Looking for Alaska and Book Banning, Revisited


Earlier this year, I wrote an article on John Green’s Looking for Alaska and how the novel was placed at the top of the Banned & Challenged Books List, ranking higher than Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James in 2015. If you are unfamiliar with book banning, it is a rampant problem within our schools and libraries. Banned books have been taken off the shelves in select school districts throughout the country, and when a book is challenged, it means that someone has requested to have the book removed from a school or library due to its content. The content in question generally involves race, gender, or sexuality. Looking for Alaska made the top of the list in 2015 for its sexually explicit content, specifically a scene involving an awkward sexual experience. Green argues that this scene is often taken out of context and, therefore, misses its point. 

In a vlogbrothers post on YouTube, Green talks about his time working as a chaplain and why he writes his books instead of directly addressing the book banning as he has done in the past. During his time as a chaplain in a children’s hospital, Green acknowledges that his job was to listen, not fix the pain of sick children and grieving parents or insert his beliefs to lessen that pain. He says, “As my supervisor often told me: don’t just do something, stand there. That is what I have tried to do with my work. I have tried to write books that don’t just do something. They stand there.” He goes on to say, “I believe that by just standing there, without judgment, stories can proclaim the full humanity of their characters, and in doing so, can help us see the humanity within ourselves. But just as importantly, stories also invite us into other lives. They help us understand the richness and complexity of people who aren’t like us.” And I think Green is right. Without these texts, these banned and challenged books, we begin to lose an understanding of those different from us, along with many other things.

Many have voiced their opinions and advocated for the books that have fallen in the category of banned or challenged. Each fall, Penguin Teen celebrates books that have been banned or challenged in order to remind young readers why it’s important to read them, as many of these books contain real issues that teenagers face every day. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: book bans and challenges are damaging in many ways, and young adults should have access to these texts.