Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

Year of banned books, starting with Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian several years ago and thought it was a striking portrayal of poverty, diversity, coming of age and living between worlds as a minority trying to succeed. I've recommended it to all kinds of people. So imagine my surprise when I read about it in this article, Parent calls cops on teen for giving books away at a book giveaway.

Apparently this awesome book is #1 on the ALA's Frequently Challenged Books List, having stirred up controversy all over the place, parents and school administrators are fighting like crazy to have it removed from curriculum, pulled from libraries, and all out banned.

So I re-read it just to see what was so offensive. According to the article parents were quoted as saying it used language that they do "not use in their home". So I'm not the best source of judging whether this is offensive I guess since I use all kind of language in my home, hell, my 5-year-old uses all kinds of language in my home, as long as she's using it in the proper context I figure english is english so why sweat the small stuff? Is she nice to kids? That's what's important.

And this book is chock full of valuable lessons about being nice to people. Being understanding, empathetic, non-judgmental, tolerant. Maybe that's why I like it.

Maybe that's why other parents hate it.

I made a mental list, while reading it, about why it might be ban-worthy...

Uses the word "retard". I do find that offensive but it's not used in a derogatory "making fun of people" way, it's used as self-depreciation by this kid who thinks he's not as good as other people.

The main character mentions that he masturbates. But the article involving the cops is about 10th graders... by age 15-16, I'd say the word is out on that topic.

After a family tragedy the main character is angry at God. They are a Christian family in the book though, so there's not much evidence that the author is anti-Christian.

The n-word is used by a bully.

A girl has bulimia.

The main character is tolerant of actual gay people and admires his grandmother's tolerance but still calls people "faggot", sometimes in a friendly way sometimes not, and the less kind characters in the book ask if his actions like drawing pictures or wanting to make friends is "gay".

It's got Indians making fun of white people who claim to love Indians. That part is priceless, actually, read the book just for that.

The book is just so brutally real, with these irreplaceable ideas... Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.

And this famous quote that gets repeated in many places... “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

I think sugar-coating the story by stripping out bad words, eating disorders, fist fights, reality of homophobia, anger at God... would all make it less real. The point of the book is this kid breaking out of his harsh reality. So how do you convey the necessity of that without making it harsh?

I'm going to keep recommending it. Especially this one, which is young adult fiction so you can read it in a day. I hope that you do.

The fact that this book tops the ALA's list of banned books has inspired me to read more of the list. Maybe it's pretty good. Part Time Indian certainly made me think of generational poverty in ways I hadn't before, and it showed me a world I've never set foot in, that's what books are for right? If a book shakes people up enough to get banned, there's something there worth saving?
Tags: books, books - best of

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