'The Handmaid’s Tale,' 'Fun Home,' 'Nickel and Dimed,' and More | Banned Books Week 2023

In recognition of Banned Books Week 2023, Library Journal has compiled a sampling of reviews from our archive for titles that frequently appear on banned book lists. The reviews span the past several decades and reflect LJ’s take on the titles at the time of publication.

In recognition of Banned Books Week 2023, Library Journal has compiled a sampling of reviews from our archive for titles that frequently appear on banned book lists. The reviews span the past several decades and reflect LJ’s take on the titles at the time of publication. See School Library Journal for a sampling of reviews for banned book titles in their archive.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood

What LJ Says: “In a startling departure from her previous novels (Lady Oracle, Surfacing), respected Canadian poet and novelist Atwood presents here a fable of the near future. In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the mono-theocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist’s nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the ‘morally fit’ Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: ‘of Fred’), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. This powerful, memorable novel is highly recommended for most libraries.”

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) by Alison Bechdel

What LJ Says: “Bechdel, author of the award-winning comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, paints her own story in this stunning graphic memoir. Her black-and-white line drawings, brushed with a blue wash, bring to life her childhood with her distant actress mother and her mysterious father, the proprietor of a funeral home. Bechdel’s coming-out process is stifled when her father commits suicide, and she realizes that he, too, was gay. One of the best graphic memoirs to date, this book was the basis of a long-running off-Broadway play.”

Year of Wonders (2001) by Geraldine Brooks

What LJ Says: “Usually, ‘Black Death’ brings to mind thoughts of a 14th-century Europe ravaged and emptied by pestilence. But there were plague outbreaks throughout the early modern period, notably in England in 1665–66. Particularly hard hit during that particular epidemic was the Derbyshire village of Eyam, whose story is told here…. Brooks (Foreign Correspondence) tells the story of Eyam’s heroic battle from the perspective of young Anna Frith, servant to the pastor and his wife. Widowed before the epidemic, Anna is the mother of two small children and landlady to the unfortunate tailor. She nurses her friends and family to little avail during the horrors of the plague year, but her spirit remains unbroken. Like Eyam itself, Anna prevails and lives to see another day. Fans of Judith Merkle Riley’s historical novels will find much to savor in the new work. Recommended for all fiction collections.”

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001) by Barbara Ehrenreich

What LJ Says: “A close observer and astute analyzer of American life (The Worst Years of Our Life and The Fear of Falling), Ehrenreich turns her attention to what it is like trying to subsist while working in low-paying jobs…. Her narrative is candid, often moving, and very revealing. Looking back on her experiences, Ehrenreich claims that the hardest thing for her to accept is the ‘invisibility of the poor’; one sees them daily in restaurants, hotels, discount stores, and fast-food chains but one doesn’t recognize them as ‘poor’ because, after all, they have jobs. No real answers to the problem but a compelling sketch of its reality and pervasiveness.”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) by Jonathan Safran Foer

What LJ Says: “…It’s hard to believe that such an inherently sad story could be so entertaining, but Foer’s writing lightens the load. Oskar’s rolling chatter, punctuated by stinging declarations, is often welcome comic relief. Oskar is alive, and as he invents a safer world in his head and among all those he touches, he’s also learning to live. Foer's excellent second novel vibrates with the details of a current tragedy but successfully explores the universal questions that trauma brings on its floodtide. Highly recommended.”

Dreaming in Cuban (1992) by Cristina Garcia

What LJ Says: “Garcia’s first novel is about Cuba, her native country, and three generations of del Pino women who are seeking spiritual homes for their passionate, often troubled souls. Celia del Pino and her descendants also share clairvoyant and visionary powers that somehow remain undiminished, despite the Cuban revolution and its profound effect upon their lives. This dichotomy suffuses their lives with a potent mixture of superstition, politics, and surrealistic charm that gives the novel an otherworldly atmosphere. Garcia juggles these opposing life forces like a skilled magician accustomed to tossing into the air fiery objects that would explode if they came into contact. Writing experimentally in a variety of forms, she combines narratives, love letters, and monologs to portray the del Pinos as they move back and forth through time. Garcia tells their story with an economy of words and a rich, tropical imagery, setting a brisk but comfortable pace. Highly recommended.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) by Mark Haddon

What LJ Says: “Sometimes profound characters come in unassuming packages. In this instance, it is Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic savant with a passion for primary numbers and a paralyzing fear of anything that happens outside of his daily routine…. The author does a revelatory job of infusing Christopher with a legitimate and singularly human voice. Christopher lives in a world that is devoid of the emotional responses most of us expect, but that does not mean he lacks feelings or insights. Rather than being just a victim, he is allowed to become a complex character who is not always likable and sometimes demonstrates menacing qualities that give this well-trod narrative path much-needed freshness. The novel is being marketed to a YA audience, but strong language and adult situations make this a good title for sophisticated readers of all ages. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.”

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

What LJ Says: “A compassionate, deeply moving novel, and a most persuasive plea for racial justice…. A gripping, timely story. Strongly recommended for all libraries.”

Two Boys Kissing (2013) by David Levithan

What LJ Says: “…With broad scope and poignant emotional detail, Two Boys Kissing captures the inner lives, ongoing struggles, and diversity of today’s LGBT youth. The novel’s narrators are a Greek chorus of the past generation of gay men lost to AIDS. Solemn and eloquent yet uplifting and often funny, they act as voices of wisdom and remind readers of what has changed since their time and what hasn’t…the characters’ struggles echo one another deftly, creating surprising parallels and an inspiring sense of shared humanity. Like the author’s Boy Meets Boy, a landmark of LGBT and YA fiction, Two Boys Kissing is a bold, important novel that is bound to generate discussion and have an impact on many readers, regardless of their sexuality or gender.”

Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison

What LJ Says: “Powerful is too tame a word to describe Toni Morrison’s searing new novel of post–Civil War Ohio. Morrison, whose myth-laden storytelling shone in Song of Solomon and other novels, has created an unforgettable world in this novel about ex-slaves haunted by violent memories…. A fascinating, grim, relentless story, this important book by a major writer belongs in most libraries.”

The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O’Brien

What LJ Says: “…O’Brien again shows his literary stuff with this brilliant collection of short stories, many of which have won literary recognition. Each of the 22 tales relates the exploits and personalities of a fictional platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. An acutely painful reading experience, this collection should be read as a book and not a mere selection of stories reprinted from magazines. Not since Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five has the American soldier been portrayed with such poignance and sincerity.”

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