Celebrate your right to read with these banned or challenged YA romances
Every year during Banned Books Week, we in the book biz celebrate the many books that have been banned or challenged. It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like without challenged books such as To Kill A Mockingbird (challenged for “offensive language; racism”) and Speak (which has been accused of being “child pornography”).
If you’re looking for a swoonworthy way to celebrate your right to read, pick up one of these frequently banned or challenged YA romances:
Forever… by Judy Bloom (1975)
“Censorship grows out of fear and, because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage.” —Judy Blume
What it’s about: Published in the 70s, Forever… is about two teens who meet at a New Year’s Eve party and start dating (which leads them to the inevitable question of sex).
Why you should read it: It’s a classic story about teenage longing. One of the things that makes YA literature so vital is that it shows the world through teens’ eyes—and when you’re young, there’s no feeling more intense or all-consuming than being in love. And Forever… has intense feelings in spades.
Why it’s been challenged: Young love (and the progression to sex) in Forever… is what resonated with teens and horrified parents and censors.
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)
“It was burned on the steps of the building housing the Kansas City School Board. What was my reaction? I was stunned. Only Nazis burn books, I thought!” —Nancy Garden
What it’s about: This is a timeless romance between two teenage girls who meet by chance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Why you should read it: This is one of the sweetest love stories I’ve read, and though it was written more than thirty years ago, the story about two young people falling in love and figuring out their identities feels like it could have been written today. It’s a story about love conquering hatred and ignorance and condemnation.
Why it’s been challenged: Homosexuality. Nancy Garden told Booklist that she “wrote it to give solace to young gay people, to let them know they were not alone, that they could be happy and well-adjusted and also to let heterosexual kids know that we gay people aren’t monsters.” It’s hard to believe that this book about love was pulled from shelves and burned in Kansas City in 1993.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
“Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.” —Stephen Chbosky
What it’s about: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is probably best known as a coming-of-age novel. But one of the things that the shy, lovable protagonist, Charlie, tries to figure out is love: He pines for his friend Sam, the free-spirited girl of his dreams.
Why you should read it: The romance between Charlie and Sam is sweet and real in the sense that sometimes love is messy, and uncertain, and unrequited, and unfair.
Why it’s been challenged: Challengers have objected to the book because of sex, drug use, and homosexuality.
Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
“If a parent doesn’t think his or her children have the intellectual sophistication to read critically, that’s fine. Don’t let your kids read the book. But a well-organized minority shouldn’t be allowed to make collection decisions in our public libraries. ” —John Green
What it’s about: When Miles Halter transfers to a private boarding school in Alabama for his junior year of high school, he says he goes “to seek a great perhaps” (quoting Francois Rabelais’ last words). What he finds is Alaska, a deeply troubled and deeply compelling girl who he falls in love with.
Why you should read it: As he grapples with his feelings for Alaska, Miles tries to find his way through life. Like Perks, this is a great coming-of-age tale with a strong thread of romance.
Why it’s been challenged: The book’s challengers have objected to the students’ drinking, smoking, and sexual activity. But the takeaway from this book about young love and self-discovery is anything but pro-underage drinking.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
“Kids here have the right to read. They have the right to think and imagine. To see their own world in books. To see other worlds in books.” —Rainbow Rowell
What it’s about: This tale about an overweight girl named Eleanor and a shy Asian guy named Park is a bittersweet romance. Eleanor and Park must overcome bullies, family trouble, and their own awkwardness in order to be together.
Why you should read it: Told through Eleanor and Park’s alternating perspectives, this is a wonderfully romantic will-they-or-won’t they story that draws the reader in immediately. It’s a powerful story about that overwhelming feeling of first love.
Why it’s been challenged: Since there’s a four-letter word on the first page, it isn’t too hard to guess why Eleanor and Park has been challenged (one person who objected to the book counted about 220 curse words throughout the book). The book, like the real world, isn’t a squeaky clean place where teenagers are spared coarse language and sheltered from all danger (Eleanor’s trouble home life is evidence enough of that.)
What other challenged YA romance titles did we miss? What are some of your favorite banned or challenged books? Will you be reading any banned books this week?
Want to learn more about Banned Books Week? Here’s a roundup of links with more information:
- Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group’s Banned Books Week 2014
- Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out
- ALA Banned and Challenged Books
- Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century
- ALA’s Banned Books Week Press Kit (with yearly lists of challenged books)
- American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
- The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
- The National Coalition Against Censorship
- The Kids Right to Read Project at the National Coalition Against Censorship