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10 Frequently-Challenged Books Everyone Should Read

July 6, 2009  |  7:00am
10 Frequently-Challenged Books Everyone Should Read
It should go without saying that, as a publication, we're pretty big fans of that whole freedom-of-speech thing. So, we couldn't help but notice the list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000, as reported by the American Library Association. These are all books that people have tried to keep out of libraries or other public venues because they are somehow deemed "inappropriate" or "dangerous." The whole thing is a little Fahrenheit 451 if you ask us. (Although, oddly, the great book about the dangers of censorship doesn't appear on the list of books people most commonly try to censor). And though we can't claim to have read all 100 of these, here are 10 that have changed our lives. Check them out:

10. Pretty much anything by Judy Blume
Why it's challenged: Blume has five books on the list (Forever, Blubber, Deenie, Tiger Eyes and Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret), whether for bad language or for discussing religion or sexuality too frankly. (Side note: Lolita's depictions of sexuality apparently aren't offensive enough to cause as much of a stir, as the Russian novel is absent from the list.)
Why it's worthwhile: You'd be hard-pressed to find a girl who grew up in the '70s, '80s or '90s who doesn't think of Blume like an unofficial big sister, and we'd be willing to guess that the author has single-handedly saved parents of teenage girls several thousands of dollars in therapy over the years. She addresses the trials of growing up with the candor that most awkward, parental birds-and-the-bees conversations lack. Not only do Blume books explore various "first times" in the life of a teenager, they also tackle heavier issues such as religion, battling sickness, bullying and the death of a parent that so many readers can relate to.

9. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
Why it's challenged: General immorality, mostly revolving around main character Charlie's exploration of his sexuality.
Why it's worthwhile: The depiction of how poorly the mentally disabled are often treated is borderline heartbreaking. But beyond that, the novel makes us consider the role (and limitations) of science, which is something that seems increasingly critical in this day and age. It's also a great reminder of how important of all kinds of love are, and should ground any readers trapped in an ivory tower.

8. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
Why it's challenged: The unexpected death of a child is a major plot point, which many don't think is suitable for young readers. Furthermore, the main character, Jess, uses the Lord's name outside of prayer, and some argue that the novel promotes secular humanism or even Satanism. The close relationship between Jess and his elementary school music teacher also raises some red flags.
Why it's worthwhile: On a completely personal note, I will forever remember this as the first book to make me cry. I was an emotional mess, which is probably why so many parents don't want their kids to read it. But that's precisely why it should be read, especially by the younger crowd: it's the perfect example of how much of an effect literature can have on us. Besides that, it's the kid-lit friendship-depiction equivalent of Of Mice and Men (see No. 2), and reminds everyone how important imagination is.

7. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Why it's challenged: The novel appears to have a disturbingly "irreverent tone," which is deemed inappropriate even though it deals with war. There is (gasp!) both profanity and sex. But so it goes.  
Why it's worthwhile: We learn about war, consider time travel, meet some cool creatures who experience four dimensions and question free will.

6. Native Son, Richard Wright
Why it's challenged: Murder, references to communism and accusations that the North wasn't racism-free are wrapped up into one neat package.
Why it's worthwhile: Wright depicts racism as a sick cycle that harms both the oppressed and the oppressor. It's a bleak novel where protagonist Bigger Thomas is simultaneously a victim and a criminal and the lines between free will social expectations are blurry at best.

5. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Why it's challenged: Many are concerned with its representation of human nature and putting personal welfare above the common good.
Why it's worthwhile: As an allegory for WWII, it's brilliant. It would probably receive the Thomas Hobbes seal of approval for showing just how nasty, brutish and short life can be. Is it unnerving to think that this is what we could all be reduced to in a lawless society? Of course. But it's pretty intriguing, too.

4. The Giver, Lois Lowry

Why it's challenged: Apparently, this critique on utopian societies can promote communism, and does so in a way more dangerous than George Orwell's 1984, another book not on the list.
Why it's worthwhile:
Imagining a highly-organized society without color and where emotion is suppressed is disturbing, yes, but it makes you realize just how important freedom is. The Giver might show all the horrible things that happen in the world, but it also shows all the great ones, and reminds us of how lucky we are not to be shielded from either.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Why it's challenged: There's profanity and racial slurs aplenty, plus frank discussion of rape.
Why it's worthwhile: The whole novel is about the difference between right and wrong, the horrors of racism and the injustice of social inequality, yet still manages not to preach. This is partly because the narrator is the 5-year-old, overall-wearing Scout Finch, and partly because Lee gives readers enough credit to understand that when Atticus says, "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird," he's not just talking about what his kids do with their BB guns.

2. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Why it's challenged: The language is considered particularly offensive. The plot twist (which, spoiler alert, we're about to give away in two sentences) at the end doesn't seem to be a major concern for most.
Why it's worthwhile: This is one of the most touching representations of friendship out there. OK, yes, George kills Lennie, and that might not be the most conventional way to show how much you love someone, but it's honest and truly shows that even our best-laid plans oft go awry.

1. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Why it's challenged: It has inappropriate amounts of profanity, sexuality and angst.
Why it's worthwhile: This is the ultimate novel about growing up, losing innocence and finally feeling that oh-so-symbolic rain fall on your head. If Holden Caulfield taught us anything, it's that nothing, not even keeping Catcher in the Rye out of kids' hands, is going to stop that from happening. We'd like to meet those people who are so concerned with the novel's "angst" and ask them what their adolescence was like, because as far as we're concerned, angst and growing go together like Caulfield and his red hunting hat.

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