7 Banned Books and Comics Everyone Should Read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Banned Books

In 1982 the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court Case determined that schools couldn’t ban books in their libraries because of their content; inspired by this, that same year, BookExpo America featured a showcase of books that had been challenged and banned. Due to the success of the exhibit, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) invited Office of intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director Judith Krug to join them in creating an initiative to discuss and raise awareness of banned books: and thus, Banned Books Week was born.

Since then, Banned Books Week has occurred as an annual event where the book community celebrates the freedom to read, while also discussing books that have been challenged and banned in the past. Banned Books Week 2020 occurs from September 27th-October 3rd, and according to bannedbooks.org, the theme is “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”

As an avid reader and supporter of Banned Books Week, I’ve compiled a list of frequently challenged books I believe are worthwhile to read. The books on this list cover a variety of genres and intended age ranges but this is still far from an exhaustive list. I chose these 7 books because they are the ones that mean the most to me.  Give this list a read and then check out these books for yourself. Maybe you’ll love them as much as I do, and maybe you won’t, but that’s the beauty of having the freedom to read whatever you want, and the reason we talk about Banned Books Week!  

I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Jazz smiles directly at the reader, in the background are framed photos, also of Jazz. - Banned Books Week

I am Jazz has been challenged for addressing “controversial topics” and including LGBTQIA content.  

I am Jazz is an autobiographical picture book about Jazz’s childhood, from realizing that she “has a girl brain in a boy body”, to learning what the term transgender means, to navigating her life at school as an openly trans girl. Written for children, I am Jazz explains things like gender identity and what it means to be transgender in a simple and straightforward way. This book is perfect for parents to read with their children in order to help begin the discussion about these concepts and building compassion for others. 

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Drama by Raina Telgemeier 

Three children walk across a stage. A pink heart appears over the head of the girl in the middle. Banned Books Week

Drama has been challenged for its inclusion of LGBTQIA characters

Drama follows Callie and her friends during the preparation for their middle school’s musical performance. In addition to the stress of putting together an entire production, Callie is struggling with having crushes on boys who aren’t clear about their feelings towards her. While Drama is aimed at a younger audience, and it’s absolutely perfect for that audience with it’s easy to follow plot and vibrant artwork, it’s still enjoyable as an adult reader. While the drama in Drama isn’t high stakes, it’s nice to read a sweet, ultimately feel-good story, and the inclusion of LGBTQIA characters who aren’t characterized just by their identity is refreshing. 

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This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Purple text reads "This One Summer."

This One Summer has been challenged for “profanity” and “sexual references.” 

This One Summer is the story of Rose, who spends every summer at the lake with her family and hanging out with her best friend Windy. This year the girls are coming-of-age, beginning to notice boys in a way they hadn’t before, and beginning to be curious about sex, drugs, smoking, as they become caught up in the drama between two teens in town.  Adolescence is a difficult and often lonely time, and While it’s uncomfortable for parents to think of their teens beginning to discover these topics, stories like this can help teens realize they’re not alone in their feelings. 

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi 

A young girl stares directly at the reader with a neutral expression on her face. Banned Books Week

Persepolis has been challenged for reasons including “offensive language”,  being “racially offensive”, “political viewpoints”, “gambling”, and “graphic depictions.” 

Persepolis is an autobiographical comic detailing Marjane Satrapi’s childhood as she grows up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi experienced political and cultural unrest alongside coming-of-age and the variety of emotions and inner turmoil that comes with it. In writing about her life in Persepolis, Satrapi not only provides a well-written and illustrated story, but also shows readers a life experience that may be very different from their own. 

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples 

A woman with wings stands next to a man with horns. They are both staring off to the side.

Saga has been challenged for being “anti-family”, “sexually explicit content”, “nudity”, and being “unsuited for age group.” 

Saga follows Marko and Alana, former soldiers from the opposite sides of a bloody war as they have a baby and try to keep their new family safe from the governments that want to hunt them down. At its core, Saga is the story of a family. And while Saga does feature content that may make some readers uncomfortable such as nudity, sex, and often gory violence, these elements are typically included to make a larger point. Violence especially is used to show just how horrific the war is, destroying lives even among those not directly involved. Also, as a story marketed to mature readers (i.e. adults), challenging it for being “unsuited for age group” doesn’t make sense, because plenty of adult media features explicit content, and adults are able to think critically about what stories they want to and don’t want to consume. 

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 

Blue text reads "the new york times bestseller." Underneath, brown text reads "the perks of being a wallflower." In the right corner is a photo of someone's legs. Banned Books Week

The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been challenged for many reasons including “homosexuality”, “sexually explicit content,” “drugs/alcohol/smoking, “masturbation”, and “date rape.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows a boy named Charlie during his first year of high school. His friend has recently killed himself, and his brother has gone off to college. These two changes have left Charlie feeling adrift as he experiences things like his first crush, first party, first breakup, first real friend group, and in order to cope, Charlie writes letters to an anonymous person. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is best suited to more mature readers; think late teens rather than preteens. There are trigger warnings for suicide, rape, and later discussion of molestation, but these scenes are not included for “shock value”, rather they are presented as very real and very traumatic events that deeply affect the characters.  Because of all these heavy topics, The Perks of Being a Wallflower often leaves the reader feeling sad and deeply sympathetic to the characters. 

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 

White text reads "The Hunger Games."

The Hunger Games is a story about deep class divide, racism, war, and trauma. It’s a much deeper story than the way it was unfortunately marketed as a story that’s most important aspect was a love triangle. At the core of The Hunger Games is the divide between the extremely wealthy, powerful, and privileged Capitol and the powerless, poor Districts. The Capitol expends a lot of effort making sure that the districts are divided by favoring districts closer to the Capitol over ones farther away, making residents resent and distrust people from the other districts. This keeps them from uniting and overthrowing the Capitol. They spend so much time hoping that if a tribute from their district wins so the district will be showered with plenty of food and resources, rather than realizing the Capitol is manipulating them into hating each other so they don’t realize that even residents in District 1 (a relatively wealthy district), are always much closer to the poverty of District 12 than the splendor of the Capitol. 

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This is only a very short list featuring some of my favorite books and comics that have been challenged. The complete list of books that have been challenged in the past few years is much, much longer, but I think this is a great starting point. Banned Books Week is a great time to look into lists of books that have been frequently challenged or banned, and to express your freedom to read. 

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