One of my favorite books, and one that has been repeatedly banned, is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
The story is Junior’s, an intelligent and budding cartoonist with big dreams living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Junior decides to leave his rez school right before freshman year and trek to an all-white school for a better education. The Indians on the reservation see him as a traitor, and aside from the school mascot, Junior is the only Indian at his new school, where he must traverse his teasing peers and try to fit in. At home, he faces the devastating problems of poverty and alcoholism.
So why was this amazing book banned? Because people made ridiculous assumptions before they’d even read the book. A parent complained about the content in Stockton, Missouri, and it was banned. Doesn’t it make sense to read the book before banning it? What message does banning a book and silencing an important voice give to your students who are trying to figure out who they are in this world?
The book was also banned in Richland, Washington, where all ten copies were checked out as well as on hold. Officials were worried about the appropriateness of this book for freshman students. There was concern over Junior masturbating, because no teenage boys masturbate, right? Another concern was that the book encouraged racism. This is not the only book that deals with race, and if anything, this book helps some of us white folks understand what it is to be Native American and what struggles they have had to go through after being kicked off of their own land and being forced to conform to a new society. I’m sorry, officials, but does reading about the poverty and alcoholism of your Spokane neighbors make you uncomfortable? If you ask me, what’s racist is banning an important book about a Native American teenager.
And guess what? After most school officials that banned the book actually read it, they reversed the ban. Why? Because it’s an incredible and important book with a ridiculously strong voice. It’s about things that every teenager experiences and it’s about life on a reservation, which most readers have not experienced. That is why it’s so important. Honesty should not be silenced. Schools should be celebrating the fact that students want to read anything so badly.
In a Huffington Post article, Ron Dicker wrote, “The author himself defended the novel’s more mature themes in a 2011 Wall Street Journal essay, saying he didn’t write to protect the readers. ‘It’s far too late for that,”’ Alexie explained. ‘I write to give them weapons — in the form of words and ideas — that will help them fight their monsters.’”
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