Minnesota Public Radio Challenges Adults to Read Controversial YA Books

Minnesota Public Radio is challenging adult readers to set aside preconceived notions of YA literature and to pick up some of today’s most critically acclaimed — and even controversial — books for teen audiences.

From This One Summer, an award-winning graphic novel that has been challenged or banned in multiple states, to Eleanor & Park, a story of love full of mixtapes and teen awkwardness that was the target of a heated censorship battle in Virginia, MPR asks, “Is it juvenile to read books that are marketed to teens?” 

Based on a 2012 study conducted by Publisher’s Weekly, 55% of YA books are purchased by adults — 78% of whom report that they are being bought for their own reading pleasure. Here are some of the titles MPR has selected for you to start your YA library.


This One Summer

By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

The first graphic novel to make the short list for the Caldecott Medal, this fun coming-of-age summer vacation tale has helped push the boundaries of what graphic novels can offer. Despite its critical acclaim, though, everything hasn’t been fun in the sun for the book. Since its publication in 2014, the YA graphic novel has been targeted by censors across the United States for sexual content and unsuited to age group.

The main reason such a poingant graphic novel is getting a bad wrap: as a Caldecott honoree, people have had a preconceived misconception that the books selected are appropriate for the youngest readers. This One Summer is advertised as for suitable for children age 12 and up. Despite this fact, though, many have been shocked by the fact that the honoree is for an older audience and attacked the book itself rather than taking responsibility for knowing the book’s content. The book has faced unsuccessful ban attempts from Minnesota to Florida.

MPR’s pitch to adult readers: “Remember how excited you used to get for summer? This wistful look at those lost days is a lovely trip.”


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By Sherman Alexie

Since its initial publication in 2007, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been a frequent addition to the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Frequently Challenged List. From West Virginia and New York all the way to Oregon and the author’s home state of Washington, the tale of Junior’S transition from life on the reservation to an all-white school in a farming town, has been lauded by critics, bit it has been challenged and banned from school reading lists and libraries.

In 2015, a parent in Waterloo, Iowa challenged the book’s addition to middle school classrooms, claiming that it was “inarguable inappropriate for such young minds” despite student’s remarks that “it was the only book they had ever read they actually liked.” In response to this and other past claims, CBLDF joined KRRP, urging the Waterloo School Board to give the book a fair hearing before outright banning it from classrooms.

MPR’s pitch to adult readers: “Who doesn’t want to read one of the most-banned books of all time? Banned books are the good ones.”

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

By Rainbow Rowell

Earlier this year Eleanor & Park got tangled in a Chesterfield County, Virginia, controversy along with other YA books when parent Shannon Easter raised objections about the books’ inclusion in the Midlothian High School summer reading list. Calling the book “pornographic,” “vile,” and “trash,” Easter’s complaints pressured the school district to change the list. Lawmaker’s then got involved in the battle, calling for warning labels to be added to “x-rated material” — which Eleanor & Park certainly is not. In order to prevent an egregious disservice to Virginia student’s educations, CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship in writing a letter to the superintendent, urging them to not adopt a label system.

The battle may still be ongoing in Virginia, but this wasn’t the first time the book came under attack. In 2013, Rainbow Rowell spoke with CBLDF about another incident, in which her planned speaking engagements were cancelled due to what some parents called her “dangerously obscene” book. As a book that not only explores adolescence, but also what it’s like to be an outsider at school, John Green (whose own book Looking for Alaska has been at the center of heated censorship debates) writes, “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”

To read the full list from MPR, click here.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!