Censor This Book? ~ ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieBriefly: Arnold “Junior” Spirit doesn’t have much. Life on the reservation means that you are poor, hungry and stuck. On top of those misfortunes, Junior also has had medical problems since birth, so that makes him an easy target for bullies. Plus, he’s smart. Really smart. Fortunately, he also has his best friend, Rowdy, who is always willing to deliver a punch or two in Junior’s defense. And he has basketball.

One of Junior’s teachers tells him that he’s wasting his potential at the rez school and  should leave to attend high school in the neighboring small town. So Junior goes, risking his friendship with Rowdy and losing the respect of the people on the rez. Is it worth it?

Didja Like It?: What a great coming-of-age tale. Junior isn’t that different from any kid, trying to navigate his way through crushes, bullies, making friends, being smart, being the new kid. He does have additional problems, though, dealing with alcoholic parents, poverty, bigotry, and the possibility of losing your culture on your way to realizing your potential.

Anything Else to Mention?: This book is really funny, awkward and honest. This style makes the heartbreaking parts stand out more as well as allowing us to get through them a little easier. That doesn’t mean that those moments don’t affect you, though. This is a book that stays with you.

Reading about someone’s life that is so different from your own (as in my case), it bridges the gap between the Haves and Have Nots by showing what they have in common. As a result, that makes Junior’s hopes seem a little less hopeless and more attainable.

My Two Cents: Parents at a local high school (and one where family members have attended) circumvented existing rules for objecting to books and attempted to have seven books thrown out of the curriculum (an additional two were tossed out this past summer). This is especially noteworthy because the high school is located in the most affluent area of town (and it has its own school district). These parents objected to the books primarily because of any mention of sex, but more cynical writers have also pointed out that the subject matter of a few are quite different from the general experiences of those living in that town (poverty, race, anti-capitalism) or things they want to pretend don’t exist or that genteel people don’t discuss (rape, abuse, abortion, poverty, homosexuality, sex). The Dallas Morning News reported that the parents said that “high school students should not be exposed to some of the hardships and controversies of adulthood.”

I guess my opinion lands somewhere in the middle. I had originally started to write “I have no idea why anyone would want to have this book removed from the classroom” when, in reality, I see every reason a narrow-minded, fearful person would want to do so. In fact, that would most likely be true of just about any book for this age group, really. If it’s worth its salt, that is.

As a parent, it’s super-scary to navigate the waters of OUTSIDE INFLUENCES. You definitely have your ideas about what is good and what is bad, based on the way you were brought up, religion (possibly) and what experiences, friends and family members transformed you from child to adult. Your spouse (however involved) will also hold sway over your child’s development. In reality, there are enough things that we cannot control, so it is easy to make the decision try to limit what your child sees by removing or severely limiting internet, TV, movies, books, newspapers, magazines…anything that can lead that child to make their own assumptions and come to their own conclusions separate from, and possibly in spite of, a parent’s wishes. You almost have to hold your breath, toss the dice and hope for the best.

Sheltering your children from the real world (especially once they are in high school) never works out, IMHO. But trying to control what other people’s children read is absolutely none of your concern, overly-eager parent. The current rule at this particular school is that if the parent does not want their child to read a book, they are well within their rights to choose a different book. So then why the kerfuffle and the over-reaching? If you really know your child, then you should know whether they are ready for more mature topics. But therein lies the rub. What if your kid is ready, but you, dear parent, are not?

To Read or Not To Read: This book regularly lands on challenged book lists. By labeling this book “bad” or “unfit,” it removes a voice, a crucial storyteller, from reaching the ears of those who might not normally choose books outside of their comfort zone. Books like this make it less easy to keep people separated into boxes and help us to find common ground. By all means, please read it.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was published September 12, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Ink and Page picked this book up from the library where, thankfully, the red-painted claws of a former Miss Kansas USA have not reached.

Rating: 4

Genre: Young Adult Fiction Contemporary Diversity Coming-of-Age
Ages: 13 and up
You Might Want to Know: There are mature themes and frank discussions, including underage drinking, profanity, sex

Original article in The Dallas Morning News

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