Books that deal with controversial topics often reflect teens’ real-life situations
BY COOPER HALL
All around the world books are being banned in schools. This means a lot of students may not have the opportunity to read them. Most books that were banned or challenged in 2020 discussed topics of racism, diversity, Black American history, or LGBTQ topics. A lot of commonly banned books are also written by Black, POC, queer, trans, and genderfluid authors (“What people miss”). Books are also often commonly banned for containing damaging lifestyles, blasphemous language, sex, violence, witchcraft, negativity, politics, or religion, according to the American Library Association (“Why Books Shouldn’t be Banned”). Books banned or challenged in the past and present include “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by JD Salinger, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison, “1984,” by George Orwell, “Animal Farm,” by George Orwell, and ‘The Call of the Wild,” by Jack London (“Banned and Challenged Classics”). Books should not be banned because banning books is unfair to children and authors and can lead to a lack of representation.
Banning books is unfair to the authors and students. When books are taken out of school libraries by banning them, a door is slammed in the face of some children who have nowhere else to get information. For example, books about sex and puberty are often banned (“What people miss”). If children aren’t learning this information at home and have no internet access, they miss out on the information altogether. Author Mikki Kendall, who wrote “Hood Feminism,” talked about how banning books will only undermine education for students who are not able to find the information in banned books anywhere else (Bellamy-Walker). Many of the books taught in middle school and high school English classes are or were banned. Two examples are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye” (“Banned and Challenged Classics”). This proves that banned books still have educational value. Our education system is meant to help encourage student learning. Banning books does the exact opposite of this.
Not only is banning books unfair to students, but it is also unfair to the authors who wrote the books that are being banned. Many authors feel upset that a book they wrote to help children learn and understand bigger problems at a young age is being twisted into something violent, misleading, and altogether the opposite of what they intended the book to be (Bellamy-Walker). Tiffany D. Jackson, the author of “Monday’s Not Coming,” said: “It’s hurtful to go through this, to be considered such a monster, allegedly corrupting children. I had to go back and reread my own book to determine if we were reading the same story” (Bellamy-Walker). Ultimately, books are written with a desired purpose, one that is rarely to convince students to do witchcraft or to brainwash them. To remove the access to information and learning away from students — simply because one or two parents felt that the book contained inappropriate content — is unfair. In the same way, to take a writer’s hard work off a shelf because of a few complaints is unfair.
Banning books can lead to a lack of representation for many students. Almost all of the books banned in 2020 dealt with themes of sexuality, race, or gender (Bellamy-Walker). Banning books that discuss these topics prevents a lot of students from seeing themselves represented in the books they are reading. Lynn Frick, a high school English teacher said, “I think that the reason these [banned] books are just eaten up by kids is because they can relate to the topics and can understand some of the emotions that the characters are feeling, it all really resonates with them” (“Why Books Shouldn’t be Banned”). Jay Asher, who wrote “Thirteen Reasons Why,” a book banned in the Colorado district, said “I just got an email from a reader who said that “Thirteen Reasons Why” was the first time they had felt understood. A book shouldn’t be anybody’s first time feeling understood, and that’s where censorship bothers me. These books need to be out there” so all students can see themselves in books (“Why Books Shouldn’t be Banned”). Books that deal with controversial topics often reflect teens’ real-life situations. For example, one student said that while “All Boys aren’t Blue” did have content regarding sex and sexual assault, it made him feel heard and less alone as a transgender boy and sexual assault survivor (“There’s new pressure”). All students need to feel seen and heard, and they should be represented in the books they are reading. Banning books that deal with the common themes of sexuality, race, and gender will lead to a lack of representation in books by groups of students.
Despite the argument made above, some people believe that banning books is no longer relevant. Some believe that the conversation about banned books is irrelevant as books become less and less popular. However, banning books is still extremely relevant. Attempts to ban books were up 67 percent from September 2020 to September 2021 (“There’s new pressure”). In February, there was a massive book burning in Tennessee. A pastor in Tennessee organized a meeting where books in the Harry Potter and Twilight series were burned for containing ideas of witchcraft, spells, and shapeshifting (Migdon). Here in Iredell County a parent has complained that dozens of books in school media centers should be removed for inappropriate content, causing district officials to review the books. Banning books is not a distant practice of the past. It is relevant and still affects students today.
Banning books with common themes of sexuality and race will lead to many students not being represented in the books. It unfairly undercuts students’ education, and it is unjust to take the opportunity of learning and enjoyment found in books away from students. Although thought to be irrelevant, banning books is still a pertinent issue today.
Cooper Hall is a sophomore in the International Baccalaureate program at South Iredell High School.
“Banned and Challenged Classics.” ALA, American Library Association, 26 March 2013. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics
Bellamy-Walker, Tat, “Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students.” NBC News, NBC News, 20 January 2022. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/book-bans-schools-are-catching-fire-black-authors-say-uproar-isnt-stud-rcna10228
Migdon, Brooke. “Tennessee Pastor Burns ‘Witchcraft’ ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Twilight’ Books.” The Hill, 7 Feb. 2022, www.thehill.com/changing-america/respect/diversity-inclusion/593084-tennessee-pastor-burns-witchcraft-harry-potter#:~:text=A%20Tennessee%20pastor%20last%20week,tarot%20cards%20and%20healing%20crystals.
“There’s new pressure to ban books at schools.” Morning Edition. National Public Radio, NPR, Kansas City, 6 December 2021.
“What people miss in the conversation about banned books.” It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders from NPR, 24 November 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/11/22/1058107484/banned-books-list-talk-to-kids
“Why Books Shouldn’t be Banned.” The Artifice, The Artifice, 24 April 2019. https://the-artifice.com/books-banned/