The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Little, Brown & Company 2007
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Native American novelist Sherman Alexie is a poignant and humorous coming-of-age novel that follows the journey of Arnold Spirit Jr. (called “Junior”), a young Native American boy living on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. The novel, presented in a diary format, chronicles Arnold’s decision to attend an all-white high school off the reservation, exploring themes of identity, cultural assimilation, and the pursuit of dreams. Set against the backdrop of the reservation, the novel provides a candid and sometimes humorous account of Arnold’s struggles with poverty, racism, and the challenges of straddling two distinct worlds. The diary format allows readers to intimately connect with Arnold as he navigates the complexities of adolescence and self-discovery.
The Book Smugglers (July 28, 2010)
I know I am reading a good book when it simultaneously breaks my heart into tiny million pieces and makes me laugh as the pieces are put together – over and over again. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is one such book. I heard only good, awesome things about it, about the many awards it won and the Neil Gaiman quote on the cover only helped me picking it up. But I was not prepared for what I found and I don’t think anyone could ever be prepared for it. The book was first published in the US back in 2007 and is a first person, semi-autobiographical account of Arnold Spirit, Jr’s life as a Spokane Indian living in the Reservation with his family, and his ultimate decision of going to an all-white school just outside the rez in search for a chance to have a future. It is filled with hope to its brim even as hope is something that Indians are not supposed to have.
The heartbreaking starts on page 1 as Junior starts telling his story about being born with “water in his brain” and the resulting physical damage: ranging from over-sized head, hands and feet, bad eyesight to seizures, stuttering and lisping. Being a child with all the aforementioned is bad enough but you can just about get away with being “cute” but being a 14 year old teenage boy is unbearable. Especially when you are bullied, constantly beaten up (careful with the head!) and called a “retard”.
Junior also has forty-two teeth – ten more than normal, and if I thought my heart was breaking on page 1, it was on page 2 that I truly learnt the meaning of a heart shattered with RAGE:
I went to the Indian Health Service to get some teeth pulled so I could eat normally, not like some slobbering vulture. But the Indian Health Service funded major dental work only once a year, so I had to have all ten extra teeth pulled in one day. And what’s more, our white dentist believed that Indians only felt half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave me half the Novocain.
And it continues. Junior is dirty poor, his father is an alcoholic, as are most Indians in the reservation; no one looks into the future, his sister has been living in their basement for years. He is constantly threatened with physical damage by bullies (some of them, ADULTS) . His best friend is his dog Oscar who has to be put down by his father because they can’t afford to take him to the vet when he gets sick. It is not all sadness though, he does have a best non-canine friend in Rowdy, another teen whom he has been friends with since childhood, his grandmother and his drawings. You see, Junior loves to read and draw comics and wants to be a cartoonist one day:
I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.
His cartoons are inserted throughout the narrative and complement it perfectly sometimes being the much needed funny break to what is being described.
What is most impressive about the narrative: that all of the horrible, tragic, things that happen to Junior don’t ever come across as being there merely for shock value or drama. The worst (or the best part?) is how it comes across as natural, as normal, as you know, things that happen. Shrug, shrug move on. The style is as though you are deep in conversation with your best friend who might as well be telling you how he went to the grocery store to buy a bottle of milk. That is in itself genius: not only because the reading flows but also because the narrative itself is part of the story. As though Junior, in narrating the story in such an easy way has assimilated the one idea that might bring him down and has brought down his family and ancestors. That Indians are good for nothing and deserve what they have. Over and over again, Junior will say something that will show how ingrained the self-loathing is, only to try and get pass that. This, as much as facing racial problems, poverty is perhaps Junior’s most important challenge. I get a sense of purpose in the storytelling.
And how does Junior start breaking the vicious circle though? It starts this one day at school when he is given a new book except the book is not new -it belonged to his own mother. Filled with sense of foreboding, Junior throws the book and it hits his teacher. In the aftermath, the same teacher impresses upon Junior the need for him to GET AWAY. He enrols at the all-white school and he is the only Indian attending it, if you don’t count their mascot. Surprisingly, he has a harder time with his fellow Indians back at the Rez for making this decision than he has with the white kids. He soon makes friends, joins the basketball team and even gets a white girlfriend. But these things don’t come easy, there is guilt, violence, heartbreak as Rowdy won’t have anything to do with him anymore and a reality that keeps dragging him down but Junior? Junior will not give up.
This is a story about identity too: Junior is at once part of his tribe and not a part of his tribe and the way that struggle is handled is superb. I thought that the fact that the ideas
are never shorthanded to Indians = Good (the poor Victims) and Whites=Bad (Ultimate Evil). In fact, I think one of my favourite quotes in the book is and the one I shall use to close the review:
“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,” I said. “By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not”.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I love this quote with all my heart because it is filled with TRUTH:
But we reservation Indians don’t get to realise our dreams. We don’t get those chances. Or choices. We’re just poor. That’s all we are.
It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that somehow one deserves to be poor. You start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.
Common Sense Media - 5 star review by Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media Reviewer (2007)
Racism, alcoholism, grief, identity, familial love, comics, basketball, and hope all mingle in this poignant story of a Native American boy attending an all-White high school. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may be some readers' first look at life on a reservation. Author Sherman Alexie, who based the story on his own life, is unflinching in his descriptions of alcohol-fueled hopelessness and poverty. But it's not all hopelessness. … Readers who know that Alexie was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018 may see some of the book's sexual content in a different light than those who read it without knowing those details.
It's a gritty look at the struggles of Junior, a teen living on a Native American reservation who decides to attend an all-White school. Junior mourns the deaths of many people close to him, all of whom die due to severe alcohol abuse. A woman is run over by a drunk driver, people are burned alive in a camper, a man is shot in the face by accident by his friend, and there's talk of his friend hanging himself in jail afterward. A suffering dog is shot and killed because the family can't afford to take it to the vet. There's a lot of fighting, too. Junior is often beat up. Characters swear frequently, using all of the usual suspects, though when one boy uses the "N" word as part of a racist joke, he gets punched in the face for it. Junior enjoys masturbation and looking at magazines with nude pictures. He also engages in bawdy talk with his friends and gets an erection while hugging a school counselor. There's lots of drinking in the story, but only by adults, and there's nothing glamorous about it. This book stands out for its unique voice in literature, for its brutal honesty -- it's based on Alexie's own experiences -- and for its poignancy. It explores the deep bonds of family, friends, and community and how they help people through even the toughest circumstances. It explores racism and how we break past the limitations placed upon us by a racist world, as well as grief, tolerance, and forgiveness. It's no wonder there are so many discussion guides on this book for school classrooms: There's lots to discuss. It's a shame that Alexie's harassment allegations have had to be added to the list.
HornBook Magazine Reviews (Westerville, OH Public Library)
The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally -- and hilariously and triumphantly -- bent in this novel about coming of age on the rez. Urged on by a math teacher whose nose he has just broken, Junior, fourteen, decides to make the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small town twenty miles away. He's tired of his impoverished circumstances ("Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands"), but while he hopes his new school will offer him a better education, he knows the odds aren't exactly with him: "What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?" But he makes friends (most notably the class dork Gordy), gets a girlfriend, and even (though short, nearsighted, and slightly disabled from birth defects) lands a spot on the varsity basketball team, which inevitably leads to a showdown with his own home team, led by his former best friend Rowdy. Junior's narration is intensely alive and rat-a-tat-tat with short paragraphs and one-liners ("If God hadn't wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn't have given us thumbs"). The dominant mode of the novel is comic, even though there's plenty of sadness, as when Junior's sister manages to shake off depression long enough to elope -- only to die, passed out from drinking, in a fire. Junior's spirit, though, is unquenchable, and his style inimitable, not least in the take-no-prisoners cartoons he draws (as expertly depicted by comics artist Forney) from his bicultural experience. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus (December 5, 2016)
Alexie nimbly blends sharp wit with unapologetic emotion in his first foray into young-adult literature.
Fourteen-year-old Junior is a cartoonist and bookworm with a violent but protective best friend Rowdy. Soon after they start freshman year, Junior boldly transfers from a school on the Spokane reservation to one in a tiny white town 22 miles away. Despite his parents’ frequent lack of gas money (they’re a “poor-ass family”), racism at school and many crushing deaths at home, he manages the year. Rowdy rejects him, feeling betrayed, and their competing basketball teams take on mammoth symbolic proportions. The reservation’s poverty and desolate alcoholism offer early mortality and broken dreams, but Junior’s knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe. He also realizes how many other tribes he has, from “the tribe of boys who really miss . . . their best friends” to “the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.”
Junior’s keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight. (Fiction. YA)
New York Times by Bruce Barcott (November 11, 2007)
Arnold Spirit Jr. is the geekiest Indian on the Spokane Reservation. He wears chunky, lopsided glasses. His head and body look like Sputnik on a toothpick. When he doesn’t stutter, he lisps. Arnold is a 14-year-old high school freshman. When he goes outside he gets teased and beaten, so he spends a lot of time in his room drawing cartoons. “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods,” he says, “and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”
If that line has an unexpected poetry to it, that’s because it was written by a poet. Arnold’s creator, Sherman Alexie, grew up on the Spokane Reservation in tiny Wellpinit, Wash., and made his name as a poet before expanding into short stories, novels, screenplays, film directing and stand-up comedy. “The Absolutely True Diary of a
Part-Time Indian” is Alexie’s first foray into the young adult genre, and it took him only one book to master the form. Recently nominated for a National Book Award, this is a gem of a book. I keep flipping back to re-read the best scenes and linger over Ellen Forney’s cartoons.
To say that life is hard on the Spokane rez doesn’t begin to touch it. “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people,” Arnold explains, “all the way back to the very first poor people.” The kid was born with 10 too many teeth, so he gets them pulled — all in a single day, because the Indian Health Service pays for major dental work only once a year. When Arnold cracks open his geometry textbook, he finds his mother’s name written on the flyleaf. “My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from,” Arnold says. “That is absolutely the saddest thing in the world.”
Credit...Illustration by Ellen Forney Enraged, Arnold beans his geometry teacher with the book and gets suspended from school. The targeted teacher, Mr. P., visits Arnold at home and gives him a piece of advice: Get out. Mr. P. has seen too many promising students — like Arnold’s sister, Mary Runs Away — fade year by year, beaten down by poverty and hopelessness. “The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up,” Mr. P. says.
“The Absolutely True Diary” tracks Arnold’s year of getting out. He transfers to Reardan High, 22 miles away, a gleaming campus full of wealthy white kids, with a computer room and chemistry labs. He’s the only Indian — if you don’t count the school mascot. Early on, Arnold fears being beaten up by the jocks. “I was afraid those monsters were going to kill me,” he says. “And I don’t mean ‘kill’ as in ‘metaphor.’ I mean ‘kill’ as in ‘beat me to death.’” (The comedian in Alexie pops up as often as the poet.) Arnold’s toughness soon earns him their respect, though, as well as a spot on the varsity basketball team.
What he can’t win back is the love of his neighbors at home. On the rez he’s considered a traitor. His best friend punches him in the face. When Reardan plays Wellpinit High in basketball, the Indians rain so much abuse on Arnold that a race riot nearly breaks out. Triumph and grief come in equal measure. Arnold figures out that he’s smarter than most of the white kids, and wins the heart of a white girl named Penelope. (“What was my secret?” he says. “If you want to get all biological, then you’d have to say that I was an exciting addition to the Reardan gene pool.”) Meanwhile, his father’s best friend is shot and killed, and his sister dies in a trailer fire. “I’m 14 years old, and I’ve been to 42 funerals,” Arnold says. “That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.”
For 15 years now, Sherman Alexie has explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds. He’s done it through various characters and genres, but “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home.
Which, by the way, Arnold doesn’t have. Unless his folks get lucky and come up with some gas money.
Publishers Weekly (Sept. 2007)
Screenwriter, novelist and poet, Alexie bounds into YA with what might be a Native American equivalent of Angela’s Ashes, a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful. Presented as the diary of hydrocephalic 14-year-old cartoonist and Spokane Indian Arnold Spirit Jr., the novel revolves around Junior’s desperate hope of escaping the reservation. As he says of his drawings, “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.” He transfers to a public school 22 miles away in a rich farm town where the only other Indian is the team mascot. Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor, an apple (“red on the outside and white on the inside”), while at school most teachers and students project stereotypes onto him: “I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” Readers begin to understand Junior’s determination as, over the course of the school year, alcoholism and self-destructive behaviors lead to the deaths of close relatives. Unlike protagonists in many YA novels who reclaim or retain ethnic ties in order to find their true selves, Junior must separate from his tribe in order to preserve his identity. Jazzy syntax and Forney’s witty cartoons examining Indian versus White attire and behavior transmute despair into dark humor; Alexie’s no-holds-barred jokes have the effect of throwing the seriousness of his themes into high relief. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)
School Library Journal by Betsy Bird (January 10, 2008)
I asked you what my final 2007 review should be. You voted. And that winner turned out to be this book. It probably doesn’t need the publicity, but that’s not to say it isn’t one heck of a novel. With pleasure, my thoughts on the matter.
I have not often had the pleasure of inhabiting the head of an adolescent male. Once in a while I’ll run across a YA novel that sort of captures what I imagine it would be like (Looking for Alaska by John Green was one such example) but not every teen author has the ability to plunge you directly into the little gray cells of a adolescent boy with any conviction. I doubt I would have considered Sherman Alexie up to the task prior to reading this book. Not that I don’t think the man’s got mad skills, mind. His The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven should be required reading for anyone with American citizenship. I just tend to be leery of adult authors that suddenly want to make the switch and start writing for young people. Maybe this isn’t as violent a switch as Joyce Carol Oates writing picture books (to say nothing of Margaret Atwood) but whenever an adult author lowers the age on their prospective readership, you worry that they’re going to feel obliged to dumb their writing down. As if child readers are just slightly less intelligent adults. Fortunately, in the case of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian such fears remain unfounded. Alexie makes a natural leap into teen literature and the result is a novel that’s a mix of humor and gut-wrenching pain. That Alexie, man. He’s still got it.
- Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)Reviews (Westerville, OH Public Library - 2007) Nerdy, fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington state. During his first day at high school, Arnold discovers that his geometry textbook is so old that his mother used it in school. In anger, he throws the book at his teacher and is suspended. Recognizing Arnold's potential, his teacher suggests that Arnold transfer to a school off the reservation. There Arnold attempts to bridge Indian and white cultures-sometimes successfully and sometimes not-while at home, he faces the controversy of leaving the reservation and his own culture. The tension reaches a peak when Arnold returns to his former school for a basketball game as the star player on his new school's team Alexie's portrayal of reservation life, with the help of a great lineup of supporting characters, is realistic and fantastical and funny and tragic-all at the same time. The story is engaging, but readers will also gain insight into American Indian culture and politics as well as a sense for human nature and the complexities of living in a diverse society. Cartoonist Forney's drawings, appearing throughout the book, enhance the story and could nearly stand alone. It is clear that she and Alexie worked closely together on this project. Recreational readers, especially boys, will enjoy this book, but teachers will also find it filled with lots of material to rouse a good classroom discussion. This first young adult novel by the acclaimed Indian writer whose adult fiction is used in many high school classrooms is based on Alexie's own memoir.-Jenny Ingram 5Q 4P J S Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.
A Junior Library Guild selection;
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 2008;
National Book Award, Young People’s Literature, 2007;
Odyssey Award, 2009;
Notable Book for a Global Society, 2008;
American Indian Youth Literature Award winner, 2008;
“Best Books of 2007”, School Library Journal
- YALSA 2008 “Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults,”
Response to challenges
Marshall University Libraries Banned Books - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian challenges and bannings from 2009-2023.
Banned Books Week by Betsy Gomez (September 14, 2018)
Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has appeared on ALA’s top ten challenged books list six times since its 2007 publication. In 2017, it held the #2 slot on the list due to challenges based on profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
The protagonist and first-person narrator of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is 14-year-old Arnold Spirit Jr, or Junior. The budding cartoonist lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and he leaves the rez to attend an all-white high school. Alexie drew from his own experiences for the novel, which addresses themes of racial identity, coming of age, bullying, violence, poverty, and more with Alexie’s characteristic humor. Artist Ellen Forney provided illustrations for the novel. In addition to winning the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, True Diary also win the Horn Book Award and the California Young Reader Medal. School Library Journal named it a best book of 2007 and the Young Adult Library Services Association included it among their Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults.
In 2017, a school board in Nome, Alaska, eliminated True Diary from an alternative reading list for high school students. It was removed along with Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and was the only novel of the four restored after a contentious school board meeting. The removals happened as a result of a single parent’s complaint about content in the books.
In 2017, it was also challenged in Alton, Illinois; Thousand Oaks, California; Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin; and the New London-Spicer Schools in Minnesota. Reasons for the challenges varied from “shocking words of profanity, sexual innuendo and violence” to “gratuitous and unnecessary” profanity and reference to sexual acts. The challenges were eventually defeated in these four cases.
Earlier this year, allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against Alexie. The allegations were not a factor in challenges in 2017 and previous years. Jamie LaRue, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, addresses the controversy with Publishers Weekly.
Intellectual Freedom Blog by Cathy Collins (April 28, 2022)
If number of challenges are a marker of the serious themes of a book, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is worthy of close attention as one of the top ten most challenged books of all time. The novel features a teenager born with disabilities including encephalitis, who has grown up on a reservation in Spokane, Washington. Fourteen-year-old Arnold, or “Junior” is a cartoonist and book worm with a fiercely protective best friend, Rowdy. Soon after they start freshman year, Junior transfers from a school on the “rez” to one in a small white town, 22 miles away.
Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor. Throughout the book, Junior struggles with questions about community and identity. He is determined to improve himself and overcome poverty despite the handicaps of birth and race. Cartoons, font changes and dark humor illuminate the serious themes of the book in a way that even the most reluctant readers can connect with and enjoy.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was the most-challenged book in the United States from 2010 to 2019 and was named one of the top ten most challenged books in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2020. This book was banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author. One of the more recent challenges took place in Wichita, Kansas, this past year. The book was challenged by the grandparent of a ninth-grade student. A 12-member committee reviewed the challenge and decided as of March 2022 to no longer allow teachers to use a set of the novels approved for classrooms. The district also removed the novel from the library at Derby North Middle School. The committee recommended adding a “mature” label to copies at the high school library.
Publishers Weekly described the YA novel as the “Native American equivalent of Angela’s Ashes, a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful.” Other review sources were equally complimentary.
“Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here.” Booklist
Horn Book Magazine, NPR and School Library Journal also offered favorable reviews. A Kirkus starred review, offered the following, “Alexie nimbly blends sharp wit with unapologetic emotion in his first foray into young-adult literature… The reservation’s poverty and desolate alcoholism offer early mortality and broken dreams, but Junior’s knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe. He also realizes how many other tribes he has, from ‘the tribe of boys who really miss … their best friends’ to ‘the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.’ Junior’s keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight.”
School Library Journal by Carolyn Sun (April 24, 2014)
According to the Idaho Statesman on April 2, after more than two hours of public testimonies, Idaho’s Meridian County School Board voted 2-1 to continue the hold on Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little Brown, 2007) keeping it off the school curriculum’s supplemental book list. Library Coordinator for Joint School District #2 in Meridian, Idaho, Pam Juel, said to SLJ in response to the board’s April 2 decision: “I am very disappointed that the board chose to replace that title on the supplemental book list. Mr. Alexie's book offers a story that resonates with kids.
Typically, students like the book, because it's honest, gritty, and funny. And what a wonderful thing—to have a curriculum book that kids actually really like to read! Even more important, though, it presents a compelling demand that readers experience the world through a lens that, in many cases, is an unfamiliar, and perhaps uncomfortable, perspective.” For the time being, Alexie’s book remains in school libraries, and according to Juel, there was no discussion of (or intent to) remove the book from the libraries. This isn’t the first time that Part-Time Indian has been the subject of challenge and controversy. The title is reported to be the second most-challenged book in the country in 2012, according to the American Library Association. The New York Daily News reported the book was pulled from the required reading list of P.S. 114, a Rockaway middle school in Queens, NY, last year. Alexie’s enormously successful and controversial YA novel won the National Book Award in 2007 and is based on the author’s own experiences. The story follows Junior, an impoverished 14-year-old Native American boy and aspiring cartoonist who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and is determined to make something of himself. Junior leaves the reservation to attend an all-white high school in a rural-farm town, where he finds himself isolated and bullied and the target of racism.
Some of the objection to the book has largely been over its sexual content. At P.S. 114 in Rockaway, the book was removed from the required reading list for incoming sixth graders—who’d originally been required to write a graded essay on the book—according to a report from the New York Daily News article. Parents objected to lines in the book, such as:
“… if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs. So I thank God for my thumbs.”
Kelly-Ann McMullan-Preiss, parent to an 11-year-old boy in Rockaway, had refused to allow her son to read the book and referred to it as “Fifty Shades of Grey for kids.” Amy Armstrong, a teacher librarian at Heritage Middle School in the Meridian school district, had testified for reinstating the book as supplemental reading material at the April 2 Meridian school board hearing. Armstrong been introduced to Alexie’s work when she was an undergraduate at Boise State University and told SLJ that removing the book from the supplemental reading list was a form of censorship. “A group of people decided that parts were inappropriate and didn’t want it as a supplemental option for sophomores. They want to remove it because it doesn’t fit their ideal of an uplifting read. They want to remove the option to read it for every future sophomore student, not just their own children. It is censorship.”
In Armstrong’s testimony before the board, she spoke of how she, like the book's main character Junior, had grown up in poverty—and how the book resonated with her, as it did with many kids. “[Junior] has a disability that causes him to be the butt end of jokes and the punching bag of other kids on the reservation. He lives in poverty. He endures constant bullying and when he transferred to a white school endures racism and bullying. Yet he does not let these things get him down. He survives. He thrives. He is able to find hope in education even though the bleak reality of reservation life tells him otherwise. He rises above his circumstances.” At the hearing, Armstrong she spoke of how she herself had used a college education as an escape from her own poverty and how the reason why Alexie’s book was on the high school curriculum was not only to “allow kids to read about how education is an escape from poverty, but inspire kids from all backgrounds to reach for goals that may seem unattainable.” Matt Edwards, a sophomore English teacher at Meridian's Mountain View High School, also believed in the power of Part-Time Indian. Edward told SLJ he believed the book had “the power to make people who are not typically empathetic—high school students—feel extreme empathy for a character in which they never thought they'd see themselves.” Censored or not, Alexie's work conjures strong response, often a key ingredient in opening lessons geared toward critical thinking. Or as Juel put it, “Education is not about confirming what we already know and believe. Instead, education should be about increasing our capacity to understand, problem-solve, explore, create, and contribute to a complex world.” Story update, April 24: In response to the Meridian School District putting a hold on the book, the publisher Little Brown is donating 350 copies to be handed out without charge to Boise-area students with valid school identification in the next week according to an April 24 article in Publisher's Weekly.
Book Resume created by New Jersey Association of School Libraries and PDSAL
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