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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?

Posts from This Journal by “books” Tag


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2016 01:13 am (UTC)
I'm doing a reading challenge in 2016 that includes reading a banned book. Guess what one I'll be reading? FanSee
Jan. 4th, 2016 01:17 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this - definitely will pick it up! I had seen this at our library that does a "Banned Books" week - believe it's a national Library thing? But yes, I have used that list too to find books to read!
Jan. 4th, 2016 01:25 am (UTC)
I totally agree with your last statement. I've noticed three unfortunate, related tendencies regarding policies toward children that are all highlighted by this:

- People dramatically underestimate what a child is ready to encounter and able to understand.
- People miss the point entirely of bringing up deeper subjects by picking at minutiae in a knee-jerk manner.
- People seem to think it's not only possible, but ideal, to fight to keep children from certain subjects for as long as possible, rather than using their time to be proactive in approaching these subjects.

I'm going to have to read this book. One of my favorite books—The Giver—is a frequent guest on that list as well, for disturbing imagery and touching on sexual topics. I read it at a young age, and I think that not just despite, but because of, touching on all of that, it made it feel more real, complete, thought-provoking, and was very instrumental in my intellectual growth.
Jan. 4th, 2016 03:12 am (UTC)
oh I definitely need to re-read The Giver! I meant to last year when the movie came out but didn't get to it. I remember really liking this book as a teen, like all these books I don't remember anything sexual about it but who knows.
Jan. 4th, 2016 09:15 am (UTC)
Meh, I don't think it ages well. Among other things, it's painfully obvious that Lois Lowry suffers from JKR's "oh dear, maths" defect. Plus, 2/3 of the sequels are super Jesus-y, and I like my allegories to be a little less literal. (That's also why I'm not a huge fan of the latter two Golden Compass books.)

The Green Sky Trilogy covers much the same ground, but it's less obvious with its super Jesus parallels.
Jan. 4th, 2016 02:04 am (UTC)
Having gone and read the complaints on Amazon (always worth a laugh), I think it's 50% the masturbation thing. Which is ridiculous, but there you go.
Jan. 4th, 2016 03:07 am (UTC)
oh, if you like amazon reviews, you've gotta check out the other book on the ALA list called "It's Perfectly Normal"... it's a sex ed textbook. Lots of five star reviews for being educational, but the one-stars who think it's TOO educational are just losing their minds...

Jan. 4th, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)
Jan. 4th, 2016 02:38 am (UTC)
Even though those words make my back crawl (the derogatory ones, not 'masturbation'), I think they are right and proper when used to show a character saying something despicable. Having a character use those terms and then having someone else tell them why they are wrong is a teaching moment. And if a story is set in a historical context, then, yes, some people used that language and that can demonstrate how society has grown (*most* of society has grown; I realize the language is still in use, but thankfully not nearly as much).

I'll have to pick up that book. I like reading banned books to see what all the fuss is about. They usually turn out to be pretty good books!
Jan. 4th, 2016 02:56 am (UTC)
Completely agree with everything you've said here. Every time I read a book that is frequently banned, I always try to puzzle out exactly what the reason is for it. Sometimes I'm successful (A Prayer for Owen Meany) but I find that for kids/young adult books in particular the reasons elude me. The Chocolate War was one I read in 2015 that I had a lot of trouble understanding. I thought it was because the kids were jerks, even though I also thought that was just being true to life. Googling tells me it was about the masturbation scene though, which I find ridiculous but ... apparently a lot of people REALLY hate that masturbation exists? *sigh*
Jan. 4th, 2016 04:32 am (UTC)
God I totally forgot about the chocolate war. Have to find and reread.
Jan. 4th, 2016 07:25 am (UTC)
I teach Part-Time Indian and it's pretty much every student's favorite -- that goes for kids who don't read, period, as well as my most advanced and motivated kids. I'm starting it with my classes in a few weeks!
Jan. 4th, 2016 02:05 pm (UTC)
With the exception of Mein Kampf and similar drek, I can't think of a single banned book that doesn't contribute something positive to analysis of humanity.
Jan. 4th, 2016 04:08 pm (UTC)
This sounds like a good book. Will have to see if I can get it via my library.
Jan. 4th, 2016 05:06 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a great book.

If we pretend to adolescents that the world is free of bad things, we throw away our credibility, because they discover that we are lying to them. The best books show us how to live well in a very imperfect reality (sometimes by counterexample).
Jan. 4th, 2016 09:58 pm (UTC)
The sample looks interesting, perhaps I will buy it and keep reading :-)
Jan. 14th, 2016 06:11 pm (UTC)
I loved that book! It does use language try not to use in my home. I certainly can't ban it for that. There is a place for discussing language (and other "we don't do that" stuff) within one's own home, too.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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