Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Banned Book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: Banned in the Stockton, Mo. School District (2010) because of violence, language, and some sexual content. Retained in the Helena, Mont. School District (2011) despite a parent’s objection that the book contained “obscene, vulgar and pornographic
language.” This New York Times bestseller won the National Book Award in 2007 in the “Young People’s Literature” category. (Source–Quote taken from the ALA banned books resource page.)

My Thoughts: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a spectacular book that’s full of heart.  Yes, there’s violence, poor language, and a brief piece of sexual content, but Junior is a dynamic character that readers can learn from.  The violence stems from racism, both on and off the reservation.  Junior values his education, but making the choice to attend school off the reservation is a tough one because it makes him look disloyal and like a traitor.  It’s hard for his family, friends, and community to understand his motivation.  Watching Junior acclimate to his new environment at the new school is at times heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it’s ultimately hopeful.  This book is so much more than violence, poor language, and sexual content.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do.  We added it to our freshman curriculum last year which turned out to be a huge success.  It was so popular, we had to order more copies to appease our students.  And it really helped our students connect with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Student Response: This quote comes from one of my seniors, Austin.  “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is banned for several reasons including sexual content and plain truth about school.  I think it shouldn’t be banned because we say and think way worse things than what’s in that book.”

Comments

  1. This is such a great book!! It warms my heart to know there are schools/classes that make it a part of the curriculum.

  2. SO good! book!

  3. Bob Bobster says:

    Hi Mrs. Andersen, I am a sixteen-year-old boy who just finished Alexie’s novel, and I agree with your blog, wholeheartedly. My favorite subject is English.

    You’re right. Yes, the book contains instances of “vulgarity” such as violence, masturbation, gayness, racism, alcoholism and harsh language, but Alexie does not focus on these tough topics to glorify them. In fact, he does so in order to convey an accurate portrayal of a young adult. I will be the first to admit that I think of sex often, I have had a racist thought, I have tried alcohol before, I have fought, and I use harsh language occasionally. Additionally, your student’s response is true: “[contemporary students] say and think way worse things than what’s in that book.”

    Maybe some parents and administrators have such a hard time with Alexie’s novel because its prose lacks a certain “fluff” that the Literary Community of America has become accustomed to. The book’s protagonist, Arnold, speaks so bluntly and honestly, providing a heartfelt and genuine account of his life. This simplicity horrifies some parents and administrators. Admittedly, most books even ones that discuss taboo subjects will not include phrases as straightforward as the following: “Naked woman + right hand = happy happy joy… And if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs” (Alexie 26).” However, this simplicity has a real purpose. Parents and administrators might argue that caustic and plain language should not be associated with topics that are “unspeakable” or “frowned upon”. Yet, masturbation, gayness, racist jokes and so on are parts of life. Alexie expertly imposes his almost casual prose to show that those topics are normal and, in fact, acceptable to talk about. Though difficult, kids need to discuss and understand certain issues before they can really grow up and be expected to function as a mature member of society. And while parents and administrators may try, their children will not stay sheltered forever and, probably, are not as sheltered as their parents might hope. Alexie provides young adults the chance to discuss subjects integral to growing up in an open environment and with a mature adult. What safer place is there than a classroom?

    In another blog I read, someone mentioned that students read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which contains sexual content, violence, complete disregard for family and ethics and teen suicide. Perhaps Shakespeare’s poetic and archaic language provides enough “fluff” to cover these subjects, and allow almost all school systems to deem it appropriate. I am not trying to say that such a classic should be banned (I loved that book!); however, I would like to point out that perhaps the most famous literary work in all of Western Civilization contains themes that are taboo, as well. Ironic, right?

    I am unsure as to how Alexie’s novel helped your students empathize with To Kill A Mockingbird (another favorite of mine, by the way), but I think that’s awesome! Did your students relate the racist overtones to better understand the novel? Maybe they found that Arnold and Mr. Dolphus Raymond were similar as Mr. Raymond was looked down upon from his own race for marrying a black woman, and yet he was not accepted by blacks. Similarly, Arnold was ostracized from his tribe for going to Reardan; however, the white people there did not accept him, initially.

    Thank you!

  4. Marc Davis says:

    I am a 16 year old kid, and I loved this book. Everything about it was creative and funny and it kept me wanting to read it. Yes, there are some topics in the nove that are not appropriate for some kids, but then do not let them read it if they can not handle what is inside. You wouldn’t show a 7 year old an R rated movie right? That is because they are not ready yet. Just like a kid shouldn’t read this novel until they are ready to handle what goes on inside it. It should 100% not be banned anywhere because the topics may be questionable, but they add to the novel and make it outstanding in every way imaginable.

  5. I read this book in my english class this year, and I absolutely adored it. I believe that in order to truly enjoy a book, there has to be humor in it and relations to the speaker. Junior is reflecting his ideas in his head on everything that happens, and he uses his honest opinion on everything and explains situations and ideas in a way that any teenager could relate to and understand. No matter how graphic or vivid this book is, its very honest, and sometimes the truth can be unbearable.

I love comments!

%d bloggers like this: