Free to Read: Books for Older Teens and Adults

By Andrew Hazard

We celebrate the freedom to read by highlighting books that have been banned, censored, or challenged in schools and libraries across the country.

  • The Hate U Give

    2017 by Thomas, Angie

    Starr must decide whether to take a stand after one of her oldest friends is killed by a police officer. Despite near-universal acclaim from educators and critics, The Hate U Give was among the most challenged and banned books of 2017, 2018, and 2020. Reasons included its containing profanity and drug use, its alleged "anti-police" or "anti-cop" message, and being "pervasively vulgar."

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  • The Handmaid's Tale

    1986 by Atwood, Margaret

    "Offred" tells the story of her life as a "Handmaid" in a totalitarian future society called "Gilead." A classic of dystopian fiction, this novel still attracts controversy. The American Library Association lists it among the most frequently banned and challenged books of 2019, with stated reasons including that it has profanity, vulgarity, and sexual overtones.

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  • This One Summer

    2014 by Tamaki, Mariko

    "Summer friends" Rose and Windy learn a lot about themselves and their families while vacationing on Lake Ontario. This award-winning graphic novel was the most challenged book of 2016 (and among the most challenged of 2018) because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.

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  • The Kite Runner

    2003 by Hosseini, Khaled

    Returning to his native city of Kabul on a humanitarian mission, Amir reflects on his life in Afghanistan and America. This novel has been challenged frequently for its scenes of sexual violence, and in 2017 because it supposedly could "promote Islam" and "lead to terrorism."

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  • Looking for Alaska

    2005 by Green, John

    A tragedy forces Miles ("Pudge") and his boarding school classmates to ask difficult questions about life and death. This novel has been among the most frequently challenged books of the past decade, and the most challenged overall for 2015. Stated rationales include offensive language, that it is "unsuitable for the age group," and that it might lead teens "to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, and profanity."

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  • Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread

    2015 by Palahniuk, Chuck

    A collection of short fiction by the author of Fight Club, it was among the 10 Most Challenged books of 2016. Reasons include that it contains profanity, that it is sexually explicit, and that it is "disgusting and all-around offensive."

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  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

    2003 by Haddon, Mark

    Autistic 15-year-old Christopher Boone tries to solve the mystery of who killed the neighbor's dog using the methods of Sherlock Holmes, his inspiration. Much loved and translated into more than three dozen languages, Haddon's novel has also been challenged for containing profanity and for the atheist views expressed by the main character.

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  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

    2006 by Bechdel, Alison

    A cartoonist makes peace with the memory of her father, a closeted gay man. This autobiographical graphic novel won accolades and inspired a critically acclaimed Broadway musical. Its inclusion in high school and college curriculums has been challenged on the grounds that it is pornographic, that it promotes the gay and lesbian lifestyle, and that it contains violent and graphic images.

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  • Two Boys Kissing

    2013 by Levithan, David

    A "chorus" of gay men who died of AIDS offers advice to a group of present-day LGBTQ teens as they deal with everything from cyber danger to trying to break the world record for longest kiss. This novel has been challenged for its homosexual content and for appearing to promote public displays of affection. In 2018, it was among four books that a "religious activist" recorded himself burning after checking them out of the public library in Orange City, IA. The American Library Association notes that more than 200 new books were donated to the library following this incident.

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  • Persepolis

    2003 by Satrapi, Marjane

    A girl grows up in the years following Iran's 1979 Revolution. The inclusion of this graphic memoir in high school curriculums remains controversial. Those attacking it cited "coarse language and scenes of torture" as well as its supposed Islamic viewpoint. In 2013, an order to remove the book from junior high classrooms in the Chicago Public Schools on the grounds that it "contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use" was reversed amid protests spearheaded by students at Lane Tech College Prep.

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