Banned Books...Teen Edition!

September is the month Libraries go CRAZY over Banned Books! I have decided to do a 3 part series...my BEST OF BANNED BOOKS to remind everyone of the small mindedness of folks the world over.  This is my Teen Edition.

Let me reiterate again that I am all for parents parenting, and having a say about what their kids are reading. I think you should be reading those hot topic books ALONG with your teens if they want to, and having meaningful discussion about the sensitive subjects presented in them. You just might be shocked and amazed by what their thoughts are.

I don't want anyone telling me what my kids can read...I believe the decision should rest on my shoulders. I know my children, as you know yours...and a lot of things go into whether a book is age appropriate or not. You have to consider their reading level, maturity level, etc. I know that...you know that...joe schmo who is trying to ban a book in your child's library does not. End of rant :)

So here are a few of my favorite Teen Books that have been banned or challenged:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I read this book alongside my daughter when she was around 15 years old (I may be wrong, her memory is better than mine but she's not here to argue with me over it!). As soon as I started it, I excitedly explained to her that these characters are my age...I was in high school during this time period, and I felt it was fairly true to some of the experiences I had as a teen. Yes, this book has sensitive subjects in it...from homosexuality to drug use, sexual abuse to mental health issues. But you definitely see the repercussions of some of the character's bad decisions. And like I said above, this can open up a dialogue between you and your teen, where you can discuss these subjects without and possibly before they are presented with them in real life. But for some teens, this is their experience. Because bad things happen in real life, and sometimes you need to know they have happened to other people also. The book was banned for "frank descriptions of masturbation, sex, drugs and suicide". Yes these are touchy subjects, but I also think they are relevant to most teens.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I'll be honest with you, my daughter read this way before I did. But when I finally read this with my adult book club, she was sitting beside me patiently waiting for me to finish so we could talk about it. She was a big fan of the first book, thought the second one was pretty good, and really didn't like the third one. We had some great conversations over this one, and I have since talked ad nauseum to the teens at the library about it for Teen Book Club and our Teen Hunger Games program. I honestly think us moms were more disturbed by the content than the teens. I remember wondering why anyone would want to watch a movie about a bunch of kids being forced to kill each other for a spectator sport, but I think they did the movies as tastefully as possible. I think my favorite question I posed to the teens was whether they would volunteer for the games if their younger sibling was chosen, like Katniss does in the book...the answers were hilarious. One of my daughter's biggest gripes was Katniss having to end up with one of the boys...she thought that was a deviation from her personality in the first book, where she wasn't really interested in them or romance. The book was banned for being "anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive and violent". 

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

I have a friend and previous coworker who LOVES YA books. Most of the YA books I have read have either been at her recommendation, or one of my kids...which is helpful when giving recommendations to patrons at the library. Anyway, this one was a pick of hers. She knew I liked Shakespeare, and the book starts off with the main character running off for a day in Paris with a Dutch actor she meets at a Shakespearean play in England, while on a school trip. The day changes her life, and you see the repercussions play out. This would be a good one for discussions of first sexual experiences, whether there is such a thing as love at first site, and the aftermath of making those very serious adult decisions. It was banned for a "graphic sex scene and underage drinking".

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

 It's been a very long time since I've read this book. A VERY long time. I remember the movie way better than the book. I know the author was 16 years old when she wrote it, which I think plays into a lot of the more sensitive elements of these juvenile delinquent gang members ;) Some of the reviewers now have commented on how often these boys cry, hug each other, and read poetry! But I think this classic can still teach teens about how seemingly different people can still be going through the same things...and get their opinions on killing in self-defense. It was banned for "ungodly" themes.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

If you have read any of my previous blog posts you know I am a Harry Potter Fan and my children are also. I started reading these books out loud to my oldest when he was very young and going to school in England. I absolutely slaughtered the pronunciation of the names, and my Hagrid voice wasn't very good...but he was hooked, and I proceeded to read the entire series out loud to the kids (some books more than once). There are almost too many good discussion themes in here, and I feel like it has probably been written about better elsewhere. But especially in the first book, talking about Harry's isolation and feelings that he was an outsider, his horrible family dynamic, friendship, and the lengths he and his friends went to defeat a bad guy are good starting points. I think the people who get too hung up on the "magic" are missing the point. The magic is just a backdrop, and I doubt it turned any 9 year-olds into satan worshipers. The focus here should be on Love, which both God and Dumbledore felt similarly about. It was of course banned for "glorifying witchcraft".

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is another one that I haven't read in ages. A Pulitzer Prize winning story about a single father and his children living in Depression era Alabama is considered a classic, for good reason, and has been on high school reading lists for decades. Atticus Finch is one of the most beloved figures in Fiction. As a matter of fact, my daughter claims she's naming her son Atticus Beowulf. I can understand people's passionate response to reading the book that was released last year, in which Atticus wasn't quite the enlightened individual he is in Mockingbird. This is in essence a coming of age story. It was banned for "profanity, rape references and racial content".

Garfield: His 9 Lives by Jim Davis

My sister LOVED Garfield when we were little. I don't know what it was about him...his love of sleeping and crankiness maybe? (Sorry Sis!) But I'm not sure this Garfield book would've been a favorite, considering it is a little messed up. This book contains the 9 lives of Garfield...all done in a different style of drawing and genre. If my memory is correct, it is a fairly odd book. I can see that it was challenged and moved out of the kids section of a school in 1986, but haven't really seen the reason why. But it's Garfield, people!

And a Special Mention Goes out to....


Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, I know I said this list had a few of my favorite teen banned or challenged books, but I thought I'd throw Twilight in as a special mention. Yes, I have read the entire series. I even read the story Stephenie Meyer started that was put online, in the voice of Edward. I know many folks who love these books, and many who hate them. My daughter used to have a shirt that said "Then Buffy Staked Edward, The End", which might give you a hint of where my family's opinion lies. If I write this paragraph in the vein of the others, here are a few examples of what you can talk to your teenager about when reading the Twilight series: Divorce, abusive relationships, the mythology of vampires and werewolves, waiting to have sex until marriage, feeling like an outsider in a new place, and the merits of dating a man who sparkles ;) The book has been banned for being "too racy" and "contradicting religious beliefs".

So...once again I'd like to say that I'm not advocating you let your teen read everything under the sun, with abandon and zero parental supervision. What I AM condoning is dialogue between yourself and your teen...and seeing the merit of using fiction for conversation. I absolutely 100% believe that anything you can do to keep your teen talking to you is good. So, just because your kid is now a teenager, it doesn't mean it's time to stop reading with them. But remember, just because you don't want your child to read it, doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to let mine.

Next up is the Children's edition!!  Let me know your thoughts on Banned and Challenged books. Do you have a favorite teen book that you're shocked to realize was banned somewhere? Do you believe in censorship, and think we should go back to burning books? I'd love to hear your thoughts, either here or over on my Facebook page

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