids can be expected to view and evaluate certain materials. This book appears to try and show unity in a positive way. In my opinion, it’s trying to inspire acceptance of others. You can see the illustrations from this controversial picture book here at https://www.arenaillustration.com/news/2014/06/just-published-day-june-illustrated-kristyna-litten/.
- Nineteen Minutes
by Jodi Picoult. Fiction.
Challenged as unsuitable content for high school students, the book revolves around the nineteen minutes Peter Houghton, a student and a picked-on outcast, roams the school shooting his fellow students. The author spends the majority of the book writing about the devastating consequences of Peter’s actions for everyone involved. 3/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I asked Milcom why he only gave this book 3 out of 5. He felt there were plot holes and a plot twist that was implausible. He also felt the author didn’t treat the subject matter seriously enough. I’ve not read the book, so I can’t comment.
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Written and drawn by Alison Bechdel. Graphic Novel.
The author’s observations on growing up in a moderately dysfunctional family during the 60’s and 70’s and her journey into discovering her sexual identity. Alison’s relationship to her father was intellectually complex and emotionally sterile. One can imagine the fun that must have been. 4/5
Written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. Graphic Novel.
The author’s memoir of years growing up in Iran before and after the revolution in 1979. Informative and sad, it’s worth reading to understand the perspective of one who was there, lived under it and lost people and relationships because of it. Challenged due to the graphic nature of some illustrations. 4/5
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer. Fiction.
Nine year-old Oskar lost his father to the 9/11 attack and he’s left with a
mystery. The book follows Oskar through the boroughs of New York as he looks for answers. A lovely, heartbreaking book, beautifully written. A high school in Illinois banned it for “use of lewd and possibly offensive materials.” 5/5
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Jacen Burrows. Graphic Novel.
Very Lovecraftian and very graphic novel about the truly weird and sexual things floating around in H.P. Lovecraft’s head and story worlds he created. Banned by a library in South Carolina when a teenage girl borrowed it using an adult library card. Think “Heavy Metal” Magazine only for horror fans. 3/5
by Craig Thompson. Graphic Novel.
The author’s story of the lives of Dodola and Zam, two people victimized by circumstance over and over again. Dodola tells Zam stories about biblical and Quranic prophets, while both characters face very tough lives that leave them scarred and changed. Challenged for nudity and sexual explicitness unsuitable for the age group. 3.5/5
by Ellen Hopkins. Young Adult Poetry.
A well written cautionary tale about addiction and the ensuing destruction of Kristina and her drug-fueled alter ego Bree. Good insight from the author on the mindset and choices made by someone in the throes of a very tough battle with “the monster” (meth). I’ve never read a book written in verse before, not a bad format. 5/5
- Saga:Volume 1
by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples. Graphic Novel.
A space opera in long form. Military guard falls in love with a prisoner, has his baby, travels through the galaxy trying to evade former alliances. You know, that old trope. It’s fun, it’s definitely lewd and coarse. Banned for being obscene, material unsuitable – etc. and ready for this? Anti-family. 4/5
- Skippyjon Jones
by Judy Schachner. Picture Book.
I hate when this happens. Adorable story, beautiful illustrations and harmful stereotypes. I get why people were upset by it. It’s a shame since the alliterative prose could have been re-worked to exclude the stereotypes about Mexican culture. I wouldn’t ban it but it begs a conversation about stereotypes and their harm. 3/5
- Eleanor and Park
by Rainbow Rowell. Young Adult Fiction.
Park falls for quirky Eleanor hard. Ironically this makes Eleanor’s situation better and much worse. Well written and poignant, I liked the witty banter between two young people just trying to figure a way forward together. Banned and then restored by a middle school in Oregon for – you ready for this? Profanity. 5/5
- Prince & Knight
written by Daniel Haack, art by Stevie Lewis. Picture Book.
The poor prince must find someone to rule by his side. None of the available princesses strike his fancy. Dashing and brave, he finds his romantic match while battling a dragon to save his kingdom. And the prince and the knight lived happily ever after. Banned for featuring gay marriage. 3.5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I haven’t read this picture book, but it seems an interesting challenge to the typical fairytale that kids are inundated with in the western world. Personally, I think the trope of finding “happily ever after” creates false expectations in children whether they feature same-sex couples or not. I grew up with plenty of this fairytale nonsense and real life just isn’t like this. But of course, none of it should be banned. I’m just glad to see new concepts and ideas in kid’s entertainment coming out in the last couple of decades that focus more on things that kids struggle with.
- The Walking Dead: Volume 1 – Days Gone Bye
by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. Graphic Novel.
I should say that I don’t care for the zombie genre. This one is very well drawn and written but officer Rick Grimes and his struggle to reunite with his family and survive is pretty standard fare in the zombie universe. Banned in an Idaho school when teacher complained about it. 3.5/5
- The Glass Castle
by Jeanette Walls. Nonfiction, Biography.
Autobiography of a seriously tough childhood. Neglect, starvation, alcoholism, and extreme poverty all figure prominently in the author’s childhood with her three siblings. The book had me shaking my head. Well written and poignant but banned by several school districts for racism, child abuse and strong language. 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I have read this book as well. The issues that it’s apparently banned for were a part of the author’s abusive childhood. These stories of abuse shouldn’t be sanitized to protect young people’s feelings. I read this as an adult, but it would have been fine for me to read from age 13 up.
- Gossip Girl
by Cicely von Ziegesar. Young Adult Fiction.
Oh to be young, smart and have your parent’s money, lots of money. Serena gets kicked out of boarding school and winds up back at the exclusive girls school in Manhattan. She assumes her old BFFs will welcome her back, instead salacious rumoring and back-biting takes place. Banned for sex, drugs and profanity. 3/5
- The Dirty Cowboy
by Amy Timberlake, art by Adam. Rex Picture Book.
What an absolutely wonderful book. The artwork alone merits reading it. A range cowboy makes his annual trip to the river to take a bath, what could go wrong? Well, enough to make it a delightful story. Banned at an elementary school in PA due to the illustrations but it never shows Lil’ Joe or the biscuits. 5/5
- Beyond Magenta: NonBinary and Transgender Teens Speak Out
by Susan Kuklin. Nonfiction.
The author profiles six non-binary or transgender teens. It’s a very informative read if you’ve ever wondered what a trans on non-binary person thinks about the world and the challenges they face. Many still face hate and terrible bullying but some had supportive friends and services. 4/5
- This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki, art by Jillian. Tamaki Graphic Novel.
Rose and Windy spend summers at a beach town with their families. This summer Rose’s parents won’t stop fighting and the girls witness two young people from town struggling to cope with an unwanted pregnancy. It was challenged but not removed from an Oregon public library for use of the word “slut.” 4/5
by Ellen Hopkins. Young Adult Poetry.
Pattyn is a teenage girl growing up in a super-strict LDS family with a
physically abusive, alcoholic father. Nobody within her community is interested in helping her or her siblings. She gets a reprieve when she goes to spend a summer with her aunt but that only makes coming home worse. The book is anti-LDS, and has teen sex. 4/5
- Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck. Classic Fiction.
The story of George, Lennie and their tragedy. The great depression was such a difficult time. Hard scrabble and nomadic with only dreams of better to sustain them, they work the barley farms in California until Lennie gets scared and does a bad thing. Banned in schools in California and Minnesota for use of the N-word. 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I have read this book as well and Steinbeck is a depressing, yet insightful read. In this book, the focus is on how fate interferes with our best laid human dreams and plans. He makes the point that often the circumstances we have little control over will snatch away our wishes and leave us devastated. It is a book that makes you think and reflect on what it means to be a human that does not fit in to society.
- A Child Called ‘It’
by Dave Pelzer. Nonfiction.
The author’s account of surviving the third-worst documented case of child abuse in the state of California. The book is detailed, extensive and soul-searing. It’s not the kind of book to be read without asking yourself some questions first. Questions like do I really want to know what this is like for the young victim? 4.5/5
- Stuck In The Middle
Edited by Ariel Schrag, stories and illustrations by various cartoonists. Graphic Novel.
An anthology of stories dealing with all the problems and fears we have with middle school. Each artist illustrates a story about something in middle school that’s awful for most of us. A parent in Oklahoma complained about profanity, drugs and sexual references. 3.5/5
- Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley. Classics Fiction.
A 1932 study in culture and behavior that continues to be relevant today. Huxley gets a number of his predictions right and that should probably concern us. Additionally, the story offers the reader a chance to compare and contrast the choices societies must make. Banned for sex, drugs, racism, and religious viewpoint. 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I think many of us have read this book despite all the attempts to ban it. It is incredibly insightful regarding human psychology. I do find it a bit overstated as a reason to fear our present. It was, after all, written in 1931 and still we carry on with freedom and a fair amount of prosperity and increased nonconformity. The human condition has improved since then and we are neither a utopia nor a full on dystopia either. To be fair, the novel is supposed to take place in 2540, so who knows if it will yet occur. There are obviously some similarities… it introduces the concept of “happy pills” and a desire to suppress all negative emotions and behaviours, it discusses conformity and exile of those who choose not to conform, and it discusses the use of government and societal conditioning to achieve conformity among other things.
It should be noted that there are many comparisons of this novel to 1984 by Orwell. I think this quote from Neil Postman on Wikipedia is important to show the distinction.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”
Which do you think is more like what has occurred? Certainly, truth these days is drowned in a sea of irrelevance in our western societies. I will agree 100% with that. And we do suffer from triviality and pursuit of pleasure. However, I believe that humans have to watch out for both of these potential outcomes.
- Dreaming in Cuban
by Cristina Garcia. Fiction.
The author writes a beautiful story about three generations of Cuban women from a single family from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. The revolution polarizes the families, some stay and become committed to the cause, the richer members flee to Miami and start life anew. Banned in Florida schools in 2020 due to obscene material. 5/5
- The Color of Earth
by Kim Dong Hwa. Graphic Novel.
Young Ehwa and her widowed mother live quietly in their village. The book spans several years as Ehwa grows into a young woman. She learns the secrets of growing up both from friends and her mother. The book is lavishly illustrated with ink drawings and many include cultural metaphors. Banned for nudity and sex education. 4/5
- What My Mother Doesn’t Know
by Sonya Sones. Young Adult Poetry.
Written in verse, a glimpse into 8th grader Sophie’s social life. She moves through three romances during the year and learns that her relationships and people aren’t always what she and her best friends think they are. Banned for nudity, offensive language and being inappropriate for the target age group. 4/5
by Laurie Halse Anderson. Young Adult Fiction.
Melinda is a 9th grader trying to find her way back from a very dark place. Raped at a party when she was only 13 by a boy who is a senior at her new high school. She struggles to find something in her world worth saving. Banned in 2021 for being anti-male, including a rape scene and profanity. Very well written book. 5/5
- The Kite Runner
by Khalid Hosseini. Fiction.
Amir is a young boy growing up wealthy in Afghanistan in the 1970’s. Hassan is his loyal friend. Their complicated relationship is the foundation for a remarkable book. Every page nicks your soul. Amir’s evolution towards redemption is just incredible. Banned due graphic sexual abuse content, I can’t recommend this book enough. 5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I‘ve also read this book and can’t recommend it enough. It’s wonderful!
by M.T. Anderson. Young Adult Fiction.
Titus meets Violet while on vacation with his friends on the moon. I didn’t like the start of this book, but it grew on me and made me angry. It’s a cautionary tale about out-of-control consumerism, technology and American exceptionalism. It doesn’t end well. Challenged for being trash and profanity. F*ck that, read it anyway. 4.5/5
- Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card. Young Adult Science Fiction.
Ender Wiggen is an exceptional young boy drafted to fight a war against an implacable alien species. He is continually manipulated and abused as he trains to lead others, The author touches on meritocracy, mercy, xenocide and compassion. Plenty of concepts for the reader to consider against Ender’s actions. 4/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I‘ve also read this book and yes, there are challenging things that happen in the book, but aren’t we to teach youth about ethics and how messy our choices can become? To critique humanity? I am also aware of the author’s LGBTQ views, but his views are not the reason the book is regularly banned.
by Ellen Hopkins. Young Adult Poetry.
The sequel to her book “Crank”, we watch as Kristina more fully transforms into her alter-ego “Bree”. It’s heartbreaking to read about the destruction of everything in her life. Her family, her baby, and her future, all traded away for more of the “the monster” (crystal meth). As with the first book, well written but a tough read. 5/5
- Nickel and Dimed
by Barbara Ehrenreich. Nonfiction.
The author attempts to survive on poverty level wages in three major U.S. cities during the year 2000. Not surprisingly, many of the problems she identified (food insecurity, healthcare, housing) have matured to become worse for people working today. Challenged for being biased against capitalism. Gee, I wonder why? 4.5/5
by Toni Morrison. Fiction.
This book is sad, disturbing, and as usual, beautifully written. All the things I expect from this author. A young black mother living in post civil war Cincinnati with a terrible memory and a more terrible ghost. Challenged in VA and FLA for being pornographic, containing bestiality, rape and infanticide. Not an easy read, but worth it. 5/5
- Revolutionary Voices
Edited by Amy Sonnie. Non-fiction.
An anthology of essays, poetry, speeches and artwork from 14-26 year olds in the LGBTQ+ community. Published in 2000, it’s dated in some places but a reminder of how much is yet to change. Most pieces focus on the writer’s developing sense of themselves. Banned in a New Jersey high school for being graphic and obscene. 3/5
- The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins. Young Adult Fiction.
A very popular book with young adult and adult readers alike, I struggled with the premise. The author writes very well and the story flowed from page to page. I just have trouble imagining a society that celebrates kids as gladiators killing each other. Challenged in NH for violence and religious viewpoints. 3.5/5
NOTE FROM LEA: I‘ve also read this book and it’s an analogy that examines our fascination with celebrity culture and reality entertainment if it were taken to an extreme. It’s also an analogy of how a rich, wealthy society has dehumanized and repressed other societies to its own benefits. It’s worth a read and certainly the concept of teenagers murdering each other for people’s entertainment is horrific, but that’s the point. It is using a truly vile idea to provide some lessons about our own society.
by Walter Dean Myers. Young Adult Fiction.
Sixteen year old Steve Harmon from Harlem, NY makes an imaginary movie about the trouble he’s in. The script is how the story is told to the reader. Steve is accused of participating in an armed robbery and homicide. I don’t want to give away too much, but we get an interesting and frightening view of the legal system. 3.5/5
- A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess. Classics Fiction.
Young Alex and his “natsat” words made this a hard read. Creative and sometimes funny, it asks important questions about free will and the limits placed on it within a society. Originally published in the U.S. without the final chapter. Banned from FLA middle-schools for obscene and/or pornographic content. 4.5/5
Stay tuned as I add more of Milcom’s reviews to this post over time. It will likely take a while for him to get through all these books. He’s got some time though because he’s retired.