I read this a couple of months ago but never got around to reviewing it. Luckily, as we’re nearing the end of Banned Books Week 2010, now’s a great time to post my review; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was most recently banned on September 8 in Stockton, Missouri:
There are descriptions of masturbation, sexual language and foul jokes, along with themes encompassing racism, alcoholism and violence… “We can take the book and wrap it in those 20 awards everyone else said it won and it still is wrong,” said board member Ken Spurgeon.
The Stockton school board unanimously voted to keep the book out of its curriculum, and voted 7-2 to keep the book out of its school libraries.
When I read this book for the first time earlier this year, I finished it in one sitting. It made me reaaaaaally want to find a job as a 9th grade English teacher, even though I kind of had my heart set on 11th grade. Lo and behold, I’m currently doing neither: I’m teaching part-time at a community college. But if I’d gotten hired as a high school teacher like I’d originally planned, I was totally ready to give up my goal of teaching American Lit just so I could assign this book to 9th graders.
It’s that fabulous.
Arnold Spirit Jr. lives in poverty on a Spokane Indian reservation. He is a budding cartoonist who was born with excess cerebral spinal fluid and forty-two teeth. His awkward appearance, nerdiness, and health problems have left him vulnerable to bullying. One day, after an incident with his math teacher, he comes to the realization that if he intends to get anywhere in life, he needs to get off the Rez.
When Junior transfers to Reardon High School, 22 miles away, he finds he’s the only Indian there besides the mascot. Transferring schools creates a rift between Junior and his best friend, Rowdy (not to mention almost everyone else on the Rez).
I love this book because it’s a story of perseverance, but also because Alexie does such an amazing job of humanizing major topics like poverty, racism, alcoholism, and death:
I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been to forty-two funerals.
That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people…All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand.
I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to my deaths.
And you know what the worst part is? The unhappy part? About 90 percent of the deaths have been because of alcohol.
So much of this book is devastating, but a lot of it is really funny and inspiring. Ellen Forney’s illustrations are also a welcome (and, I would argue, integral) addition to the book; in fact, I think it’s a perfect book for reluctant readers because of those illustrations. Everyone should read it.