What books make up the list of frequently banned books in the world?
Even though book bans have been around for a while, their prevalence and reach seem to have increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as teachers, parents, school districts, and political activists argue over the finer points of American education, from the reopening of schools and quarantine protocols across the country to the discussion of potentially divisive topics like systemic racism and prejudice in the classroom.
All the same, these are the kinds of knotty social problems that literature was created to solve.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom maintains a relatively substantial database of commonly banned or disputed titles, and many of these works have similar characteristics.
They often use disturbing or otherwise unsettling images to convey complex ideas.
In particular, they highlight the prejudice and exclusion that members of minority groups confront due to their own identities.
Several represent sexuality in nuanced ways, while others show mental illness, suicide, and self-harm.
As a result, they are not light reading for the most part. However, not everything has to be.
Even more so, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The books the world labels immoral are books that expose the world its shame.”
If reading any of these books—or any book that regularly appears on lists that advise people to avoid it for whatever reason—makes us feel uneasy, complicit, or guilty, then what? It’s reasonable to wonder why.
This article provides a comprehensive list of frequently banned books, but we believe everyone should read them.
Maus is one of the books on the list of frequently banned books. You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that a school district in Tennessee has banned the critically acclaimed comic book Maus by 100%.
The Holocaust was unquestionably horrific, but maybe some good can come from it.
More people than ever know about the tale of Art Spiegleman, a black-and-white cartoonist who depicted Holocaust victims as mice and their Nazi captors as cats. (It also portrays other crimes committed by the Nazis, such as gas chambers, forced labor, and the death of newborns, and is relentless in its depiction of these horrors and the lingering effects of war.)
Reading Maus might be challenging and unpleasant at times. Still, in light of the recent rise of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism worldwide, it seems more important than ever to do so. In 1992, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale
The comeback of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian book The Handmaid’s Tale in recent years might be attributed to several coincidental events: The premiere of a high-profile show on Hulu.
The meteoric ascent of Donald Trump and the gradual loss of reproductive rights in several states.
Atwood’s 1985 short story, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is eerily prescient in many ways now.
In it, she imagines the United States ruled by a totalitarian Christian theocracy and transformed into “Gilead,” a country where the few remaining women capable of bearing children have their names and agency taken from them and are forced to serve as broodmares for the elite.
It has been heavily criticized for its frightening concept, sexual violence, and deep suspicion of religion.
Still, as Atwood has said, nothing happens to the women in The Handmaid’s Tale that hasn’t occurred to women throughout history, a horrific reality that highlights the importance of this novel.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird
Since its publication in 1960, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has been made into an Oscar-winning film and a Tony-winning stage play.
The book follows a white lawyer as he defends a Black man convicted of rape in a tiny Alabama town.
Despite this, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom reports that sixty-odd years after its publication, To Kill a Mockingbird is still routinely prohibited or challenged by public schools and libraries.
Because of its use of racial slurs and its frank portrayal of overt prejudice, Lee’s novel has attracted criticism from various quarters.
It’s been panned for being too uncomfortable for some readers and for portraying Atticus Finch as a white savior.
Yet another function of literature is to force us to face our own worst selves alongside our finest, which can be a very unsettling experience.
There aren’t many stories as compelling as Lee’s. To Kill a Mocking is also on the list of frequently banned books currently.
4. The Hate U Give
Among the list of frequently banned books, The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’s first book for young adults, was released in 2017.
Yet, it has already become a runaway success because of its honest portrayal of the emotional devastation caused by police violence.
Starr, a Black girl, watches as her buddy Khalil is killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop.
Starr copes with her sadness and fury by becoming an increasingly visible champion for racial justice while attempting to navigate life at her majority-white school.
This a nuanced portrayal of a multifaceted issue that may assist many readers (young and old) gain insight into the origins and consequences of long-standing prejudice, as well as what each of us can do to work against these harmful attitudes in our lives.
5. As Cherished
Due to their uncompromising depiction of some of humanity’s darkest qualities, Toni Morrison’s works are often the subject of book-banning efforts.
Because of its harrowing depiction of sexual abuse and incest, Morrison’s debut novel, The Bluest Eye, is often included on banned book lists.
Recent criticism of Morrison’s later work Beloved has arisen as part of the contentious discussion about race and history surrounding the 2021 Virginia governor campaign.
The story delves into the horrors of slavery through the eyes of Sethe, a formerly enslaved person who is now free but is haunted by the memories of her past life.
Morrison’s writing is uncompromising in its description of sexual assault and child murder, and the dread and agony Sethe cannot escape are pervasive and tangible.
The book’s subject matter, which includes some awful things, will likely make readers uncomfortable.
6. Thirteen Reasons Why
The issue of juvenile suicide is sensitive and certain to elicit various responses. Still, it was inevitable that complaints would be lodged against Jay Asher’s 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which lasted 228 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Especially since the novel was turned into a popular Netflix series in 2017, with the show’s creators making several significant changes to the original work, including the decision to depict Hannah’s suicide onscreen and to do so in a much more graphic manner than is present in the book.
After his classmate Hannah Baker commits suicide, Clay receives a box containing thirteen cassette tapes with prerecorded messages from her.
Hannah says that each person discussed on the tapes impacted her final decision.
Many of the issues teenagers face today—including depression, substance abuse, bullying, sexual assault, and lack of consent—are portrayed in a way that is all too real.
Just like As Cherished, Thirteen Reasons Why is also on the list of frequently banned books.
7. The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, is a bestseller for a good reason: it’s an essential, emotionally gut-punch of a narrative presented from a viewpoint we don’t frequently see in popular mainstream literature, and this has been the subject of repeated challenges from those who had it banned.
Its removal from school curricula and libraries is so disheartening.
Even though The Kite Runner was first published in 2003, it’s continually on the ALA’s top ten list for most frequently challenged books, cracking the top five as recently as 2017.
The plot revolves around the unexpected bond between privileged young Afghan kid Amir and the son of his father’s worker, Hassan.
But when Amir abandons Hassan to the political and ethnic upheaval of 1980s Afghanistan, he spends the next three decades attempting to atone for the wrongs he perpetrated against his buddy, including going to Afghanistan to try to rescue Hassan’s son Sohrab from the Taliban.
A gorgeously devastating narrative about the horrors of betrayal and the chance of atonement, The Kite Runner is interesting, familiar, and oddly uplifting all at once, although it is on the list of frequently banned books.
8. Looking for Alaska
John Green’s first book, released in 2005 and titled Looking for Alaska, is still regularly contested even though Green’s 2012 novel The Fault in Our Stars had everyone ugly weep together.
It was the most complained-about title of 2015 overall, as well as among the list of frequently banned books that year.
When I first heard, I thought it was because of the new Hulu series, but it didn’t debut until 2019.
Looking for Alaska is about a bunch of teenagers at a coed boarding school in Alabama, and it contains a lot of smoking, drinking, cursing, and awkward sex.
The novel is a classic coming-of-age tale that deals with universal themes such as loss, hope, the ultimate purpose of life, and the need to move on with one’s existence in the face of tragedy.
American Library Association’s Michael L. Prinz Award for Fiction in 2006.
9. Glass Castle
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, is a distressing and dramatic book about Walls’s dysfunctional upbringing, which contains incidents of spousal violence, alcoholism, mental illness, and the various day-to-day problems that may result from living in grinding poverty.
The novel has been criticized for its graphic images of abuse and its use of harsh language.
Still, its setting in Appalachia makes it impossible to ignore the plight of a region of the nation that most Americans choose to ignore.
However, at its core, The Glass Castle is an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity.
10. All Boys Aren’t Blue
All Boys Aren’t Blue, written by George Johnson, is a memoir/manifesto for young adults exploring Black masculinity and LGBT sexuality; it is also on the list of frequently banned books.
Essays in this book mostly trace Johnson’s life as he navigates being a gay Black guy growing up in New Jersey and Virginia, tackling issues as varied as consent and sexual autonomy and as serious as institutional abuse.
Yet there is also much celebration, emphasizing the transformative potential of being accepted for oneself.
At least ten states have taken All Boys Aren’t Blue out of their school libraries due to complaints over its alleged sexual content, a claim the author has strongly refuted.