There have been so many banned and challenged books over the decades that it’s hard to choose favorites. But I was able to narrow it down to my five favorite banned dystopian novels (dystopians specifically because I love them). Keep reading to learn more about banned books and discover my top picks!

Banned vs. Challenged vs. Retained

What does it actually mean for a book to be banned? Books that have been banned are items that were challenged and removed from a library collection or a school curriculum. When an item is challenged, someone tried to have it banned from a library collection or a school curriculum (source). If an item was not successfully banned, it is then considered retained and not removed from the library or the school curriculum (source).

The list of banned items is vast, and many books on the list might surprise you! For example, the children’s book And Tango Makes Three, a story about two male penguins at New York City’s Central Park Zoo who started a family by taking turns sitting on an abandoned egg until it hatched.

Ashe’s Top Five Banned Dystopian Novels

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Synopsis:

Offred, a Handmaid, describes life in what was once the United States, now the Republic of Gilead, a shockingly repressive and intolerant monotheocracy, in a satirical tour de force set in the near future.

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Reason for banning/being challenged:
  • 1990: California – Challenged as an assignment at Rancho Cotati High School in Rohnert Park as “too explicit for students.”
  • 1992: Iowa – Challenged but retained in Waterloo schools for profanity, sexually explicit material and “statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled.”
  • 1993: Massachusetts – Removed from Chicopee High School English class reading list for sex and profanity.
  • 1998: Washington – Challenged with six other titles in Richland High School English classes for being “poor-quality literature and stressing suicide, illicit sex, violence and hopelessness.”
  • 1999: Florida – Challenged but retained on advanced placement reading list in Chamberlain High School in Tampa.
  • 2000: Pennsylvania – Upper Moreland School District downgraded the book from “required” to “optional” on the summer reading list for eleventh graders due to “age-inappropriate” subject matter.
  • 2001: Texas – Challenged but retained in the Dripping Springs senior Advanced Placement English courses as an optional assignment. Sexual encounters in the book upset some parents.
  • 2006: Texas – A parent complained to Superintendent Ed Lyman of the Judson School District that the book was “sexually explicit and offensive to Christians,” and asked for it be removed from an Advanced Placement English curriculum. A committee of teachers, students and parents recommended the book be retained. The superintendent banned the book against the committee’s recommendations. The committee appealed to the school board, which overruled the superintendent and retained the book.
  • 2012: North Carolina – Parents complained the book was “detrimental to Christian values.” The book was banned for being “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt.” It was challenged as required reading for Page High School International Baccalaureate and optional reading in Advance Placement courses at Grimsley High School.
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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Synopsis:

In a future totalitarian state where books are banned and destroyed by the government, Guy Montag, a fireman in charge of burning books, meets a revolutionary schoolteacher who dares to read and a girl who tells him of a past when people did not live in fear.

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Reason for banning/being challnged:
  • 1967: Ballantine Books released the “Bal-Hi Edition” aimed at high school students, which censored such words like “hell” and “damn,” and “drunk man” became “sick man.”
  • 1987: Florida – The book was given “third tier” status under a homegrown book classification system at Bay County Schools in Panama City, meaning it contained “vulgarity.” After much controversy, the school abandoned the tier system and placed the book in the curriculum.
  • 1992: Irving, California – Venado Middle School censored the book after students received copies with words like “hell” and “damn.” Parents complained, and reporters contacted the school. Officials said the censored copies would not be used.
  • 2006: Texas – Challenged at Conroe Independent School District for “discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, dirty talk, references to the Bible, using God’s name in vain” and going against “religious beliefs.”
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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Synopsis:

Cloning, feel-good drugs, anti-aging programs and total social control through politics, programming and media—has Aldous Huxley accurately predicted our future? With a storyteller’s genius, he weaves these ethical controversies in a compelling narrative that dawns in the year 632 A.F. (After Ford, the deity). When Lenina and Bernard visit a savage reservation, we experience how Utopia can destroy humanity.

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Reason for banning/being challenged:
  • 1932: Banned in Ireland.
  • 1980: Removed from classrooms in Miller, MO, because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun.”
  • 1988: Challenged frequently throughout the U.S. as required reading. Challenged as required reading at the Yukon, OK High School because of “the book’s language and moral content.”
  • 1993: Challenged as required reading in the Corona-Norco, CA Unified School District because it is “centered around negative activity.” Specifically, parents objected that the characters’ sexual behavior directly opposed the health curriculum, which taught sexual abstinence until marriage. The district retained the book, and teachers selected alternatives if students object to Huxley’s novel.
  • 2000: Removed from the Foley, AL High School Library pending review, because a parent complained that its characters showed contempt for religion, marriage and family. The parent complained to the school and Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
  • 2003: Challenged, but retained in the South Texas Independent School District in Mercedes, TX. Parents objected to the adult themes—sexuality, drugs, suicide—that appeared in the novel. Huxley’s book was part of the summer Science Academy curriculum. The board voted to give parents more control over their children’s choices by requiring principals to offer an alternative to a challenged book automatically.
  • 2008: Retained in the Coeur D’Alene, ID School District, despite objections that the book has too many references to sex and drug use.
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The Giver by Lois Lowry

Synopsis:

Given his lifetime assignment at the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas becomes the receiver of memories shared by only one other in his community. He soon discovers the terrible truth about the society in which he lives.

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Reason for banning/being challenged:
  • 1994: Parents complained of violent and sexual passages, and the book was temporarily banned.
  • 1995: Parents in Montana challenged the book due to infanticide and euthanasia, and the school required parental permission before reading it.
  • 1999: It was challenged in both Ohio and Florida by parents because of infanticide, euthanasia, sexuality and suicide.
  • 2001: Colorado – A father believed “those types of books sow the seeds of school shootings by encouraging suicide and disregard for human life.”
  • 2001: Banned for violence, “occult themes,” and sexually explicit material.
  • 2005: Challenged in Blue Springs, Missouri, when parents called the book “lewd” and “twisted.” They demanded the district remove the book from 8th grade reading lists across the district.
  • 2006: Challenged, and later retained, at the Unified School District Elementary School in Seaman, Kansas.
  • 2007: Parents in the Mt. Diablo School District in Concord, California, were offended by descriptions of pill-popping, suicide and lethal injections given to babies and the elderly.
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1984 by George Orwell

Synopsis:

Portrays life in a future time when a totalitarian government watches over all citizens and directs all activities.

Place a Hold

Reason for banning/being challenged:
  • 1950: Banned and burned in communist Russia under Stalin and USSR. Ownership meant possible arrest for its anti-communist views. Allowed back in the country after editing in 1990.
  • 1981: Jackson County, Florida – challenged for being pro-communist and contained “explicit sexual content.”
  • 2009–2010: Amazon deleted 1984 and Animal Farm from users’ Kindles, sparking controversy. Amazon discovered that the downloads were deleted because they were published illegally by an independent publisher who ignored copyright laws (1984 is under copyright until 2020). The money spent was refunded. This incident was more of a recall to protect copyright than a ban or censorship case.
  • 2017: Idaho – The book is under scrutiny after being challenged by a Jefferson County parent for having “violent, sexually charged language.”
  • Wrenshall, Minnesota – A teacher was allegedly fired for refusing to remove it from the reading list (unconfirmed).
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