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June 1, 2016

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

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (ParentsTeachers) is one of the more recently banned books, and one of my favorites from the last few years. If you don’t know of it, it’s the National Book Award–winning semi-autobiographical novel by Sherman Alexie. Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and he writes from the viewpoint of Arnold, who goes through many of the same struggles that Sherman himself experienced in his childhood.

In Alexie’s first (extremely successful) foray into YA literature, he writes in a very honest and endearing voice that occasionally includes profanity, sexual language, and graphic scenes. While this inclines many to deem the book inappropriate, it’s important to consider the role that his word choice plays in the story instead of isolating it. The harsh language slaps you in the face a little bit when you see it, but that’s the point. Alexie carefully chooses his language to surprise his readers in the same way that Arnold is surprised in each challenging moment presented during the novel.

Alexie exposes the harsh realities faced by a young boy living on a Native American reservation and dealing with an identity crisis. Arnold knows that he is a 100% Spokane Indian, but he also knows that means he will almost certainly never leave the reservation. He makes a tough decision and asks his parents to send him to the closest public school, 22 miles away. What he doesn’t expect is that he will be ostracized by both his tribe and the students at his new high school, leaving him to struggle with deciding where he wants to belong. We journey with Arnold through his experience, entertained by his lively cartoons and saddened by his tragic circumstances. I felt that the novel was extremely well written and well put together, and truly captured Arnold’s spirit. I cried right along with him when tragedy struck, and I felt for him when he had to deal with his tribe turning against him.

Overall, the novel is an extremely powerful look at life on the rez, and a story that I feel teens should read in order to build empathy. Yes, there’s strong language and talk of boozing, but that’s stuff teens are guaranteed to hear anyway. Reluctant readers are also likely to enjoy this novel, as it includes cartoon drawings that give more insight into Arnold and his experiences.

As people committed to helping families find the right books for them, we respect both sides of this debate. At the same time, as people who love literature, we never hesitate to stand up for books we believe in.

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Author Bio: Tori is the Merchandising Coordinator for Storia eBooks.

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September 26, 2013