Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frequently Banned Young Adult Books: 90s Edition

On an aside, this is my 200th post! That's a whole lot of 90s. PS don't forget to enter all and any personal or family Glamour Shots in the Glamour Shots Challenge! Send your undoubtedly embarrassing photos to

Not only did I miss banned books week, this poster is from last year!

I know I'm about a month too late to engage in any sort of nationally conscious discussion during Banned Books week; my complete inattention to detail and timely pertinent bookstore displays is starting to show. It's an important issue at any time, though, and if it means we get to join in on mocking all those who seek to censor our allegedly inappropriate literary content, then all the better. If there's a bannedwagon out there, I'm jumping on it. Get it? Bannedwagon? Anyone?

*Cranes neck and shields eyes from monitor glare to gaze out at bewildered readers through their computer screens*

Painful puns aside, it's an issue many of us may not have been aware of as children but that continues to plague libraries and school systems everywhere. In any given society, there's bound to be a vocal contingency of uptight people engaging in the rectal transport of sticks. In a society that enourages free speech, however, the irony of their existence is no doubt lost on their closed minds. That is, the free speech stipulations that allow them to spout misguided uneducated drivel without consequence is the same ruling that upholds these authors' collective right to publish what they please. Quite a conundrum, huh?

Unsurprisingly, parents make up the majority of literary naysayers. It's natural for parents to be concerned about their innocent children's easily corruptible young minds, but the idea of each of us having our own parents is that families can make decisions for themselves and not society at large. Unfortunately, whoever yells the loudest often gains the widest audience, meaning these book banners garnered a lot of attention for their shouting and finger-pointing.

The most frequent reasons cited for protesting a book are sexuality, language, or "unsuitable material". In short, our intellectual freedom to grow and mature as eager young readers is most often suppressed by a bunch of prudes. Because why encourage a child to enjoy reading when you can teach them the value of complaining?

Here's a light sampling of the most frequently banned young adult books during the 90s. Many of the books were written decades earlier, but remained in the forefront of the censorship agenda:

The Giver

In this 1984-esque Utopian science fiction novel, Lois Lowry outlines a world of compliant individuals content to languish in their colorless world. The protagonist Jonas is stuck in a frightening sterile world where people are tightly controlled and exist without emotion. They even take pills to quell the sexual "stirrings" they feel beginning from puberty. You'd think our book banners would be all for that with all of their anti-sex rhetoric, but apparently what comes next is too inexcusable to give the book any merit in their eyes.

The Giver was banned largely for its themes of community-sanctioned suicide and euthanasia, the "release" characters receive if they fail to fit into the well-ordered society. Admittedly it's a pretty heavy issue for young children, but the book touts these behaviors as a negative consequence of an overly uniform society. In more common terms, they're saying it's bad. Don't do it. The book has a strong message of individuality and personal freedom, which we all know censors don't like one bit. It's no wonder they don't want us thinking for ourselves; they want us thinking for themselves.


Oh, and pretty much every other book written by Blume over the span of the preceding few decades made the list. Some authors really know how to cause a stir amongst conservative morally straitjacketed PTA types. Forever was a shoo-in for raising a ruckus with its explicitly sexual content, detailing the experiences of a high school girl and her boyfriend's foray into physical intimacy. Let's put it this way: the book was released in 1975 and remains in one of the top spots on the banned books chart. I'll give you a hint why it remains so popular among young readers: it's about sex.

On an aside, some statisticians speculate that the dip in popularity of the name Ralph is in direct correlation to the fact that that's what the protagonist's boyfriend names his, er, private parts. Now that's a lasting impact.

Go Ask Alice

This story has a seriously awesome punchline. After years of speculation over the identity of the anonymous author of this drug-addled teenage memoir, it was revealed that it was actually penned by a Mormon youth minister. One of the censor-mongers' own! Ba-Dum-Ching!

Okay, so that didn't really kick the censorship habit. If anything, it just added fuel to the fire. As an anonymous diary, the book was provocative in its depictions of sexuality and extensive drug use. As a book written by a Mormon youth minister, it lost a little of that street credibility. Just a tad. Author Beatrice Sparks allegedly based the novel on the diary of one of her real psychiatry patients, but still. Regardless of the fact that the book is a cautionary tale against drug use, some parents obviously their kids will be drawn to try drugs after reading descriptions of the main character trying to bite her fingers off on a bad trip. Right.


Not all banned books were contested on sexuality. Some were just plain unsavory. At least that's what parents claimed of the wildly popular Goosebumps series. The books had kids delighting in reading, but apparently at the cost of exposure to some cartoon-grade violence. The horror!

Alice Series

A book about teenagers with sex on the brain? Why, I've never heard of such a thing! On her own blog just a few weeks ago, Reynolds Naylor addressed the issue of parents protesting the content of her book:

It’s usually parents who want their children kept “pure,” as many parents tell me, “from harmful influences.” The mother of a ten year old girl was very angry with me for talking about how babies are conceived in Lovingly Alice. She wrote that since her daughter read that book, “the words penis and vagina will be forever ingrained on her mind.” Another mother tearfully accosted me because she found the word “condoms” in a novel for teenagers, and said, “My eighth grade son doesn’t know what condoms are and I don’t want him to know.” Whenever I hear comments like these, my heart really goes out to their children.

Well put, Phyll. Parents are entitled to raise their children however they see fit, and they certainly don't need to check this one out of the library for their kids if it's in contention with their moral values. It's general right to exist, however, is a whole different story. (That story is called Achingly Alice, available at bookstores near you!)

The Boy Who Lost His Face

The Boy Who Lost His Face was written by Louis Sachar, the author behind the Wayside School books. The protests against insinuations of witchcraft I may support, but I can understand them. My favorite challenge, however, was the inclusion of "obscene gestures". Yes, you read that right. The reader doesn't actually see any obscene gestures, he or she just reads a description of them.

Harry Potter

This one is probably sort of a given. Sorcery, witchcraft, magic: all that good stuff is more than enough ammunition to set off religious protest groups. Despite the fact that the novels fell into the fantasy genre, many censors fear that that faithful children will abandon their Biblical aspirations in favor of a career in the dark arts.

Many parents also feared the books were a bit too dark and scary for young children, which is a reasonably legitimate concern. I'd advise for those parents to not let their six year olds read it. On the other side of the banning spectrum, some critics contended Harry and his pals set a bad example for their kids. He gets into all sorts of mischief and doesn't always obey his elders. You know, he has fun and he's a kid. Quick, hide the book!

Scary Stories

They're too scary. We get it. Let's move on.

The Face on the Milk Carton

The "sexual content" charge, though minimal, I can kind of understand, but the "challenging of authority" allegation? I mean, the book is about a girl who's been kidnapped by her own grandparents. Whose authority exactly is in question? Is it just the general notion that adults can make mistakes, commit crimes, or otherwise act unwisely? It's a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

Everyone has the right to their own opinion, and my disparaging remarks about the tightly wound moral crusaders is just another blissful exercise in free speech. Let me freely say that most of these challenges are the most ridiculous, asinine ideas ever to spew from the mouths of overzealous overprotective over-meddling parents. You, of course, have the freedom to disagree with me. That's the beauty of it. Embrace it. Freely.


KatiePerk said...

Excellent post! I am thankful every day that my parents didn't censor my reading list. In fact they often helped me select books that were a bit above me as a way to talk to me about issues! I loved the Giver and every Judy Blume book!

courtney said...

Those Scary Stories were pretty scary...but I loved them!

Once on a subway in NYC someone handed me this anti-Harry Potter propaganda pamphlet. It was so funny to read!

Badass Geek said...

I haven't read any of these books. I'm not sure what that means.

twenty_two14 said...

Between my sister and I, we've read a large majority of these books, and they even bought many of them for us. Like KatieSPerk above me, I am thankful they never censored our reading lists.

Scientific Housewife said...

I actually wrote an editorial in a local newspaper when the parent hooplah over Harry Potter was in it's prime. My main point was that the witchcraft and sorcery in those books were no different than Disney movies containing witches, and you don't hear parents trying to ban Disney Princesses!

Desiree said...

very nice! i read the giver in 5th grade, and one parent actually took a black marker and crossed out a part where the kid has what we assume is a wet dream. really people? because 4 months later, the took us into sex ed to explain wet dreams [to the boys only, of course. girls were separated]. my parents let me read almost anything i wanted, but started to hide their magazines that talked about sex [essence, heart & soul, etc/]

Sadako said...

Loved so many of these books. Though it wasn't Janie g-parents who kidnapped her--they didn't know, honest! It was all Hannah's fault. Evil Hannah.

Ugh, Go Ask Alice. It was on recommended reading lists all through middle school and it's not even well written and it's such anti drug propaganda. I so want to go back in time with snopes print outs in hand and scream stuff like, "Beatrice Sparks LIES!"

That's what blogging is for, I guess.

Also, what irony--the type of ppl who would ban the Giver and other books (too much sex! too much violence! too much challenging authority! too much REAL LIFE) are exactly the people I would assume would love a nice safe world free of color and music and conflict and sex and differences.

Angela said...

I read Go Ask Alice in Jr. High, and we had to get our parents to sign permission slips before we could read it. And you know what? I loved the book! And the part about a Mormon writing it? Even better, since I'm an ex-mo myself! Ha!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Scary Stories was banned! I bought all three at Toys R Us back in the late 90s and the scared the crap out of my brother and I, haha! I just gave them to my little cousin on Halloween and she loves them!

Laila P said...

I loved most of these books, but most of all I love that poster at the top!

Gina; The Candid RD said...

Great blog!!! I would consider myself a child of the 90s, for sure. I read ALL of the goosebumps books :)

I'm glad you enjoyed my probiotic post! Thanks for stopping by.

Jennifer Fabulous said...

I must be one messed up adult now. After all, these were ALL my favorite books back in middle school. Lol.
Oh gosh, it kills me that these were banned. Just kills me.
The Giver is one of the great books ever written.
Forever...lets just say my mom bought me that book when I was 12 and that was pretty much her way of giving me a sex education. Haha.
Goosebumps...I don't even know where to begin on that. It's ludicrous that those were banned at all. We might as well ban every single scary book and movie in the world, if that's the case. Sigh.
I could go on forever about all of these, but I better quit now or I will be writing you an essay. ;)
I hope you have a great day!

Melanie's Randomness said...

I remember all these books. There were like meetings all over the country about these books. I think people needed to calm it down with the banning. geez.

Katie said...

Great post! I'm so glad I have an elementary school teacher for a mom with a love of good literature because I've read most of the books on this list. The Goosebumps series is one of my all time favorites!

Catherine said...

I actually had my own 9th grade English students pick a book from the ALA banned books list, read it, and write a paper about why they thought their book was banned and why it is important to live in a country with laws about free speech. It was the first time 90% of them had willingly finished a book for school!

Kimberly said...

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark --- love this book. Guess the story about the Big Toe was too much.

Neena said...

My parents never really monitored much of my reading... I was reading Amy Tan (...yay violent rape descriptions) in the 5th grade.

Go Ask Alice absolutely terrified me...but not about taking drugs. I had all these vivid dreams about bugs covering my body... I'm still absolutely terrified of ants. Whenever I see a bunch of them on it just brings back the memories...

Aside from that, I read and loved pretty much all of these books.

LWLH said...

I actually had to read the giver for school I think.

Andhari said...

I can't believe I was so afraid of Goosebumps. I collect them :) And oh the good nineties, the start of Harry Potter series. Until now, still one of my favorite book series in the world. EVER.:)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't know so many that I read were banned.
When I was in sixth grade, we were required to read The giver and among the hidden.

Oh! About the comments on "go ask alice" I'm mormon and I have no clue what a mormon youth minister is. I could be called something else. Seminary teacher? uhhh... We dont use minister. *shrugs*

Keep up the great work, I love reading this blog!

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