Banned Books Week & Diversiverse: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

September 25, 2014 Banned Books, Young Adult Fiction 27

Hey There, Bookworms!

It’s still Banned Books Week, and I’m still celebrating Diversiverse. Today’s book has popped up on the list of Top Ten Banned Books over and over again in recent years, so OF COURSE I had to find out what all the fuss was about. I picked up a copy of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and started reading.

Frankly, I’m having a heck of a time figuring out why everyone is so worked up about this book. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the semi-autobiographical tale of Sherman Alexie’s first year in an all white high school. The main character, Arnold “Junior” Spirit, is a brilliant kid living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Confronted with the daily frustrations of life and the limited opportunities on the reservation (and, well, an incident involving the violent flinging of a textbook) Arnold decides to leave the high school on the reservation to attend the school of a nearby farming community. I’m going to list some objections from book banners and challengers, then discuss why I think they’re wrong. Cool?

theabsolutelytruediaryofaparttimeindianObjection the First: The language in the book is rather colorful. Then again, I’ve yet to meet a 14 year old who is scandalized by profanity.

Objection the Second: Arnold has a penchant for, uh, self pleasure. But dude. He’s a 14 year old boy. That’s a pretty universal 14 year old boy experience. Virtually all the sexual encounters in this book (aside from a few fairly chaste kisses) are done solo. No underage sex. No teen pregnancy. No STDs.

Objection the Third: This book deals with racism, head on. Pretending racism doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Getting inside the head of someone different than you might make a difference though.

Objection the Fourth: There’s also quite a lot of discussion of the rampant alcoholism that plagues the reservation. I don’t think anybody is really thrilled to think their kids might take up drinking at a tender age, but this book makes one of the strongest anti-alcohol cases I’ve ever read. If anything, I think it would prevent kids from touching the stuff.

In short, SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS?! Don’t ban this book. It’s a fantastic coming-of-age story. It is tragic and heartbreaking and wonderful and difficult- just like being a teenager. It’s also got some killer illustrations which offers a little extra something to the reluctant reader crowd. Everybody likes a cartoon, I tell you! Although, maybe y’all should keep banning it. Nothing will get teenagers to read something faster than hearing adults tell them they can’t! Here’s a bio of the mastermind behind the controversy:

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, WA. Alexie has published 18 books to date. Alexie is an award-winning and prolific author and occasional comedian. Much of his writing draws on his experiences as a modern Native American. Sherman’s best known works include The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

 Let’s chat, Bookworms. You remember being a teenager, surely? Was there any activity made more appealing to you by the fact that your parents or other authority figures didn’t want you to do it? I’m curious, really, because I was really rather dull and my parents didn’t make any attempts to restrict my reading material…

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27 Responses to “Banned Books Week & Diversiverse: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

  1. Megan M.

    I’ve thought the same thing about this book! It gets challenged so much that it HAS to be good. I need to read it.

    I was a very dull teenager too, with unrestricted access to books. My parents WISHED I would go out on the weekends! LOL

    • Words For Worms

      LOL, my parents were the same way! They were all “why are you sitting in your room watching TV for 8 hours?! Don’t you have friends?!” And I was like “well, yeah I guess I have friends sort of? LEAVE ME ALONE, I’M COMPLICATED!” Hormonal teenager was not a good look for me.

  2. Jancee

    I LOVE this book. I read it back in high school, and have reread since this, but I don’t get why people are worked up either. But then again, I don’t think most people who file challenges actually read the books for themselves and think through their objections.

    My reading was never restricted either; I tend to think I’m a better person for it. In my most recent post, I picked my top ten favorite banned books – most of them I grew up reading and consider comfort books. BBW is literally my favorite library thing of the year!

  3. Cindy W

    My parents didn’t really restrict my reading either. I may have said it before, but when someone dared to suggest that I might be a little young to be reading Stephen King (at maybe 11? 12?), my dad let them know it wasn’t her business.

    Now, they did paper clip the sexytimes chapter of Hank Williams, Jr.’s autobiography so that I couldn’t read that. (Mom was/is a huge fan) And I’m pretty sure that they didn’t know that I read anything I wanted to out of dad’s box of books in the attic, plus whatever books I found elsewhere in the house. The attic books were more John LeCarre than trashy, but I found at least one very racy book in their bedroom. 🙂

    • Words For Worms

      LMAO! Oh my gosh I am laughing SO HARD at the Hank Williams! That is pure gold. My mom saw me reading some of her more salacious novels from time to time but would mostly go “Oh my gosh, you’re reading my Sandra Brown? She’s kind of smutty. You probably shouldn’t be reading that.” And then she’d leave me to my own devices. She knew me well enough to know I’d finish reading it anyway.

  4. ThatAshGirl

    I started smoking when I was 13 (quit after University) and got my first tattoo at 16 (yeah I’ve got 7 now). I didn’t decide to do those things because it would piss my parents off but it wasn’t a deterrent.

    As for reading, my mom totally didn’t restrict my reading at all when I was a kid. Teen Fiction wasn’t really a thing back in our day so I went from Christopher Pike to raiding my mom’s bookshelves and reading Stephen King. Should I have read IT when I was like 12? Hell to the no. Should I have been reading a boat load of 1970s Harlequin’s the summer I spent with my Grandmother after my Grandfather died when I was 14? Probably not, but I read about a hundred of those damn books anyway.

    That being said…the Church is usually not too pleased when people um….please themselves. Especially when you’re talking teenagers. So I can see why some of the more religious conservatives out there would get their panties in a knot over it.

      • ThatAshGirl

        I have neither a book tattoo nor a cat tattoo. Which is shocking. But I do want to do a book quote it’s just SO HARD TO CHOOSE.

        Yup clear lungs and having your car not smell like an ashtray is awesome. It now grosses me out when people smell like smoke. I convinced a friend of mine to quit just by telling him nobody would want to make out with an ash tray.

  5. Elizabeth

    I love this book! My parents never really monitored what I read… and as a consequence I read some books with sexual content as teenager. I was always sure my parents would hate what I was reading if they only knew, but looking back I’m fairly certain they understood adult romances had sexual content and they weren’t that worried about it.

    • Words For Worms

      Seriously. Teenagers are going to run into sex one way or another. Seems to me that books are a pretty safe avenue for exploration. I like to think I’ll be cool about that sort of thing if I ever have kids.

  6. Trish

    I actually gave this one to my teenage brother to read (he’s my half and has some Native American ancestry on his dad’s side). I gave it to him in part because it has all of those things you mention above and what teenaged boy doesn’t want to read something that might be a little more colorful than the dry stuff they read in class.

    Censorship is tough. I absolutely do not think that books should be banned but I do think it’s appropriate for parents to know what their children are reading. Thankfully my parents never cared if I read something with questionable material (I read from their shelves because who knew about YA books in the 90s!), but I did have an interesting conversation with my stepmom about whether or not she would loan her copy of 50 Shades of Grey to my stepsister (20). Of course she couldn’t say NO DON’T READ IT, but…(she ended up permanently loaning out her copy to a friend so that stepsister had to seek out her own copy…awkwardness solved).

    • Words For Worms

      It is SO COOL that you gave your brother a copy of this book! It really is a fine line when it comes to kids and reading. I mean, you don’t want to be super restrictive, but you don’t want a 10 year old reading explicit sex scenes either. I don’t know where to draw the line, though knowing that both my mom and I read 50 Shades of Grey was a little bit awkward, and I was a fully grown married lady by that point. I totally get your stepmom’s trepidation!

  7. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    My parents were pretty laid back, but then again, I was kind of a goody goody. 😉 At one point my mom tried to limit who I was friends with, but it was because I had a nosy teacher who caused completely unnecessary anxiety about it. This post reminds me that Alexie is an author I have GOT to read sometime soon.

  8. Jen @Fefferbooks

    YES. This book was recently challenged in my community (it was quite the stir) and I’d read it a couple of years ago and just…couldn’t. I remembered all the wanking, but not much else. Honestly, banning always gets a big eye roll from me, anyway, but I totally agree with you re: the messages about racism and alcoholism in this book. I felt like it was just an OK read, for me, but it might be kind of earth-shattering for a teenaged boy!

    • Words For Worms

      Definitely, I think it’s all about the audience with this one. I mean, I liked it, but I think if I’d been the intended age group I’d have liked it better.

  9. Jennine G.

    This book was on the reading festival list that my students attend at our local college. I don’t even remember some of the stuff you said people objected to! I remember the narrator being funny is all. How absurd people are.

  10. Jenny @ Reading the End

    My parents didn’t stop me from reading anything, so I don’t remember finding any activities extra intriguing for being banned. I started swearing enthusiastically when I was in sixth grade, which was certainly forbidden at home, but I tend to think (or maybe I’m being self-congratulatory!) that I enjoyed it more because I like words and having new words available to me, and less because it was Forbidden.

    • Words For Worms

      LMAO, oh man, that is hilarious! I’ve found myself in recent years trying to come up with creative alternatives to traditional swear words. It’s not that I mind the originals, but the fakes can be so much more festive!

  11. Sarah Says Read

    I just picked this up at the used library bookstore for $1! Finally, I’ve been kind of on the lookout for it for ages now. I’m glad to hear it was worth the read 🙂

  12. Aarti

    I loved this book, too! Alexie’s YA books are much less depressing than his stories for adults 🙂 But I like pretty much everything he writes.

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