We’re closing out Banned Books Week (September 27-October 3) by honoring three of the most challenged and banned books in 2014 as this week’s Smart Reads.

Even though our right to read anything we like is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the American Constitution, there have always been members of the community who take exception to the content of certain books. Reasons for banning books have varied. Most frequently cited are offensive language, sexually explicit content, violence, controversial issues (a highly subjective term) and being unsuitable for its targeted age group. But as any book loving parent knows, much of this depends on the individual reader. And what budding adolescent hasn’t read a forbidden adult novel under the covers with a flashlight?

Leading the defense of our reading rights is the American Library Association along with librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and, of course, readers. So celebrate our right to read by reading (again or for the first time) these three Smart Reads.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009)

the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian sherman alexieA-emblem“Few writers are more masterful than Sherman Alexie.” — Los Angeles Times

“[Alexie] has created an endearing teen protagonist in his own likeness and placed him in the here and now.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“This is a gem of a book….may be [Sherman Alexie’s] best work yet.” — New York Times

The semi-autobiographical hero, Arnold Spirit Jr., is a goofy kid who loves to draw from the Spokane reservation. Fearing he is wasting his potential, a caring teacher arranges for a scholarship to a school for rich white kids. The switch makes him an outcast in his old neighborhood and a curiosity in his new one, but he begins to make friends and gets picked for the basketball team.  He begins to question what he knows about identity, community and tribe as he seeks a better life. The serious issues of life on the rez, including alcoholism and loss are handled with humor and compassion. An inspiring book for young readers.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead Books, 2003)

kite runner khlaed hosseiniA--emblem“This gripping story of personal redemption will capture readers’ interest.”  —School Library Journal

“Current events will garner interest for this novel; the quality of Hosseini’s writing and the emotional impact of the story will guarantee its longevity.” —Booklist

“Exquisite. A wonderfully conjured story that offers a glimpse into an Afghanistan most Americans have never seen, and depicts a side of humanity rarely revealed.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

During the height of the war in Afghanistan this sensitive and insightful novel rocketed to popularity bringing a much-needed human perspective to life in the war-torn country. It begins with childhood friends Amir and Hassan and the very different paths their lives take after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Amir, a Shiite, is the privileged and educated son of a wealthy merchant who flees his war-torn country. Hassan, a Sunni, is the son of a servant destined to try to survive life under the Taliban. Before Amir’s family flees the country, he betrays Hassan’s trust, an act that will haunt him and require returning to Afghanistan to seek personal redemption. The story’s sheer humanity and engaging introduction to an unknown culture makes it a must-read for anyone seeking to understand what is going on today.

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard (Simon & Schuster, reprint 2012)

a stolen life a memoir jaycee dugardB+“This little memoir…was written plainly and simply by Dugard herself, without the help of a ghostwriter. And in that, it is powerful beyond its voyeurism…reading the experience in her own words is a revelation.” —The Washington Post

“Dugard’s inspirational story…is a firsthand testament to the resilience of the human spirit.” —USA Today

Her story helped shape parents’ nightmares. In 1991 an 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was walking home from her school bus stop when convicted sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido abducted her. In 2011 her kidnapper was spotted on the University of California Berkeley with two young girls who were behaving strangely. Questioning revealed them to be Dugard’s daughters. Eighteen years after being held in concealment, she was finally freed. How she survives this harrowing experience and finds her way to healing is inspiring. This plainly written memoir gains power from being shared in Dugard’s clear voice.

The Most Banned and Challenged Literary Classics

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway