Hundreds of books are removed or challenged in libraries and schools in the U.S. each year. Classics and contemporary books have been challenged over the years for having “difficult” themes or expressing unpopular views.
Here is a list of frequently banned books and the reasons why they’ve been banned from the shelves of certain schools and libraries. Jump on the banned wagon and challenge yourself instead of the books!
18 Banned Books and Why They Were Banned
1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
In this New York Times bestselling novel, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
All American Boys was the third most challenged book in 2020 because of alcoholism, drugs, and profanity. And because of claims of anti-police views and that it was too sensitive of a topic for the current time.
2. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
Margaret Simon likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink. She’s just moved from New York City to Farbook, New Jersey, and is anxious to fit in with her new friends. When they form a secret club to talk about private subjects like boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret is happy to belong. But none of them can believe Margaret doesn’t have religion, and that she isn’t going to the Y or the Jewish Community Center. What they don’t know is Margaret has her own very special relationship with God. She can talk to God about everything—family, friends, even Moose Freed, her secret crush.
This book was frequently challenged in the 1980’s due to the fact that the book openly discusses sex and it was believed to have an anti-Christian message.
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
This book often shows up on ALA’s list of most-frequently challenged books due to it’s open discussion of topics such as: sex, drugs, homosexuality, and suicide.
4. Wake by Lisa McMann
For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people’s dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody- notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. She can’t tell anybody about what she does — they’d never believe her, or worse, they’d think she’s a freak. Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else’s twisted psyche. She is a participant….
Wake was challenged in a middle school in Oklahoma because a parent was concerned with it’s use of “adult language” and believed that the book was promoting drug use and sexual misconduct.
5. Godless by Pete Hautman
Fed up with his parents’ boring old religion, agnostic-going-on-atheist Jason Bock invents a new god — the town’s water tower. He recruits an unlikely group of worshippers: his snail-farming best friend, Shin, cute-as-a-button (whatever that means) Magda Price, and the violent and unpredictable Henry Stagg. As their religion grows, it takes on a life of its own. Jason soon realizes that inventing a religion is a lot easier than controlling it, but control it he must, before his creation destroys both his friends and himself.
Godless was removed from a Mississippi High School summer reading list because parents were concerned about the “anti-religious” themes of the book.
6. The Misfits by James Howe
After years of getting by, Skeezie, Addie, Joe, and Bobby decide to run for student council. Now they finally have the chance to stand up and be seen — not as the one-word jokes their classmates have tried to reduce them to, but as the full, complicated human beings they are just beginning to discover they truly are.
A parent complained about the book having a gay character, and the school system refused to argue about it.
7. Forever… by Judy Blume
Katherine and Michael are in love, and Katherine knows it’s forever—especially after she loses her virginity to him. But when they’re separated for the summer, she begins to have feelings for another boy. What does this say about her love for Michael? And what does “forever” mean, anyway? Is this the love of a lifetime, or the very beginning of a lifetime of love?
This book was frequently challenged because it discussed topics that weren’t often discussed, such as masturbation, birth control, and teenage sex.
8. Tweak by Nic Sheff
This New York Times bestselling memoir of a young man’s addiction to methamphetamine tells a raw, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful tale of the road from relapse to recovery.
Tweak was removed from a summer reading list at a New Jersey high school after a few parents complained about instances of sexual content.
9. Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser
For as long as they can remember, Brendan and Gary have been mercilessly teased and harassed by the jocks who rule Middletown High. But not anymore. Stealing a small arsenal of guns from a neighbor, they take their classmates hostage at a school dance. In the panic of this desperate situation, it soon becomes clear that only one thing matters to Bendan and Gary: revenge.
This book was questioned due to a student’s aunt’s concerns about the book’s depiction of school violence.
10. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Kristina Snow is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then, Kristina meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild, ecstatic ride turns into a struggle through hell for her mind, her soul—her life.
This book was hit with complaints because it includes “drugs, offensive language and sexually explicit” content since it’s about a teenage crystal meth addict.
11. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Life, Alice McKinley feels, is just one big embarrassment. Here she is, about to be a teenager and she doesn’t know how. It’s worse for her than for anyone else, she believes, because she has no role model. Her mother has been dead for years. Help and advice can only come from her father, manager of a music store, and her nineteen-year-old brother, who is a slob. What do they know about being a teen age girl? What she needs, Alice decides, is a gorgeous woman who does everything right, as a roadmap, so to speak. When her sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Plotkin’s assigns for each member of the class to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings. Alice calls hers “The Agony of Alice,” and in it she records all the embarrassing things that happen to her.
The books feature “very questionable pages” according to the principal at a Missouri middle school.
12. Totally Joe by James Howe
Assigned to write his alphabiography—a chronicle of his life with chapters headed from A to Z—seventh-grader Joe Bunch is at first uncertain. What if he tells the truth and someone besides his teacher reads it? But as Joe’s chapters build from “A” for his best friend Addie to “F” for family to “T” for turning thirteen and beyond, he finds his entries becoming increasingly honest and thoughtful. He writes about his crush on Colin Briggs, about being gay, and about a world where acceptance and ridicule can be confusingly intertwined.
Utah parents found the book objectionable because the 13-year-old protagonist deals with the challenges of being a gay teen.
13. Shooting Star by Fredrick McKissack Jr.
A natural-born athlete, Jomo Rogers has talent that is easy to spot on the football field, and reporters and college recruiters are taking notice. But the buzz is focused on his potential, on his promise, while Jomo is ready to become the “next big thing” now. And since natural talent can only take a player so far, Jomo supplements his abilities with tougher workouts, more weights, longer runs…and steroids.
A parent of a middle school student was concerned about several swear words.
14. One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
When Ruby’s mother dies, she’s dragged three thousand miles away from her gorgeous boyfriend, Ray, to live in LA with her father, who she’s only ever seen in movies. He’s a mega-famous actor who divorced her mom before Ruby was even born, and while the rest of the world may love him, Ruby definitely does not.
A Wisconsin middle school banned cause it wasn’t age appropriate, though it has won several awards and was named a 2005 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association.
15. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child’s body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.
Parents of a high school student in Kentucky complained about the language and topics in the books including sex, child abuse, suicide, and drug abuse. They also did not believe that the books were intellectually challenging enough. The titles are on a list made by the Young Adult Library Services Association for “reluctant readers.”
16. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl’s harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful—and as timely—today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.
Many people complained about the explicit references to drugs and sex, making it controversial since it was first published.
17. America by E.R. Frank
America is mistaken for black, Asian, Native American, even white. He doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and, parentless, he is shunted for eighteen years from a foster home, to the street, and ultimately to the brink of despair. Can one doctor pull him back and bring America somewhere new—somewhere with a future?
This book was challenged in the Ravenna, Ohio schools (2007) because “what we kept finding and going over was sexual content and profanity,” said the complainant.
18. Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper
When Romiette Cappelle meets Julio Montague, she feels as though she has met the soul mate who can rescue her from her recurring nightmare about fire and water. But like the Shakespearean characters whose names echo theirs, Romiette and Julio discover that not everyone approves of their budding romance. In their case, it is because Romiette is African-American and Julio is Hispanic, and the Devildogs, a dangerous local gang, violently oppose their interracial relationship.
Parents in Virginia deemed it inappropriate for fifth graders with its sexual innuendo and fictional online chat room. So the book was instead shifted to the sixth grade second semester curriculum.
Looking for more? Check out these books that will help you start a conversation about social change.