6 Banned Books That Will Surprise You
Happy Banned Books Week! If you celebrate censored reads (and the ability to freely consume them), you're probably acquainted with literature's most famous outlaws. Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and the anonymously-penned "Go Ask Alice" are among the most frequently challenged books today, according to the ALA, while classics such as James Joyce's "Ulysses" and D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" remind us of the threat posed to reading freedom by obscenity laws of the past. But among the thousands of books banned and challenged each year lie some unusual suspects. These seemingly innocuous books, some of them YA bestsellers, may surprise you with the outrage they've incited.
Dark world, dark themes
Lois Lowry's 1993 novel, about a dystopian society in which the government has outlawed love and grief, was one of the year's bestselling young adult books and won the coveted Newbery Medal. But communities in several states took issue with the book's focus on suicide and euthanasia. The government of the novel routinely "releases" many innocent civilians for arbitrary offenses (twins, for instance, are illegal, and one is always killed). But, parents found a scene in which a young girl suffering from painful memories and melancholy injects herself with a fatal chemical particularly incendiary, arguing that it promoted suicide as an escape from grim circumstances. Efforts to ban the book, though, have mostly failed, with one South Carolina librarian pointing out that "if we waited for every kid to be ready, we'd be in the same kind of world" as the novel.
It's hard to reconcile this popular novel about a brainy 9-year-old coming to terms with his father's death on 9/11 with the allegations raised against it by a Washington D. C. school district in 2010. Parents found the book's "profanity, sex and scenes of violence" unsuitable for their children. Maybe seeing the book's Oscar-nominated film version starring Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks (can you get any more wholesome?) will put their worries to rest.
Keeping (too) warm in a snowstorm
David Guterson's 1994 PEN/Faulkner-Award winning novel about a Washington State murder case became a classroom fixture due to its exploration of the complexities of American-Japanese racial tensions following World War II. That's all well and good, said the several U. S. and Canadian communities that fought to have it banned, but there was a problem: too much sex. Admittedly, the setting--a remote Puget Sound island in the grip of a devastating snowstorm--sounds a bit like the premise of a bodice-ripper. Ultimately, the book was allowed back into school curricula, and in 1999 fans were treated to an even steamier film version starring Ethan Hawke.
The truth hurts
John Steinbeck's novel about an Oklahoma's family's fraught migration to California was an instant hit when it came out in 1939. But, authorities in Kern County, California (where the family of the novel ultimately settles) found Steinbeck's harsh representation of their town--and some of its prominent officials--to be less "fictional" than they might have hoped. Deemed libelous, the book was banned from all county schools and libraries for a year and half, until a nationwide backlash led to its reinstatement.
Sebold's 2002 novel is about a 14-year old girl watching from heaven as her family and local investigators piece together the puzzle of her murder. It quickly hit bestseller lists upon publication, had its day in the sun as an official Oprah Book Club selection, and has since been made into a movie. But it was not without its detractors: Several communities have asked to have it pulled from school shelves, due to the simple fact of the protagonist's brutal demise (raped and murdered by--well, you'll have to find out for yourself).
Chilling social implications
"The Handmaid's Tale" (1985) is perhaps Atwood's most famous novel, but its picture of the future isn't a pretty one. Straight white men rule the world, subjugating blacks, homosexuals and Jews, and harvesting females for their reproductive abilities. The narrator is one such sexual servant and things go awry when she falls in love with a man who's not her "assigned partner." In Judson, Texas, the book was banned from an AP English curriculum, due to scenes of explicit sex and what was believed to be an anti-Christian sentiment. The decision was later overruled after a committee appeal.