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Read Courageously With This Banned Book Reading List

Read Courageously With This Banned Book Reading List

banned books reading list

People are scared of literature. Whether or not a work of fiction, books express overarching truths — truths that are not always comfortable or easy to digest. For this reason, books continue to be banned across the United States at an alarming rate. Novels like 1984 by George Orwell and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison are stripped from public school curriculums and library shelves. Challengers claim they inflict harm, yet the real harm is banning important stories from the nation’s archive.

History and reality, in the wrong hands, can be biased, altered, and shape-shifted by the entity controlling it. The country’s archive of literature symbolizes an expression of social power; the preserved materials serve as a kind of advocacy of that perspective. Unfortunately in America, history has often been written by dominant and homogenous perspectives. History and the truth thus become distorted. With the objective of fairness and justice, diverse stories must be available to the public and kept on library shelves.

Books are among the most powerful instruments of connection and empathy. Many well-known pieces of literature have been fought to be put on the shelves, and their stories have been fought to be told — by the individual authors and the masses they represent. We cannot control the actions of those who mercilessly challenge influential books, but we can control how we respond. There are many ways to act, like San Francisco bookstore Fabulosa Books, whose owner has shipped LGBTQ+ books to places where they are banned. The following list includes 8 unique and powerful stories that have continued to be the most banned books in recent years, making them even more crucial for you to read and preserve them in the public sphere of interest.

  1. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Number of Ban Challenges: 62 for explicitness and EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) content

banned books

Toni Morrison, the first Black author to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970. Set after the Great Depression, it tells the story of a young African American girl named Pecola who experiences the toxic and damaging effects of society’s standards white cultural standards of beauty. It exposes the brutal realities of racism and highlights the importance of self-acceptance and self-love in the face of adversity.

2. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Number of Ban Challenges: 18 for being “completely sick” and “garbage,” according to a school in Ohio

banned books

Kurt Vonnegut’s repertoire is a genre of its own. His other books, like Cats Cradle and Galapagos, are quirky, weird, and funny, with wisdom tucked between the lines. Vonnegut, a veteran himself, wrote this science fiction novel loosely based on his own experience. He navigates how to heal from his past traumas through humor, an unconventional timeline, and extraterrestrial beings. “So it goes.”

3. Sold by Patricia McCormack

Number of Ban Challenges: 53 for its ‘explicitness’

banned books

The 2006 novel is a series of short chapters written from the perspective of Lakshmi, who was sold into slavery in India. The bestselling book gives a voice to a young girl who was stripped of her own and the many girls who have been put in these devastating situations. Heartbreaking and unforgettable, McCormick traveled the routes taken by these traffickers and revealed hidden stories as a tool to trigger a domino effect of action and change.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Number of Ban Challenges: 68 for LQBTQ+ content, drugs, and other explicit content

banned books

The young adult novel follows Charlie, a Pittsburgh teenager, as he navigates high school, making friends and finding his place in the world despite some internal struggles holding him back. Since its 1999 release, young adults have connected deeply with the novel and its honest, heartwarming, and inevitably difficult portrayal of being a teenager. The novel deals with trauma but shows how it unfolds and develops into something manageable and hopeful. It was adapted into a film as popular as the book’s release.

5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Number of Ban Challenges: 10 for its “tragic nature” and explicit content

banned books

The Diary of a Young Girl is one of many books regarding the Holocaust that has been taken from shelves across the country.  Also referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank, this book was written by a young Dutch girl who hid for two years with her family during the Nazi Occupation. Even with the unimaginably horrifying circumstances, it is more than a diary, but a tale of a young girl’s dreams and fears that many can relate to. Even in the darkest place, she still found ways to hope.

6. Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Number of Challenges: 27 for being deemed unsuitable for young audiences

A more recent example is the Court of Mist and Fury sequel. At its core, the series follows the journey of a girl who constantly stands up for herself and displays strength throughout her trials, even when she openly struggles. We may not have experience with immortal beings and magical creatures, but her journey of empowerment is one of hope and inspiration for young adults.

7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Number of Ban Challenges: 39 for its explicit content and illustration of racism


Angelou’s coming-of-age story is one of American history’s most challenged and banned books. Angelou has been honored for her work, including with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, yet those who want to challenge her writing are relentless. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a beautiful coming-of-story depicting the strength of a character whose love of literature helps her overcome hardship and racism. She carries on like a caged bird sings when it is broken.

8. 1984 by George Orwell

Number of Ban Challenges: The public has lost count

quote from George Orwell's 1984

This ban may come as no surprise to readers. George Orwell’s vision of a high-surveillance society is not far from today’s reality. Read this novel from the 1940s, but consider what it tells us about today.

The power of these books outweighs the negative presence of people wanting to strip them away. Pick up one of these books, keep them relevant and present in the archive, and most importantly, read courageously.

Many organizations are fighting to protect the First Amendment and defend people’s rights to access information. Below are just a few resources to learn more and act further:

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