I am against banning books; just to get my bias out in the open. And, I was surprised recently to learn of a local high school that had banned Sherman Alexie’s first young adult novel. Sherman Alexie is an amazing and inventive writer. I am always on the lookout for his next book. If you haven’t read any of his books for adults, try Flight or Indian Killer. These are not happy, feel-good books, but they will make you think.
I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to find out what was so offensive about it. In the story a teenage boy realizes that his life is not going the way he wants and he is not being educated well at his school on the reservation. He decides to attend a high school in a nearby town where he is the only Native American in the student body. Major themes in the book include death, poverty, racism, and alcoholism. Secondary themes include leaving a best friend, family relationships, parental abuse, bullying, dating outside your race, and revenge among others. What an amazing book for high school students to talk about! It certainly beats the anthologies my 9th grade class had to get through.
There are a few pages of what can euphemistically be called “locker room” talk. Copying these few pages and bringing them to the school board really misses the whole point of the book. These brief detours are not central to the story and I suppose the author could have easily left them out, but then how realistic would that be in a teenage boy’s life?
My issues with the book are related to the plot in that I found Arnold Spirit’s acceptance at the all white school pretty amazing, his basketball debut as a freshman unbelievable given all his previous health issues, and the end of the book piles on too many tragedies. Still, those issues don't detract too much from the overall story. It is definitely at an appropriate level for teens and contains much less sex and violence than many young adult novels - such as the Twilight series. I did think the cartoons throughout by Ellen Forney really added to the book.
An excerpt from the book after Arnold’s team beats his previous high school and former best friend, Rowdy.
“I realized that my team, the Reardan Indians, was Goliath.
I mean, jeez, all of the seniors on our team were going to college. All of the guys on our team had their own cars. All of the guys on our team had iPods and cell phones and PSPs and three pairs of blue jeans and ten shirts and mothers and father who went to church and had good jobs.
Okay, so maybe my white teammates had problems, serious problems, but none of their problems was life threatening.
But I looked over at the Wellpinit Redskins, at Rowdy.
I knew that two or three of those Indians might not have eaten breakfast that morning.
No food in the house.
I knew that seven or eight of those Indians lived with drunken mothers and fathers.
I knew that one of those Indians had a father who dealt crack and meth.
I knew two of those Indians had fathers in prison.
I knew that none of them were going to college. Not one of them.
And I knew that Rowdy’s father was probably going to beat the crap out of him for losing this game.”
Here is the most recent news about this book being banned. Parents of high schools students, I'm interested in learning what you think: Would you want this book taught in your child's classroom?