Subversive Stories Are Good for You

From "Books Challenged and/or Banned 2012-2013". Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

From Books Challenged and/or Banned 2012-13; artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
–Ray Bradbury
Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled “This could change your life.” ―Helen Exley
To hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death! ―Kurt Vonnegut
Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.



To celebrate Banned Books Week I’ve made a list of challenged, censored, restricted, or banned books that have entertained, educated, inspired, or otherwise made an impact on me. Some, like Christopher Pike’s Last Act, were guiltless pleasures—one of dozens of YA thrillers I devoured as a kid before moving on to Stephen King. Others, like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Shange’s for colored girls, and Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World, are powerful works that have earned a permanent place on my shelves.

All of these books include something subversive (read: honest or imaginative) that someone has objected to, from cursing, witchcraft, talking animals, and broken dishes (see “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes” in Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic), to explorations of sex, violence, race, and gender. So all of them have something interesting—and often valuable—to offer. How many have you read?


  • Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  • Lysistrata by Aristophanes
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block
  • Girl Goddess #9 by Francesca Lia Block
  • I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  • Blubber by Judy Blume
  • Deenie by Judy Blume
  • Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein
  • Our Bodies, Ourselves by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  • My House by Nikki Giovanni
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • A Time to Kill by John Grisham
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Last Act by Christopher Pike
  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  • The Pigman by Paul Zindel
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn


Next I think I’ll check out Voltaire’s scandalous old satire, Candide. What will you read?


What do you think?