Cooked, by Jeff Henderson (2007). The true story of a cocaine dealer's transformation into a top chef in Las Vegas, after nine years of learning kitchen lore at a federal prison.
Somewhere in the Darkness, by Walter Dean Myers (1992). A young-adult novel about a fourteen-year-old Harlem youth who embarks on a cross-country adventure with his long-absent father, only to discover that Pops has just escaped from a prison hospital.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry (1993). Long before the Hunger Games vogue, Lowry's dark tale of a future society that prizes "sameness" and lack of pain stirred up controversy over whether children should be exposed to such bleak fare.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien (1990). A series of interconnected, semi-autobiographical stories about a combat platoon, widely regarded as one of the greatest works of fiction to emerge from the Vietnam War.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck (1937). Adapted numerous times for the screen and stage, the saga of Lennie and George is an American classic — yet is still frequently challenged by censors for racially charged language.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1962). Set in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s, the novel traces a single exhausting day in the protagonist's ten-year struggle to endure life in the gulag.
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo (1862). A thief gets out of prison, steals again, and is hunted by an obsessed police inspector for years, through revolution and upheaval, on an epic scale worthy of musicals.
A Place to Stand, by Jimmy Santiago Baca (2002). Baca went into prison at age 21 as an illiterate drug dealer and troublemaker. He emerged five years later with a passion for poetry and language. His memoir deals with both his accomplishment and the pain and loss incurred by his crimes.