Celebrating Black History: 5 Banned Books by Black Authors You Need to Read
We end Black History Month with some recommendations on books by Black authors that, for one reason or another, have become banned. Some have experienced censorship alongside their successes, but each title listed below seeks to tell stories not often seen.
We hope you’ll go back to our previous recs and enjoy these as well and remember, Black History isn’t just one month, it’s always.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia.
From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
Why it’s banned:
Johnson’s book has been banned in over ten school systems and taken off of school shelves for its LGBTQIA+ themes, profanity, and sexual content. In 2021, the American Library Association named it the third most-banned book of the year. Despite objections to the title, All Boys Aren’t Blue has been praised and star reviewed by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and the New York Times.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when
Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Why it’s banned:
Challenged for its perceived profanity, mentions of sexual situations, and anti-police perspectives, The Hate You Give has been banned in Texas, South Carolina, and Washington County School District libraries as well as criticized by police unions. In response, Thomas defended the book stating it is “a spur for conversation.”
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
In Morrison’s acclaimed first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love
for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.
Why it’s banned:
Many parents and school administrators complained that The Bluest Eye was not suitable for certain age groups for its depiction of “offensive language, sexually explicit material, and controversial issues, as well as depicting child sexual abuse.” Though praise was slow coming for Morrison’s debut, she would eventually be championed as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century and, twenty years after her debut, earned a Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried.
When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?
Why it’s banned:
Noted for its depiction of sex, racial identity, and sexuality, Monday’s Not Coming has been banned by several school districts; these claims include inappropriateness for younger readers. However, Jackson’s title has been starred reviewed by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and was inspired by the “numerous disappearances of black girls all across the United States, which eventually led to the creation of the hashtag #MissingDCGirls.”
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family–motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce–pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
Why it’s banned:
Parents complained that the book was “inappropriate” for young readers as it depicts sexual situations and sexual abuse, though neither is glorified. Despite this, it has been praised by the LA Times, the Washington Post, and various other national publications, Savage the Bone went on to win the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction.
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