Every year, the American Library Association releases a list of the books which have been challenged the most in the last twelve months. It includes titles that, for various reasons, face being banned from schools, libraries or bookshops, with complaints coming in for everything from profanity to ‘encouraging disruptive behaviour’ (as was the case with Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants children's book series, which was added to the list last year.)
With school complaints making up a big part of the contested books, much of the literature in dispute is children's books and YA novels, but beyond those titles are a slew of progressive fiction that makes great reading for adults.
Full of hidden voices and stories that are radical, rebellious additions to any bookshelf, this is the Buro edit of all of the best banned books to get stuck into.
Published in 1994, The Giver is set in a utopian society where everyone is supposedly equal. Emotions are eradicated by brainwashing in favour of ‘sameness’, children are given societal roles during infancy, and couples are assigned babies Handmaid's Tale style. When one boy challenges the status quo, the result is an inspiring tale of adventure and bravery, which went on to set the blueprint for dystopian YA hits like the Divergent series and The Hunger Games trilogy.
Alice Walker was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer prize with 1983’s The Colour Purple. Her story follows the intense hardships endured by a young girl in the American South in the early 1900s. Repeated objections against its depiction of violence and homosexuality failed to stop the ascent of Alice Walker’s seminal novel, which also went on to win the National Book Award for Fiction, before being adapted into a Steven Spielberg directed film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Fully titled Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the notorious Fanny Hill has been causing moral outrage ever since it’s publication in 1748. It’s the story of a young woman who falls into prostituion, before meeting and falling in love with a man who is able to help her escape her fate. The story doesn’t end there though; sleeping with married men and women, Fanny Hill follows one woman’s sexual awakening. So shocking was the notion of sex for pleasure at the time of publication, that author John Cleland was arrested a year after for "corrupting the King's subjects”.
Written in between the first and second world wars and often compared to George Orwell’s 1984, in Huxley’s dystopian futuristic world, humans are created in a lab and according to a caste system. The protagonist, Bernard Marx is the only unsatisfied human in a world of complete uniformity, and his story is a frightening warning against the dangers of sacrificing freedom in favour of totalitarian rule. Banned in Ireland when it first appeared in 1932, it’s been contested in schools and libraries ever since.
The first of six volumes of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings follows Angelou between the ages of three to sixteen in 1930s America. Plagued by her experiences of racism and misogyny, it’s both a heartbreaking read, and an ode to hope: Angelou’s ability to find strength during times of adversity is beautiful and completely inspiring. First challenged in 1994 for being a “lurid tale of sexual perversion”, the most recent complaint came in from an Illinois school in 2016.
Banned throughout France when it was first surfaced in 1955, and continually challenged by community leaders ever since, Lolita has still managed to reach literary classic status. Written by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, it tells the story of a grown man who falls in love with a 12-year-old child. Still controversial to this day, Lolita touches on everything from love, lust, exile, and of course, paedophilia.
The Awakening is a beautiful and poignant tale of one woman's longing for more. On paper, protagonist Edna Pontellier has it all. Set in the late nineteenth century, the novel begins with Edna vacationing in Grand Isle Louisiana with her husband - a devoted but work obsessed businessman - and two children. Staying at the house of Mademoiselle Reisz, a free-spirited musician who eschews societal convention and expectation Edna is inspired to slowly subverting the status quo in a sexual and spiritual ‘awakening’. Written in 1899, it was banned from an Illinois library in 1902, but it didn’t stop Chopin’s second novel from going on to become considered a classic.
A recent addition to the list, The Hate U Give spent 38 weeks at the top of the New York Times’ best-seller list in 2017, a fact that’s even more staggering when you consider that it was the authors debut novel. Motivated to pen the book after the police shooting of unarmed man, Oscar Grant, first time author Angie Thomas’ wrote the story of Starr, a high school student who becomes radicalised after witnessing police brutality. The Hate U Give, which has since been adapted into a film starring Amandla Stenberg, was first challenged by a Texas school superintendent,student of one of the schools affected, Ny’Shira Lundy, collected 4000 signatures in a petition, which eventually saw it reinstated.