15 Banned Books to Listen to Now

We live in a time when book banning has become common in the US. Both disturbing and dystopian, this trend may have you wondering how to fight back against this ignorance and help people have the freedom to choose what they want to read or hear.

One way to stand against book banning is to support the books that have been taken from shelves in schools across the nation. You can find a comprehensive list of banned books online, but these 15 exceptional audiobooks will get you started. Stand with the banned, always.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo’s books are relevant and honest, and they tend to get banned the minute they are published. When Xiomara discovers slam poetry, she finally feels capable of exploring her feelings about the world. That world includes her mother’s overbearing religious beliefs, her curvy body that is drawing attention she never asked for, and a boy she wants to explore a relationship with even though it’s forbidden. 

Using her journal, Xiomara collects her thoughts and wonders what it would be like if she could truly share them on a stage. What would the consequences be, and would this help her move forward with the life she wants instead of the one she was assigned? Acevedo narrates her own work and reminds us of the power of books and words to set us free and help us find a place in the world.

Banned for profanity, sexual situations, and the questioning of religion.

Length: 3 hours and 30 minutes

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Johnson narrates his memoir, the story of living as a Black queer boy in the midst of homophobia, racism, and the toxic masculinity that permeates our culture. This book is a must-listen for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong, but it’s also essential for those who have always known their place in the prominent cishet culture. You can learn more about what it truly means to be an ally and how they can help remove the barriers that the LGBTQIA+ community faces constantly.

Written for anyone but targeted to young adults, Johnson has woven a lifeline from his personal experiences, and he uses his journalistic experience to offer hope to kids when they feel vulnerable and displaced. 

Banned for LGBTQ content and sexual situations.

Length: 5 hours and 12 minutes

Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book was my introduction to the brilliance of John Green, and it holds up as a modern classic almost 20 years later. Miles goes to boarding school hoping to truly start his life and to find what one of his favorite poets called the “Great Perhaps”. He meets Alaska Young, a charismatic girl who struggles with mental health issues. Drawn to her and her world, Miles experiences love and tragedy, friendship, and disorientation, in this award-winning novel.

Looking for Alaska has courted controversy since its publication, partly due to the content of the book and partly due to Green likely basing the story on his experience at a boarding school. Though a fictional story, it rings true with the beauty and devastation of being a teenager and trying to navigate a world that seems everchanging.

Wil Wheaton narrates and brings these characters to life.

Banned for sexual themes.

Length: 6 hours and 40 minutes

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Based on Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, this book offers guidance on the history of racism, how it was built to be a system that invades every part of society, and why antiracism can lead us to a better tomorrow. Narrated by the primary author of this book version, Jason Reynolds, this is an important listen that is engaging for any crowd. 

Banned for selective storytelling incidents.

Length: 4 hours and 11 minutes

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This award-winning book has moved from the literary world into both a major motion picture and a play. The Color Purple is a classic that has been challenged since its publication. Celie and Nettie are sisters growing up in poverty in the South. Nettie manages to escape the life she grew up in, but Celie is left behind with an abusive older husband. Celie copes by writing letters to God for two decades. She reveals how she survived surrounded by other women who helped light her way.

This is not an easy listen, but it’s well worth it. Walker narrates it herself, and she gives perfect importance to each word.

Banned for sexual content, violence, and abuse.

Length: 7 hours and 58 minutes

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If you read The Handmaid’s Tale back in high school and thought, this could never happen, try listening to it again. Those who have never read this tale of dystopian horror will be alarmed to see how much it mirrors the current world we live in, where marginalized communities are threatened in the name of religion.

I didn’t listen to this book for the first time until 2017, and by then Offred’s story of becoming a handmaid felt like an all too real possibility. A baby carrier for the wives and husbands who want babies in Gilead, handmaids have no rights, and their lives are lived under the watchful eye of wicked Aunt Lydia and the couple that uses them. When Offred discovers the possibility of a way out and a way to reunite with the child she lost, she has to decide whether or not to risk her life to escape.

Narrated by Claire Danes, this book is now a major show streaming on Hulu.

Banned for sexual content and vulgarity.

Length: 11 hours and 1 minute

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Performed by the author, Kaur’s book of poems and essays explores topics of abuse, survival, and living through violence. The themes are disturbing, but they are also necessary, and Kaur uses her voice to explain how to find the good in life when all it feels like we’re offered is pain. Far from toxic positivity, Kaur’s words are empowering and encourage us to celebrate who we are and what we’ve been through, even as we mourn the pain we’ve each endured.

Banned for sexual assault and violence.

Length: 1 hour and 19 minutes

1984 by George Orwell

I somehow got away with not listening to Orwell’s classic dystopian tale until I was well out of college. The fact that it remains so relevant is a testament to Orwell’s imagination and is also a horrifying fact that shouldn’t sit well with anyone.

1984 introduces readers to Winston, a member of a society that is constantly watched by Big Brother and managed by the Thought Police. When he enters a forbidden relationship with a woman he meets, he risks his very life. Will he be brainwashed by the unforgiving government, the people who change the news stories to fit their version of the truth? Will he even make it out alive?

I still remember the feeling as the last words of this book came through my ears, and it’s haunting.

Banned for sexual content and anti-government sentiment.

Length: 11 hours and 22 minutes

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter watches her best friend get shot by police despite being an unarmed teenager. Though this book is fiction, it could easily have been ripped from the headlines since this story repeats itself way too often. Starr already struggles to balance life living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood while attending a lavish private school. Her friend, Khalid’s, death causes these worlds to collide and puts a spotlight on Starr as everyone wants to know what she saw and what really happened.

Tense, daring, and heartbreaking, Bahni Turpin narrates what will likely be a modern classic as Starr figures out how to honor Khalid, mend her community, and keep herself alive.

Banned for language and anti-police sentiment.

Length: 11 hours and 50 minutes

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This story of two young friends growing up together in Afghanistan spans decades and reveals the personal and political strife within this region. Amir and Hassan live in the same house, but Hassan is the servant’s child with a different status. Hassan is also from an ethnic minority that is looked down upon in the country. Still, his friendship with Amir is sound until an event changes both of them for good.

Amir leaves Afghanistan behind when he comes to the United States, but he can’t outrun his past and the memories of Hassan that haunt him. The author narrates this book himself, and his rich descriptions and lovely voice will leave you in tears when you reach the final word.

Banned for sexual content and explicit language.

Length: 12 hours and 1 minutes

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Pecola may be young, but she already knows that her dark skin sets her apart as unattractive in her Ohio town in 1941. That’s why she desperately wants to have blue eyes, her ideal of true beauty in a racially divided world.

Morrison’s first novel tells us Pecola’s story from two different views: that of her friend Claudia and from an all-seeing view that allows us flashbacks into Pecola’s past. Her past includes abuse at the hands of her father as well as other forms of harm that impact her for life. 

Narrated by Morrison, the themes and messages are heavy. The Bluest Eye was my introduction to Morrison, and it’s the perfect first step into her writing style. 

Banned for sexual abuse.

Length: 7 hours and 6 minutes

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

What if you alone could save the world? That’s the power Henry Denton has, but he can’t decide if he should use it. Aliens have been abducting him on and off for years, but now they tell him his planet will be destroyed in a few months if he doesn’t push a button and intervene. 

Though pushing the button may seem the obvious choice, Henry is still recovering from the suicide of his boyfriend, and his family life is in shambles. When he tries to put together a comprehensive list comparing the good and the bad so he can make a decision, he has to face the loss and the light that are always intertwined for humans living in this world.

Banned for LGBTQ+ representation and themes.

Length: 9 hours and 13 minutes

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

Be prepared to throw things when you finish listening to this book. Walls’ memoir of her idealistic parents with demons of their own to fight is a study in showing grace to even the most flawed humans in our world. It’s also a frustrating examination of the abuse and neglect kids experience, and that makes it devastating. 

Walls’ father is an alcoholic who teaches her advanced math and science when sober but completely destroys his family when drunk. Her mom resists being trapped by the conventional expectations of motherhood, so she has children but does not actually want to meet their basic needs. This creates a world where Walls and her siblings have to learn to care for themselves early in life in ways that no child should.

You will fall into Walls’ words as you listen to this one, and you will often wish it was a fictional account. The fact that it does not make the experience both richer and sadder.

Banned for alcoholism, abuse, and sexual content.

Length: 10 hours and 25 minutes

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Bryan Cranston narrates this Pulitzer Prize-winning historical fiction. Set during the Vietnam War, O’Brien tells how what the soldiers carried, be it weapons or letters from home, helped them survive. However, it didn’t mean that those lucky enough to come home would encounter people who would understand their journey once back in the States.

O’Brien was a soldier during the Vietnam War, and though this story is considered historical fiction, it’s obvious that O’Brien’s first-hand experience laces it with authenticity. Stories of war are never easy, but O’Brien’s is necessary. A favorite in classrooms, it’s now been banned in many districts.

Banned for violence, sexual content, and language.

Length: 7 hours and 47 minutes

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Edna Pontellier is trapped in the conventional life of mother and wife in 1800s Louisiana. When she falls for Robert, their relationship remains chaste but emotionally intense. Edna feels the restrictions of her domestic life and desires to free herself from them. Her awakening is both emotional and physical, and the haunting ending of this story left me arguing with a friend for weeks about Edna’s ultimate choice.

Though many years removed from Edna’s world, the cage set around women who enter marriage and motherhood is still very real. This book has remained a classic because its relevance never waned. 

Banned for immorality.

Length: 5 hours and 4 minutes

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