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Banned Books: A Few Favorites To Add To Your Shelves This Fall

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UVA chapter.

A few of my favorite “banned” reads I recommend to start your fall season.

If you have been following the news, you are probably familiar with the widespread debate on book banning and the cultural impact this issue has on contemporary societies. Several states including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and more have already passed numerous laws or local bills that give states the authority to ban books in places such as school districts and public libraries. Despite the dispute of the constitutionality of this act, states have argued for censorship of books they deem “dangerous” for younger generations and their cognizance on topics typically concerning race and racial issues, sexual situations, violence, homosexuality and LGBTQ+ themes, and more. We’ve seen book banning and even burning happen in the past with historical instances like World War II and more recently in countries including Russia and China. History may be repeating itself, but here are a few books you can read to further educate yourself on a “controversial” issue and fight back against censorship.

Their eyes were watching god

Themes: sexual explicitness, language, Black History

One of my favorite books is Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a beautiful story that follows Black protagonist, Janie Crawford, over the course of her life in the town of Eatonville, Florida, during the early 20th century. The novel explores the complexities of love within her three marriages, beginning in her teenage years, and her relationship with her grandmother, a former slave. Janie’s idea of love is skewed through the influence of her grandmother who attempts to marry her off quickly as a young girl, in hopes of Janie finding stability in a relationship outside of her and her grandmother’s. Themes of womanhood, the patriarchy and toxic masculinity, and the search for unconditional love are drawn out through Hurtson’s whimsical metaphors and poetic prose which discuss Janie’s challenges with conventional norms for a poor, Black woman in the South. The book has faced backlash for sexual explicitness and violence, interracial relationships, and vulgar language. Yet, it remains a powerful literary narrative that questions social roles and what love between two people and with oneself truly is.

Fun fact: This book is written in a colloquial dialect used by the Gullah, an African American population, who are descendants of enslaved Africans from tribal groups in central and West Africa who were forced to work on plantations across various southern states like South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The language used by the Gullah groups, Geechee, is an English-based creole language, in which the book’s dialect is written. So not only are you reading a banned book, but reading in a different language and preserving the heritage of communities still present in southern America today.

Link to the book: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Catcher in the Rye

Themes: vulgar language, violence, religious defamation, drug and alcohol abuse

J.D. Salinger’s controversial novel, A Catcher in the Rye, is narrated by 16-year-old, Holden Caulfield, who tells the story from a mental hospital he is being treated in. Caulfield is expelled from his prep school, Pencey, after failing most of his classes, and without his parent’s knowledge, he decides to escape to New York City for the weekend. In the city, Holden encounters the harsh reality of the world as he tries to sift through the adult “phoniness” and feelings of isolation. Emotionless encounters with strangers, people from the past, and a prostitute all leave him feeling empty and only able to focus on the pessimistic parts of his life. The raw, unfiltered, narration from the protagonist highlights the struggles of adolescence, angst, and identity in the transition to adulthood as well as the forever search for the meaning of life. While you could easily analyze the literary figures and significance of the book, I found it more enjoyable to read the book and absorb the humanness and apposite narrative of the universal teenage experience, which teaches important morals and criticizes the superficiality of society. The book has been banned from being taught in several school districts across the country for its frequent profane language, and sexual content including sexual harassment, and substance abuse.

Link to the book: Catcher in the Rye


Themes: Sex, violence, religion (Muslim)

If you want a break from text-heavy novels, Marjane Satrapi’s, Persepolis, is an impactful coming-of-age story, in graphic novel form, that retells Satrapi’s experiences in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution as a young girl. The book is illustrated in all black and white, with powerful illustrations of metaphorical and literal events that Satrapi faced. She deals with the changes that are brought upon society by war, including the limitations to women’s rights, religion, and the rise in violence in her community. She also struggles with the mundane issues of girlhood and growing up. The book also explores different ideologies such as communism, socialism, and the conflicting relationship she has with religion and God, with whom she finds less and less in common with as she grows older. Through the child’s point of view, readers can follow Satrapi’s pain and realization of the world’s imperfections as she watches the heroes of the revolution fall, and conservative regimes take over Iran with violence. The book is an eloquently written political narrative that illuminates the effects of revolution and religious values in society, as well as the struggle to find individuality within an oppressed nation.

The book was first banned in Chicago Public schools in 2013 due to the graphic images and heavy topics covered in the novel. In 2014, the book was once again challenged in Texas , but not banned, due to discourse concerning the Muslim religion. Without the acknowledgment of diverse religions and cultures, we cannot evolve as a community and accept differences around us, preventing future generations from avoiding bias as well.

Link to the book: Persepolis


Themes: Anti-war, sex, obscene language, religion

My final recommendation, and maybe the most absurd of them yet, is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. The book begins as a war story, with the main character, Billy Pilgrim, retelling his days in the bombing of Dresden during World War II, as well as references to the Battle of the Bulge and the Vietnam War. The book alludes to the authors days as a prisoner of war in Germany. It details the struggles of Post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being in the army and experiencing inhumane situations while fighting the war. However, this isn’t your traditional war book, in fact, this one involves alien abductions, time travel, and the planet Tramalfadore. The book isn’t purely concerned with aliens, but instead focuses on the morality of war, taking a more philosophical and political approach in fictional writing, and its lack of a positive impact on society. Despite its importance in the literary world, Slaughterhouse-Five has been challenged, banned, and even burned in several states for decades. The book has typically been banned due to sexually explicit scenes in the novel, violence, vulgar language, and religious references. Vonnegut’s novel is no easy read, but the powerful historical and philosophical allusions that we can absorb from the book ultimately teach readers about the horrors of war and its consequences.

Link to the book: Slaughterhouse-Five

Banned books have become a politicized movement in the oppression of free speech and diverse thinking. By continuing to support authors and educating yourself with the important subject matters and themes covered in books that are currently banned, you can fight against the attack on literature.

Anaïs Naish is a writer and social media contributor at the Her Campus UVA chapter. She is a first year studying Political Science and Economics.