IN APRIL a parent at East Wake High School in North Carolina was distressed to discover Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” on the school’s advanced English reading list. She submitted a complaint to Wake County, arguing that the book was inappropriate for teenagers. It includes depictions of sexual violence and child rape as well as poverty and racism. In July the review committee decided to remove “The Bluest Eye” from the school’s curriculum; it also made “The Colour Purple”, another classic novel about racial injustice in America, accessible only to students who have received parental consent. (Both novels are still available in the school’s library.)
For Banned Books Week in late September the American Library Association released a list of the top ten most challenged books of 2013. A book is challenged when a formal complaint is made to a library or school requesting the removal of “inappropriate” material. “The Bluest Eye” ranked second, just beneath “Captain Underpants”, an elementary school-aged book that features toilet humour and subversive attitudes toward authority. The list also includes bestsellers such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games”. In some cases libraries bowed to public pressure to remove a book, while in others the book remains on the shelves (the ALA list does not break this down, unfortunately).