25 Of The Most Banned Books Of The Last 15 Years, aka It's 2015 And We Still Do This

Being told not to do something only makes us want to do it more, right? (I know this isn’t just me.) From back in the days when THOSE BOOKS — you know the ones — were placed just out of arm’s reach on our parents' bookshelves, we’ve been wondering, What exactly is so verboten about Henry Miller anyway? And, OK, maybe sometimes Nora Roberts, too.

Sure, our parents hiding their generation’s version of Fifty Shades of Grey from our 11-year-old selves is one type of censorship. But the concept of “banned books” takes on that scary, Orwellian vibe when a book is censored out of the public space entirely — by school districts, libraries, or the heavy-handed Big Brother.

The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, a yearly event celebrating the freedom to read — mark your calendars, it starts September 27 this year — draws national attention to the books that are still being challenged and banned across the country.

Some of these titles may surprise you, (and others definitely won't) but here are 25 of the most banned books of the last 15 years.

Image: Kennedy Library/Flickr

by E. Ce Miller

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

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As one of the most challenged books of the last 15 years, The Perks of Being a Wallflower appears on the ALA banned books list seven times since 2004. The YA novel, which tells the story of an introverted teenager named Charlie, who chronicles his coming-of-age experiences in letters to an unnamed stranger, was most recently banned in a Glen Ellyn school district in Illinois in 2013 for “sexual content and inappropriate language.” The book, made into a movie in 2012, also grapples with the very real issues of drug use, domestic abuse, and mental illness.

'The Chocolate War' by Robert Cormier

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This YA novel uses the event of a high school fundraiser to explore issues of bullying, violence, abuse of power, and mob mentality. When the book’s main character, Jerry Renault, refuses to participate in his Catholic school’s chocolate sale, both the school administration and his peers turn on him. This book has been banned in school districts repeatedly since 2001, even making TIME magazine’s top 10 book controversies list in 2007.

'Beloved' by Toni Morrison

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Cited as “contain[ing] gratuitous language, violence, and sex acts that provide no historical context for the reader”, Morrison’s book has been challenged numerous times since it’s publication in 1987, including being banned from a Plymouth-Canton, Michigan, high school in 2012. Beloved tells the story of Sethe, an escaped and recaptured slave, who is haunted by the spirit of a daughter she killed rather than return her to a life of slavery as well.

'And Tango Makes Three' by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

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This children’s book, featuring a same-sex penguin couple who share the responsibilities of hatching and raising their baby penguin, Tango, has ranked on the ALA’s challenged books list seven times since 2006, most recently last year. In 2012, the book was banned from Gibbs Elementary School in Rochester, Minnesota, for being “age inappropriate.” Although the Rochester school district ultimately reinstated the book, And Tango Makes Three has also been banned for “promoting the homosexual agenda” (whatever that means), even though it is actually based on the true account of same-sex, co-parenting penguins.

'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini

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Often criticized for offensive language and violence, this novel, written by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, has been challenged as recently as this month, by Reynolds High School in Asheville, North Carolina. The Kite Runner depicts the tumultuous personal relationships of Amir, an Afghan boy growing up in Kabul during the Soviet military invasion, and subsequent rise of the Taliban.

'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie

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Listed as the most challenged book of 2014, this YA novel/comic book is written as the personal narrative of Native American teenager, Arnold Spirit Jr., of the Spokane Indian Reservation. Arnold is frequently bullied on the reservation for his physical disabilities, and is ultimately convinced to transfer to an all-white high school off the reservation. The book was recently banned from schools in Idaho for “filthy words and anti-Christian content.” It has also been criticized for featuring issues of substance abuse, gambling, and violence.

'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck

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This novella, published in 1937, is STILL creating waves today. The book follows two migrant workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, through their violent and tragic journey across California, during the Great Depression. As recently as last month there has been a push to ban Steinbeck’s classic in high school classrooms in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for being “neither a quality story nor a page turner” by someone who has perhaps never read the book. Of Mice and Men has also been challenged in Idaho, and elsewhere, for offensive language, racism, and violence.

'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' by J.K. Rowling

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This bestselling fantasy novel, usually so beloved by children and adults alike, made the ALA banned and challenged list in 2001, 2002, and 2003, for featuring depictions of the occult and Satanism. One church community in Alamogordo, New Mexico, went as far as burning the Harry Potter books, because that’s not a terrifying overreaction in the least.

'The Agony of Alice' by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

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The author of this series of YA novels, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, has been credited as being banned more than any other author this decade. The Alice series follows the motherless Alice McKinley, from elementary school to high school, as she grows up the only girl in a household of boys. The series has been banned for sexual content, offensive language, and featuring topics — like menstruation and masturbation — that are too mature for young adults.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

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It’s hard to believe that this classic was featured on the ALA challenged books list as recently as 2011, or that a Louisiana school board voted to ban To Kill a Mockingbird from their high school classrooms in 2013. There’s no buzz about what bans like this might mean for Lee’s much-anticipated Go Set a Watchman, but at some point we should probably all try to agree that banning one of the greatest novels ever written is a bad idea.

'TTYL' by Lauren Myracle

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As part of the Internet Girls series (all of which have caused controversy in some schools and libraries) TTYL is a YA novel, written entirely in instant messages, that chronicles all the teenage-angst to be had in the tenth grade. TTYL has been challenged and/or banned from schools and libraries for its use of explicit language and sex, and its religious viewpoints.

'Captain Underpants' by Dav Pilkey

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Ahh, Captain Underpants : the children’s book that beat Fifty Shades of Grey for most-banned book of 2014. This one is kind of a head-scratcher, since the books seem to contain almost no material that the average human would consider offensive or explicit. I blame this one on the fact that some soulless adults have simply forgotten that underpants — both the word and the article of clothing — are hilarious. At any age.

'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley

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There’s a certain poetic irony to banning a book which tells the story of a world that bans books. Brave New World, published in 1932, is an OG of dystopian novels, and has been challenged or banned around the world since publication. Most recently, one school library in Foley, Alabama took the book off shelves due to “characters who show contempt for religion, marriage, and the family.”

'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins

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This bestselling dystopian YA novel has been challenged for being violent and sexually explicit; although it has also been suggested that some parents and teachers have pushed to ban the book because they disliked the movie adaptation. Maybe all the haters would prefer this dystopian YA novel parody instead.

'Bridge to Terabithia' by Katherine Paterson

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Yet another YA novel challenged for containing “adult material” (in this case that would be the occult and Satanism) Bridge to Terabithia had steadily moved down the ALA list of banned books for years, until 2002 and 2003 when it returned to the top 10. Disney still adapted the book into a movie in 2007.

'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger

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This is the book that is either over-assigned in school (six times between 8th and 12th grade, people) or avoided entirely. It has literally spent decades on the ALA’s list of banned books, for language, sex, and violence, but not, inexplicably, simply because Holden Caulfield is an insufferable pain in the ass. Little known fact: when Mark Chapman shot John Lennon he was holding a copy of Catcher in the Rye.

'What My Mother Doesn't Know' by Sonya Sones

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This YA novel tells the coming-of-age story of Sophie Stein, a 9th grader dealing with all sorts of censorable struggles: namely boys and her body. What My Mother Doesn’t Know has ranked in ALA’s top 10 challenged books four times since 2001, and Sones has even received requests to stop writing “filth.”

'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker

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In addition to being another of America’s most-banned authors, Alice Walker is also kind of a book-wielding badass. The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, an African-American woman living in the rural south in the 1930s, and deals with issues of racism, sexism, and sexual violence. The novel was adapted into an Academy Award nominated film in 1985.

'The Bluest Eye' by Toni Morrison

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Literary powerhouse Toni Morrison makes the list again, this time with her novel The Bluest Eye — the first book she ever wrote. The novel’s protagonist Pecola faces issues of racism, sexual violence, and domestic abuse; and recently the book has been the focus of criticism and proposed censorship by the Tea Party in Alabama.

'Fallen Angels' by Walter Dean Myers

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This YA novel about the horrors of war has ranked in the ALA’s top 10 banned books three times since 2001. Set during the Vietnam war, Fallen Angels depicts American war crimes, irresponsible military leadership, and the careless loss of young lives: a literary trifecta just begging to be censored. The book has been banned in schools in Indiana, Kansas, and Mississippi.

'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou

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Another writer who has, at one time or another, taken the title of ”most banned author in the United States”, Maya Angelou wrote this autobiography about her childhood in 1969. Ironically, one of the most prominent themes in this often-banned book is the transformative power literature has, particularly in responding to injustice.

'Go Ask Alice' by Beatrice Sparks

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Written just after the rose-colored, LSD-dropping 1960s, this YA novel looks at drug use and abuse in a way few books had done at that time — particularly with a female protagonist. Falling near the top of the ALA’s banned list as recently as 2003, this novel was also banned in schools in South Carolina as recently as 2007.

'It's Perfectly Normal' by Robie H. Harris

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It’s perhaps unsurprising (though no less concerning) that this sex education book for children has been banned frequently since publication. Featuring full-color illustrations of naked bodies and direct language about all things birds-and-bees, this book covers everything left out of your 9th grade Health class.

'Bless Me, Ultima' by Rudolfo Anaya

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As the most popular novel in Chicano literature, Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel about a boy living in rural New Mexico in the 1940s. The book has frequently been challenged since its publication in 1972, and was banned as recently as 2009 from a school district in California for sexually explicit content and “anti-Catholic values.”

'Fifty Shades of Grey' by E.L. James

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You’ve been waiting for this title to pop up, haven’t you? It’s no secret that the pornographic pages of this trilogy have been making waves since they hit shelves in 2011. The book has been banned in libraries across the United States, and is responsible for this really fun drinking game, based on the movie adaptation. (If you felt all the feels when you read this one, you weren’t alone.)