Censorship in Young Adult Literature

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  • 0:01 Reasons for Banning Books
  • 1:23 Censorship Trends
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

The most censored books in America are those written for young adults. In this lesson, you will learn why these books present so many challenges, and you will discover the changing trends in book censorship.

Reasons for Banning Books

Since the invention of the written word, people have been expressing their ideas using written language. And probably for just as long, people have been trying to stop others from expressing ideas that they find dangerous or distasteful. Often, those who seek to suppress ideas are worried about the easily-influenced minds of children and adolescents, so it should come as no surprise that many of the books that have been challenged and censored are those written for children and young adults.

Book censorship is the official examination and suppression of certain books or parts of books that some deem to be unacceptable. This happens for a variety of reasons. Typically, censorship is based on religious, political, or social grounds. Young adult literature is written to appeal to teenage minds, so it often contains characters who rebel against authority, explore their sexuality, experiment with drugs, and deal with negative peer pressure. The teenage years are times for discovering one's identity, pushing social boundaries, and coming to terms with the sometimes harsh truth of life. These characters also often have strong, volatile emotions that can fluctuate between euphoric highs and suicidal lows. Hot button issues ranging from suicide to drug use make young adult literature both appealing to teens and the target of censorship.

Censorship Trends

According to the American Library Association, there were nearly 12,000 challenges to books between 1990 and 2010. Challenges are attempts to have a book or parts of a book censored. The majority of these challenges were raised by parents hoping to protect their children from books with what they felt was dangerous or disturbing content. Many of these books were ones their children were exposed to in school classes or libraries. Around 25% of the challenges were based on books that parents found to be sexually explicit, while another 25% came from books that contained what some people believed was violence or offensive language. Young adult literature was challenged far more than books meant for children or adults, and some reviews of the challenges noticed certain trends in the books being questioned. Books containing magic drew more attention as did books with characters exploring their sexual identities and those with characters battling depression. Contemporary books received far more challenges than classics. And nonfiction books about sex, particularly those meant to inform teen girls, were often targets of protest.

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