“The Great Gatsby,” The Holy Bible, “The Lord of the Rings,” and “The Outsiders,” are different thematically, yet they share one thing in common. Each year since 2001, the American Library Association (ALA) has listed the top 10 most challenged books in the United States. Each of the previously mentioned texts have appeared in the ALA’s top ten at least once since 2001. While a few of the books challenged were due to more rational concerns, such as Bill Cosby’s “Little Bill” book banned when criminal sexual allegations surfaced, a gross majority of books banned are due to the themes they present. The rationale behind banning books ranges from “religious or anti-religious viewpoint” to “LGBTQ content,” “anti-family content,” and “political viewpoint” among many others. The ALA seeks to raise awareness of the dangers of arbitrarily banning books with “challenging” themes and encourages schools and libraries to fight against censorship. With this, the ALA named the first week of October, “Banned Books Week.” During this event, the American Library Association “celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools.”
One commonly challenged author is Toni Morrison. She was an American novelist whose works address the harsh consequences of racism in the United States. Her novels “The Bluest Eye,” “Beloved,” and “Song of Solomon” have been repeatedly challenged by various school districts in the United States. “Beloved,” in particular, has been the center of debate for school administrations because of its unabashed focus on dark moments in American history and its portrayal of an enslaved woman who kills her daughter to spare her from a life of slavery. I was fortunate enough to read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” for a literature class in my junior year of high school, and while it is challenging, dark, and often disturbing, the portrayal of these difficult topics makes the novel so enticing. Oftentimes, history classes censor the true nature of American history, and it was reading this book that opened my eyes to the failures of my high school education system.
While it would be folly to suggest adding “Beloved” to an elementary course plan, I believe that it is necessary for high school students to have access to these books to comprehend the realities of history that are often obfuscated by the American education system. How can we shape a better future if we have no awareness of our past?
Kaya Stark is from Wrenshall, Minn. Her major is English.