Five Banned Books That Need to Get Back Into the Classroom

The week of September 22-28, 2019 was Banned Books Week, a week in which many readers and literary enthusiasts read books that have been banned for their content; it's a week fighting against censorship in the education system. It is one of my favorite weeks of the entire year because I am incredibly passionate about the issue, especially considering that I am from a small, rural area of southern Ohio where censorship is common. The only two books that actually managed to be taught yearly were historically significant texts like The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. To shed some light on the impact of such “controversial literature,” here are five banned books spanning important topics that must be addressed in the classroom.

  1. 1. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" 

    One of the most popular banned books has been banned every single year since its publication— it’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Reasons cited for its banning include its blatant use of drugs, underage drinking, and sexual situations. Yet students I talked to have read it outside of class and connected with it on a deeper level. There are a lot of issues addressed in this book that need to be talked about, especially in a classroom setting. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and sexual assault are all very serious topics Chbosky approaches from a high school perspective. Because of this, I think would be important to start a conversation about these taboo topics to help highschoolers.

  2. 2. "The Catcher in the Rye"

    Another example of a text that has been challenged by those in the school system is The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye is a favorite for generations of young adults, especially boys, who relate to Holden Caulfield, but it is also the favorite book to ban almost on principle. There is a lot of profanity and sexuality explored, as well as being viewed as containing content that is just not suitable for teenagers, but this book also tackles the topics of depression, sexual abuse, and grief among others. These are all incredibly serious topics approached in a way that teenagers can relate to. The content is not too mature for high school students. Trust me. I have a teenage brother who just graduated high school and would not be surprised or appalled to read this book’s content. Teenagers, especially teenage boys, relate to Holden because they experience the same things he did on some level, and that is why this book has stood the test of time and remains a favorite classic that is equally banned and taught in high schools.

  3. 3. "The Hate U Give"

    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has such a powerful message about race in our society. This book was banned for profanity, the depiction of drugs, and “racially insensitive language,” according to the Lance Hindt, the superintendent of the Texan school district that pulled the book from their shelves. This novel is one of my personal favorite books, and it is what I would consider a modern classic. This book deals with a lot of heavy topics related to racism and police brutality. They are presented in a way that can help you start to understand a fraction of what black teens feel and experience, even if you aren’t of African American descent. You get a peek into the debilitating fear they face and how important it is to speak up and use your voice. This is such a powerful book that everyone should read, regardless of age. It is a shame it was ever banned in the first place.

  4. 4. "Things Fall Apart"

    One that likely flies under the radar because it's not known for being banned in the United States is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. This powerful novel is largely banned in Nigeria and Malaysia for its negative portrayals of “British colonialism and white missionaries,” according to The National Coalition Against Censorship. This is studied quite a bit in North America and Europe because it does shed some light on how villages in Nigeria and other African countries and territories were impacted by British colonialism. Bannings in the United States are usually due to depictions of drugs, sex, and alcohol, but this portrayal of colonialism doesn’t sit well with the culture of a few African countries. It is important to discuss the impact that banning books has on an international scale rather than strictly national.

  5. 5. "To Kill a Mockingbird"

    The classic that everyone thinks about when it comes to Banned Books Week is undoubtedly To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This novel has been banned due to profanity, racial slurs, violence, and racism, and has been since its publication. This is such an important and powerful novel about racism and justice. Scout’s father is willing to stand up and defend an African American man falsey accused of raping a white woman. This is still relevant today, and as much as people would love to believe racism hasn’t persisted, black men are still routinely stereotyped as inherently sexually violent. We need to continue to have conversations surrounding race, and that is going to be increasingly difficult if those in power keep novels about race out of the classroom.