Banned Book Club: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Because Sherman Alexie writes about sexual awareness and awakening in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, one could understand why parents, librarians, school administrators and even some students deem the book as inappropriate. To suggest the book for a more mature audience might seem reasonable enough. The reality is that the main character, Arnold, is a freshman in high school and speaks in a relatable voice for young adults. The situations in the book correlate to real world experiences of high school aged people. As Alexie says, “I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that.” This is why we chose to read this title as January’s Banned Book Club selection.
Arnold is a teen boy growing up in poverty on the Spokane Indian reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Arnold’s father is an alcoholic, his mother works at the trading post, and his grandmother and older sister live in the same house as the rest of the family. A condition at birth left him with extra “brain juice” and so he suffers from seizures and bed wetting as a child and has a slightly larger head than the rest of his peers. This situates him as the brunt of any joke on the reservation as well as the targeted punching bag for bullies. Arnold sees this as his future until an incident with a reservation teacher fills him with the encouragement to request to transfer schools to a neighboring town. This isn’t a regular coming of age story. This is the story of a boy who overcomes poverty, race and the loss of family and friends to follow his dreams and live up to his potential despite the lack of encouragement and support.
Reardan, the all white school Arnold transfers to, is 23 miles off the reservation. This means he either has to hitchhike or walk because his family can’t afford the money for gas. Not only is he the poorest kid in his new school, he’s also the only Indian. While Arnold never stood up to his bullies on the reservation, he does at Reardan. To his surprise, he gains the respect of his classmates. He excels in his academics, joins the school basketball team and dates the most popular girl in school. Sounds like a nice story, right? Yet it is one of the most challenged books in recent years.
The use of profanity and the multiple mentions of masturbation may deter some from allowing their children to read this book, but then they would miss out on valuable lessons spoken in a language that’s easy to understand and relate to. Themes of friendship, acceptance (cultural, genetic, economic, ability), and forgiveness run strong in Part Time Diary. This book touches on issues most teens face daily. What’s really amazing about Arnold’s story is his wit and humor throughout the whole thing. A young man sets out to do the unthinkable and, though he encounters hardships, he’s able to laugh at the end of it.
There’s an incredible sense of hope throughout Arnold’s story. This is why so many schools and libraries did a turnabout in their requests for removal of this book. Alexie pulls on the little strings attached to our hearts and make us realize it’s all about the outlook we have. If Arnold can overcome generations of poverty and bigotry, if he can lose his best friend over his decision to better himself and forgive a drunk driver for the death of his grandmother, then surely we can accept the use of the word “fuck” every so often.
The next meeting of Banned Book Club takes place at 5:30 p.m. on February 15 at Bookmans Ina. The book club selection is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
Katie Branson September 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm
Hi Sabrina. Thanks for the comment, and for being another person that reminds us that we all have valid opinions that make this world the diverse place that it is. It is indeed important that we are aware of what our children consume and we appreciate you being a part of this conversation with us.
tyler November 17, 2016 at 8:57 am
Hello i have read the book and i believe it should not be banned it teaches us about the life of native Americans and how us americans have screwed them and took their land. thank you.
Katie Branson November 17, 2016 at 11:57 am
Hey Tyler! I think it’s great that you are against censorship and we always encourage our customers and fans to share their opinions. Rock on!
Noah November 21, 2016 at 6:03 am
Hello, I have read this book many times and after analyzing it each time, the book offers more good than bad. The book effectively relates to a teens life without cutting corners. It gives you a real incite on teenage life along with cultural interferes
Katie Branson November 21, 2016 at 12:15 pm
Thanks so much for sharing your opinion. We love to hear what our customers and fans think of the books we love. Thanks again for sharing! Read on!
Nunki November 24, 2016 at 10:39 am
I have read the book and I really like it. I’m writing a paper about this book and why it should NOT be banned nor censored in our public schools and libraries.
I went to banned books list, bought the books, start reading it and I loved it, and now, I have a collection of banned books.
I can truly relate to Arnold’s story, as I am an alien to a foreign land and my skin complexion somehow also became my status. when I was a teenager, I questioned God and it is normal, and because I have so many questions that my parents can’t answer, they sent me to seminary and now, I’m a youth pastor helping kids and teens go through the harsh reality of life in this morally depraved world. I’ve encouraged them to read this book, to help them understand that they are not suffering alone and to help them see hope even in a place of no hope.
We can no longer protect the children’s innocence in this world, but we can help them conquer all their fears, doubts and answer all their questions by the help and grace of God. God bless you all.
Katie Branson November 25, 2016 at 9:56 am
Hi Nunki, thanks for commenting. It is important that we all read and consume what we want – that’s how we learn. Good luck on your paper – we’re sure it’ll be great and we appreciate you being a part of this conversation with us.
Morgan January 14, 2017 at 8:03 pm
I am writing a report on this book right now and I honestly think that it should not be banned.
Being in a seventh grade environment, the kids here already know about the things in this novel before they read this book and really didn’t think the profanities and sexual content took away from the book.
But that still doesn’t stop the few teachers who give my English teacher the stink eye because they think that the book is wrong. Or the many parents who come to PTO meetings to complain about their child growing up too fast.
But is knowing these things at this age worse than being kept in the dark?
Also, the people who talk about this book being against anyone, in my opinion, are wrong. This book is about a poor boy who is trying to figure out his life which is being bombarded by racism and hormones. Surely you can understand his point of view. Which means you can understand and tolerate the occasional use of the word ‘fuck’.
Thank you for reading! Have a great day all of you.
Katie Branson January 16, 2017 at 10:31 am
Morgan, thanks so much for sharing your opinion. We love to hear what our customers and fans think of the books we love, the ones we review, the ones we don’t like and especially those that get a bad rap. Thanks again for sharing! Read on!
matthew smith January 29, 2017 at 7:35 pm
I was wondering when this book was banned
Katie Branson January 30, 2017 at 9:39 am
According to Google it was banned in 2014.
Laura September 14, 2017 at 1:06 am
My child is not sexually active and it isn’t the schools place to introduce him to crap like this. His father and I will discuss whatever sexual contents with him when he comes to us or at the appropriate time. Not all children have been exposed to this type of content. That’s what’s wrong the children today let them keep their innocence and enjoy childhood without exposing them to adult material at such a young age. This book should definitely be BANNED it’s too explicit for young children. As for parents who feel it’s okay for their kids to be exposed they should sign consents don’t just expose others to this trash who has no idea that their child or children is reading this book.
Caity Evans September 15, 2017 at 11:36 am
Hi Laura! Thanks for sharing your opinion. It’s great to have our blog readers engaging in a discussion about banned books and censorship on our site. Thanks for reading and shopping at Bookmans!
Rachel November 8, 2017 at 6:22 pm
Hello! I am a high school student that has read and studied Diary of a Part-Time Indian this year. After reading it I can say that I if it hadn’t, my views on reservation life and Native American stereotypes would’ve remained the same. I was ignorant before on the topic, but thanks to this book I have more knowledge on it. Albeit masturbation, boners, racism and obscene things like that are in this book. It didn’t take away from the lesson it taught me. I’m old enough to not let these topics “harm my adolescent mind”. Many people think that high schoolers and middle schoolers need to be protected from these things, but we don’t need to be. What we need to learn is how to deal with them in a mature way.
adam December 3, 2017 at 8:32 am
I absolutely agree with you Lauran . It sad that school don’t ask parent to permission to teach our children this kind of the book. there isn’t any value lesson that a child learn from this book.
Isabel December 3, 2017 at 10:22 pm
Can you give me three reason why you think the book shouldn’t be banned?
Valerie R December 4, 2017 at 8:21 am
We are happy that you are engaging in this discussion with other readers and we want to encourage you to continue to speak your piece about this book or any others. We feel that you and everyone else has the right to choose what you want to read. If this book isn’t for you, that’s your choice. Bookmans actively fights censorship and promotes freedom of expression at every opportunity because we believe you have the right to read, view, and listen to what you want. Thanks for reading this article and for being open to talking about it with others!
Marge January 13, 2018 at 7:09 pm
If this novel were rewritten and all swear words removed, as well as sexual remarks, would it still be a worthy read for grade 7 and up?
It is filled with wonderful images and lessons about life, tragedy, descriptions of characters, and certainly opens eyes to the devastating conditions on reservations.
i would love to know if it would be as popular if the profanity was removed!
Personally, the fact that a 12 year old knows and relates to this vocabulary, makes me just so sad.
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Manson January 26, 2018 at 8:11 am
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has been widely banned in schools across the country, and I firmly believe that it shouldn’t be. While yes, Alexie does write some scenes with explicit language, sexual remarks, and violence, the fact that this book delivers an important message definitely overshadows this. Alexie teaches readers, specifically young adults, in a unique and personal way that documentaries and textbooks just can’t.
One reason why many adults want this book banned is because of its inappropriate jokes. The main character, Junior, is a middle schooler going through puberty. This book is aimed at kids going through some of the same problems as Junior, and Alexie tries to make a book that is relatable to them. He uses humor that may not be deemed “completely appropriate”, but it’s situations that kids will not only laugh at, but also understand and relate with. I think this aspect of the book is what makes it so great. For example, Junior picks fun at some of his teachers by drawing over-exaggerated caricatures (Alexie 29). This not only appears as funny, but is also relatable to teenagers, who know how it feels to have weird teachers.
Another reason why some adults want it off of shelves is because of its subject matter. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of a teenager on an Indian Reservation that is slowly falling apart. Junior watches violence and drugs ruin lives all around him nearly every day, and sometimes the images that Alexie creates can be quite disturbing, but are necessary to portray how bad life on some Indian Reservations really is. For example, Junior’s father is forced to kill his sick dog, Oscar, because he doesn’t have enough money to take it to a veterinarian (Alexie 14). While this scene is very tragic, it gives the reader a more personal insight to the condition of Indian Reservations, rather than giving a textbook point of view. We become attached to the characters in the story, taking it to a more personal level. Without some of the violence and alcohol abuse that Alexie includes, the effect of the book just really wouldn’t be the same.
I believe that Alexie has created some very important points in his book, and he created a great way to expose teenagers to how bad the conditions on modern Indian Reservations really are. While, yes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian does have some edgy subject material, it is all crucial to paint a picture of the inescapable poverty really does need to be shown. While, yes, I suppose this book isn’t appropriate for younger audiences, I do believe that all older teens should read this in schools across the country. This side of the U.S. is barely ever shown, and awareness for this should be spread. In a reservation filled with death, hatred, and despair, Alexie creates a character that you can’t help but root for. Alexie tells a story of courage and hope in a time when it is certainly needed.
Sky Weir April 19, 2018 at 12:30 pm
This book is a very good insight into the lives of how Indians lived and I don’t think this book should be banned for a lot of different reasons. In this book, it discusses hardships that came with being an Indian and different friendship, but the main moral of this book is to have hope. It is a very good message to young readers. This book is very well written and is personally one of the best books I have ever read. Sherman Alexie does include some content that is better suited for older readers but then if you don’t think it is appropriate for you then just don’t read it. I also like how he relates to Arnold having 2 different sides to himself, black and white.
Vanessa April 22, 2018 at 1:35 pm
Is the book still banned today??
Valerie R April 23, 2018 at 8:18 am
Hello Vanessa! I do not see it as currently banned in 2018, but there are still live petitions in multiple states to ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Vanessa April 23, 2018 at 9:27 am
Oh I see. Thank you Valerie!
Vanessa April 24, 2018 at 7:58 am
Who banned the book?
caleb May 17, 2018 at 11:05 am
im in 8th grade and we just finished this book and if you ask me this book has more bad than good
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When did mainstream America throw out moral integrity in favor of teaching debauchery as well as the most debasing language possible to children? We are appalled at child sex trafficking, rampant drug & alcohol abuse of parents, child murders by parents & too many horrors that don’t get told by mainstream media. Seems that what has become most important is that children are taught that EVERYTHING revolves around entertainment and how to make sure that all experiences are pleasurable. Kids love to pull the “shock factor” on any/all adults. Seems this book condones this by making children “feel” comfortable talking about sexuality and use of inappropriate language skills. The good points in the book are erased by the “shock factors” this author feels the need to share about his feelings. We must step up and teach moral lessons that increase their sense of worth without stooping to to this level of total debasement of character. “Trash talk” should be not be assigned to children and all of us CHRISTians should be allowed better choices than to have this pushed into their brains. Let them be little for as long as possible. Growing up with no boundaries is the pits.