Taboo Book Nook: My Top Three Coming-of-Age Banned Books

by Maria ThomasAsst. News Editor

It is nearly impossible for me to narrow down my top three favorite banned books, because it seems like all of my favorite books were banned somewhere at some point for some reason.

To make the task a little easier, I chose to focus on the coming-of-age story, or bildungsroman. Traditionally, the bildungsroman is a type of novel that focuses on the development of a main character. Typically, readers witness a character’s emotional or psychological growth from childhood to adulthood.

Additionally, I tried to pick three novels that were banned for diverse reasons. Some of my banned book honorable mentions include but are not limited to: “Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Sallinger and “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut.

“Forever” by Judy Blume – Censored on the basis of sexual content

“Forever,” published in 1975, focuses on a topic that is still just as applicable today as it was when released: teenage sexuality and love.

The novel follows the life of 17 year old Katherine, a senior in high school, and her exploration of relationships, sexuality and love. Katherine is extremely cautious about her decision to become sexually active. She discusses it with her mother and grandmother, reads literature on the subject and goes to planned parenthood to discuss birth control options; she is even warned about venereal diseases.

The book follows Katherine’s relationship with her boyfriend Michael. Although the two teens plan on being together forever, they both grow and meet new people. Although the main character may not grow much in age throughout the course of this story, she grows vastly in her outlook on love, sex and relationships.

Despite Blume’s honest depiction of a teenager considering the gravity of becoming sexually active, the novel was deemed inappropriate by many parents, schools and libraries nationwide, because it did not promote sexual abstinence and monogamous relationships.  “Forever” placed number seven on the American Library Association’s list, “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990-1999.”

This book is so important, because it offers teenagers an outlet to learn about the serious aspects of having sex. Blume warns about the potential threat of unwanted pregnancy or STDs without coming off as preachy.

In an interview with The Guardian, Blume said that sometimes, her books spark questions in young adults, which should be considered a good thing. “[They] will actually go to mom or dad and say ‘What does this mean?’ Which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that’s when sometimes parents get hysterical. Really. It’s like, ‘Argh, I don’t want to talk to you about this, let’s get rid of this book, I don’t ever want to talk to you about this, I don’t ever want you to go through puberty.’”

“Candide” by Voltaire – Censored on the basis of religious blasphemy

“Candide,”  published in 1759, is a philosophical novel that tells the story of a man named Candide and his journey after being banished from his home in Westphalia for loving Cunégonde, the daughter of a baron.

After leaving Westphalia, Candide encounters various horrors of the world, such as war, rape, theft, shipwrecks, earthquakes, cannibalism and slavery. Prior to leaving home, Candide was taught by a professor named Pangloss, who instilled in him a philosophy of optimism and the belief that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” or that everything happens for a reason.

After witnessing and surviving various traumas, however, Candide’s philosophy in life shifts drastically. In the end, Candide and his companions settle down on a farm, and they all agree that the secret to happiness is “to cultivate one’s garden,” or to simply stop thinking so hard.

“Candide” reminds me of a children’s storybook (besides its at times graphic subject matter), because it has such a fast-paced, far-fetched plot line. This novel exemplifies the principles of a bildungsroman, as Candide grows in his thought process and no longer relies on Pangloss’s philosophy of optimism. It is considered to be a picaresque novel, which is a type of bildungsroman that has a more satirical tone.

In this novel, Voltaire attacked some of the most widely respected institutions of his time: religion, the military and philosophers, and built the story around historical events that were happening at the time of its release. After being published, the book was banned by the Parisian government and the Great Council of Geneva. In 1762 “Candide” was included on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Roman Catholic Church’s list of prohibited books.

“Rubyfruit Jungle” by Rita Mae Brown – Censored on the basis of homosexual content

Rubyfruit Jungle, published in 1973, is a coming-of-age story told through the eyes of Molly Bolt. This bildungsroman begins when Molly is seven and details her journey through life until she is in her early 20s. We discover early on in the novel that Molly is attracted to women. She is tough, funny and often times crude or offensive.

At one point, Brown includes a reversal of the “male gaze” concept, when Molly charges people to look at her friend Broccoli Detwiler’s penis. Most importantly, Molly refuses to be defined. She is a true illustration of individuality, as she successfully resists conforming to the labels society wants to give her.

When the story was published, it was unacceptable for someone to be something other than cisgender or straight. This was a coming-of-age coming-out story that so many members of the LGBTQ+ community identified with.

That being said, what I find most enticing about this book is that it is not meant to be a revolutionary novel or an inspiration for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is simply meant to be a story about a girl navigating sex, relationships and encroaching adulthood. Sounds a lot like Judy Blume’s “Forever,” doesn’t it?

The only big difference is that the female protagonist in “Rubyfruit Jungle” doesn’t come in a nice neat package. Not only is Molly Bolt not heterosexual, she resists being labeled as a lesbian, and consideres herself queer (when forced to label her sexuality). Molly says, “Why does everyone have to put you in a box and nail the lid on it? I don’t know what I am — polymorphous and perverse. Shit. I don’t even know if I’m white. I’m me. That’s all I am and all I want to be. Do I have to be something?”

“Rubyfruit Jungle” is another picaresque novel, and the title is actually a phrase used by Molly Bolt in the novel to describe female genitals. All of the major publishing companies in the United States refused to publish this book when Brown brought it to them. Eventually, a very small feminist print company agreed to publish it. It became a huge success, and was then purchased by a larger publishing company. It has been banned in many schools and libraries, considered to be sexually explicit.

This book will challenge everything you think you know about being an LGBTQ+ ally or advocate, and will make you laugh in the process. Thank you to Ashley Cross, Ph.D., for including this book on your Gender and Literature syllabus last semester. I wouldn’t be writing about it now if it weren’t for you.