Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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

UPDATE: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the 2009 Odyssy Award for best audiobook produced for youth available in English in the United States!!! Congratulations to Sherman Alexie for another well deserved award!

Disclaimer: This post is about a book that was recently banned in Oregon State. I will be making quotes from the article, and some people may find the language offensive. However, the language is only used to illustrate a point.

Last February I purchased the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie for our collection. It was a National Book Award winner, it was on several "Best Books for Teen Boys to Read" lists, and it received incredible praise. It has been a decently successful book here. We don't have many teen males who check out books, but it has been circulated. It has been on my to-read list since it came in, but it wasn't on the top of my list. Then in December I read this article, and the book shot to the top of my list.

In Crook County Oregon a parent picked up the book and wasn't thrilled with what he read. He proceeded to "copy a few pages" and go to the school board. The school board read those pages and decided to ban the book because "The protagonist in Alexie’s book discusses masturbation." I get that. I really do understand why a parent would be upset by that. However, in 230 pages the word is used five times. That isn't a lot. Arnold talks about how he loves lines and squares in geometry more than he loves his alone time with pictures of curvy girls. This isn't a celebration of this behavior. No, instead it is a fourteen year old boy struggling with his decision to leave his family, his home, and his life behind because he wants a good education. Not even a good education, just a decent education, one where he isn't condemned to use the same school books that were used by his parents more than thirty years earlier. This is the book that the Crook County School Board chose to remove from their shelves? A book that celebrates a love a learning and the struggle that every person faces between making people happy and finding a life worth living? A book about a young boy who is trying to find a better life than the one he is destined for? I think that it is incredibly small minded. Don't get me wrong. I think that every parent has a right to stop their child from reading any book that they think is inappropriate. There are many wonderful books that I love, but that I wouldn't want a middle school child to read. However, I think that it is horrible for any group to decide that something is wrong for everyone. Seriously, there are so many "classics" that deal with sex, drugs, alcohol, and harsh language that are required reading. Why is it okay for Holden Caulfield to use the profanity that he does and not be banned. Why can The Outsiders be filled with gang violence and not be banned. Today's banned and challenged books are tomorrows classics. It would be wise to realize that now.

I read this book in about twelve hours. It was great. It was a moving story about a boy who doesn't fit in anywhere, who has to fight for a place, and still feels like an outsider. He is an outsider. He deals with loss on a regular basis, some huge ones and some very small ones. It is a story about growing up and dealing with all of the things that you have to deal with when you grow up. Growing up stinks. Being an adult isn't fun. Neither is being a teenager who lives on the fringes, who doesn't quite fit in anywhere. Sherman Alexie captures this concept and illustrates it in a beautiful way. Arnold is funny and bright and sad. While reading, my heart broke and I laughed out loud as he grew up within the story. It was a beautiful Young Adult book that I think is a worthwhile read for any older teen. No, it isn't something you should pick up for your fifth grader, but I'm sure your sophomore could relate in many ways.


Kris said...

This is a great article! I totally agree and will argue that "the language is only used to illustrate a point." Out of context, masturbation, racism, and the like are conspicuously contentious topics, mostly too intimate and controversial to speak about in public. This is where the parents seem to have a legit argument. However, in context, as implied by this blog, these subjects are edifications and visualizations of character transformation. Roger, for example, says the most racist insult that I have ever heard before to Arnold — "Did you know that Indians are living proof that nig***s f*** buffalo” (Alexie 64) — but Roger changes and becomes less ignorant, and consequently more accepting. In fact, Roger later protects Arnold, buys Arnold the most important pancakes his life, and drives him home.

Moreover, the book, as mentioned in this blog, has garnered countless awards for risible story, literary devices (such as metaphors, symbols, painting pictures with adjectives), and Ellen Forney's hilarious illustrations—a perfect accompaniment to such a graphic tale and Arnold’s budding artist inside.

The last sentence in the penultimate paragraph is an extremely rewarding observation. The blog's author notes, "Today's banned and challenged books are tomorrows classics. It would be wise to realize that now." Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," J.D. Salinger’s "The Catcher and the Rye," and John Steinbeck’s "Grapes of Wrath" are presently classics that were once banned. We should cherish this future classic now, and not let this masterpiece slip the opportunity that we have now.

Bri said...

This book was being taught in our 10th grade English class until it was banned due to a challenge made by someone who didn't even have a child enrolled in our high school...
The entire student body and the teachers who were teaching it are all fighting to get it back into our library.