Books

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale among 100 most challenged books in U.S. in the past decade

Three Canadian titles made the list: Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (#20), The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (#29) and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (#43).

Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth is the top Canadian title on the list

Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid's Tale in 1985. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press/Emblem Editions)

The American Library Association has released their list of 100 most challenged books of the past decade, from 2010-2019.

Sherman Alexie's prize-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian came in at #1, followed by Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants picture book series and Jay Asher's young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  2. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  5. George by Alex Gino
  6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  9. Internet Girls series by Lauren Myracle
  10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The list overall is a mixture of old standards, such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and more recent works, such as Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Suzanne Collins' multimillion-selling The Hunger Games.

Margaret Atwood's dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale was one of three Canadian titles on the list, coming in at #29.

"If you're a writer and everybody likes you, a) You're doing something wrong, or b) You don't exist," the Canadian author wrote," Atwood wrote in an email to the Associated Press in 2019.

The Handmaid's Tale was in the top 10 most challenged books in the U.S. in 2019.

The Handmaid's Tale was originally published in 1985. The modern classic tells the story of a handmaid known as Offred who is trapped in a society where her only purpose is to conceive and bear the child of a powerful man.

Its surprising cultural and political resonance in 2017 has brought it back to bestseller lists. A television adaptation of the novel starring Elisabeth Moss has garnered attention and critical acclaim as well.

Author Margaret Atwood talks to Adrienne Arsenault about the catalysts for The Testaments, the loss of her husband, a top-secret project and turning 80. 10:34

Two other Canadian titles cracked the top 100 alongside The Handmaid's Tale.

The 2015 comic book Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth was the top Canadian title on the list, landing in the #20 spot, nine spots ahead of The Handmaid's Tale.

Sex is a Funny Word is a comic for kids ages 8-10 about bodies, gender and sexuality.

The graphic novel This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki is the final Canadian title on the list, taking the  #43 spot.

This One Summer is about two young girls coming of age during one summer at their families' cottages. It was published in 2016.

Objections raised by parents and other community members have ranged from explicit language and depictions of drug use in Alexie's novel to Asher's theme of suicide.

"A lot of the books on the list also reflect a growing trend in recent years to challenge books by people of colour and books from the LGBTQ community," says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the library association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Examples include Morrison's The Bluest Eye, about a Black girl raped by her father; Alex Gino's George, about a transgender child; and Justin Richardson's and Peter Parnell's picture book about two gay penguins, And Tango Makes Three.

The list was announced on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, as the library association marks its annual Banned Books Week.

The ALA defines a "challenge" as a "formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

The list is based on news reports and on accounts submitted from libraries and others in the local community, although the ALA believes many challenges go unreported.

The association does not formally count the number of times books are actually removed from a library shelf or from a school reading list.

You can see the full list of 100 books on the American Library Association's website.

With files from CBC Books.

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