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


Arnold Spirit, Jr. was born with an excess of spinal fluid in his skull. The brain damage that resulted, and the surgery he underwent to correct it, left him skinny, with less teeth, an over-sized head, hands, and feet; not to mention poor eyesight, seizures, stutters, and lisps. Because of this, Arnold is regularly beaten up, and given such nicknames as “retard” and “globe”.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian details Arnold’s life on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and his decision to go to an all-white high school in another town.

This is the story of a boy struggling with a decision to leave everything he knows behind in pursuit of a decent education. This is a story celebrating a love of learning, and the struggle that we all face between making others happy and finding a life worth living; about a young boy trying to find a better life than the one he is destined for.

The young adult novel by Sherman Alexie was released in 2007 to immediate acclaim. It won the 2007 National Book Award and the 2009 Odyssey Award for best audio book.

Something so positive must be bad, right? In its barely 4 years of existence, it has also catapulted (naturally) to the forefront of America’s most banned and challenged books.

A parent in Crook County, Oregon in 2008 copied pages referencing masturbation and took it to the school board. Upon reading the copied pages out of context, the board immediately removed the book from shelves. Crook County High School Principal Jim Golden said he was disappointed by the district’s choice.

“I’ve been directed by the board to pull the book, and I will comply with their directive, but I respectfully disagree with what they are doing. It’s a slippery slope if you take one or two pages out of context; I mean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is about two teenagers who are having a relationship. It’s a dangerous precedent”.

In June, 2009, a parent group at Antioch High School in Chicago demanded its removal from a summer reading program calling it “racist”, and “vulgar” for its language, descriptions of masturbation, sexually-themed jokes, and subjects such as alcoholism and violence. An administrator for the school stated that the challenges faced by many of the characters are the same that incoming freshmen face.

In 2010, the Stockton, Missouri school board voted 7-0 to uphold its decision to ban the book and 7-2 against a proposal to return the book to the high school library with restrictions.

Just last week, on June 19, 2011, the Tri-City Herald in Washington State reported that the Richland School Board voted 3-2 to prohibit its use in classrooms of any grade level. The book had been piloted in a ninth-grade English class last fall and the original question before the board was whether or not to use it at the freshman level, but the final vote took it away from all students. None of the board members had actually read the book, they conceded, but banned it anyway.

Also last week, Alexie exchanged comments on the Wall Street Journal’s website about the book being appropriate reading for young teenagers. The reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon, had included Absolutely True in a list of young adult books that “reflect back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.”

“Not so”, countered Alexie. “I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that.”

Sources: American Library Association, Yahoo News, Tri-City Herald, Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

16 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  1. **AUTHOR'S NOTE: In this article I noted that on June 19, 2011, the Richland school district in Washington State voted to revoke access and remove this book from school libraries.
    In a news article posted July 12, 2011, the Richland School Board has reversed last month's decision to ban the use of a young-adult novel by a popular Northwest author in classrooms.
    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie now is cleared for any grade level in Richland high schools.
    Read more:

  2. Pingback: Banned Book Review: The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian « Friends of the Rochester Public Library

  3. The book The Absolutely True Part-Time Diary is a transforming book that is so enlightening and that anyone who reads it can learn something from it. I don’t think that it should be banned because of all the life lessons that could help a reader later on in life. Despite its frequent use of profanity and other inappropriate activity, these things are used to more accurately depict the struggle of the character throughout the book and how the character overcomes it. In addition to that, banning this book will deprive students of a book that portrays the life of a struggling teen in a way that most students will be able to relate to. Instead of completely banning the book, I think that schools/libraries should instead monitor the ages of the readers and maybe supervise certain scenes in the book with too much inappropriate behavior.

  4. I am a sixteen-year-old boy who just finished Alexie’s novel.

    The banning of Alexie’s book is absurd. Yes, obviously this book includes some vulgar language and descriptions of masturbation. Other unconventional topics that leave parents outraged at this book include violence, gayness, alcoholism, strong language and racism. Yet, and while we as a society may not want to admit it, these taboo topics are a very real part of life. Every day more alcoholics sink deeper into addiction, people throw around racist slurs, people question their sexuality, kids punch each other and, you better believe it, people MASTURBATE. Just because a topic is considered “unspeakable,” that does not make it any less prominent in society. Parents and administrators are not doing their children any favors by sheltering them, and they need to accept that they cannot shelter their children forever. Ironically, the very students that administrators and parents try to “protect” from Alexie’s novel probably masturbate (or have tried it), have tried drinking or drugs, said a racist joke, fought or even had a gay thought. Many kids are probably confused about some of these topics or at least curious. I am pretty mature for my age, but I don’t pretend to be omniscient, not in the least. Kids need to discuss and understand these topics despite their uncomfortable and inappropriate connotations. To the dismay (or relief) of some parents, their kids will probably not want to discuss masturbation, gayness or racism with them. That being said, the classroom provides an accepting and safe environment for kids to talk with an intelligent adult. The last two lines of my paper on Alexie’s book go as followed: “Alexie’s novel brings up crucial discussion topics that young adults need to consider before they reach adulthood. Guided discussions with an intelligent and understanding teacher will provide the chance for teenagers to discuss these essential parts of life and will hopefully teach them to embrace or at least respect different life choices.”

  5. Hi errbody, I am a 16 year old man who just read this book in my English Class at school.

    This book should 100% not be banned. You wouldn’t ban an PG13 or R rated movie would you? Just because this book has racism, sexual stuff, anti-semitism, language, poverty, death, and alcohol all over it does not mean it should be banned. It is an amazing book worthy of the Nation Book Award. This book was one of my favorite books I have ever read in an English class, and the fact that it had all of these questionable topics in it made it even better. You will run into these problems everywhere you go, and hiding them in a book will not make a difference. As sad as this book was at times, it was also extremely humorous mostly due to some of the topics that were questionable. Anybody who thinks this book should be banned clearly hasn’t been exposed to the world because all of the reasons why it would be banned are everywhere in the world today.

  6. “Appropriateness” is the key. Do I love Sherman Alexie’s book? Yep. Did I applaud when the Richland School District reversed its decision? Yes, I did. Is the book appropriate for most middle-school and high-school readers? What about elementary school? Maybe…or maybe not. Truthfully, most 4th graders won’t be interested in Junior’s story until they get a bit older. If they are interested, they are probably old enough.

    I am a teen services librarian in a large public library; my colleague is a (retired) librarian in a middle school. We created our program “Sex in the Library” to talk about sexuality in books written for teens–and how parents, teachers, and librarians can make good choices to provide teen students the (steamy) content they want to read.

    We welcome questions, comments, thoughts and suggestions on our blog We also have a book coming out this spring: Sex in the Library (VOYA Press, 2013). If this topic is interesting to you, you might want to read it.

      • I think Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a funny novel that makes the reader laugh. the book made me want to read all the way to the end. the cartoon pictures are humorous and helps you actually see what the main character was doing. for some the sexual humor might upset people, but for me I think it ads onto the funniness of the book!

  7. Pingback: I Know What You Should Read | Why The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Is So Controversial (and Why You Should Read It Anyway)

  8. Pingback: The Absolutely True Diary of Real-Time Book Censorship | BOOK RIOT

  9. Pingback: Heart-Breaking Honesty and Life Affirming Humour: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | alisonmbutler

  10. I think it’s a shame to ban something that is this powerful. Teenagers go through periods of isolation all the time. Also to read about Native reserves is important. It’s not that different from being in any ghetto. People who ban things worry about the rise of consciousness in the weak, underprivileged and poor. If a book stirs up the masses it becomes dangerous. Banning a book based on a page where a kid (in his diary) explains how people masturbate and we need to get over it because everyone does it, is like saying we all drink water. There are worse things in Catcher in the Rye, more blood in Macbeth, more raunch in Hamlet. Parents are weirdos who think their kids haven’t seen or done anything awful yet. No wonder teens don’t talk to them.

  11. I personally think the banning of the book was an insane idea although the book may not be suitable for a particular age but for a certain age group it will be relevant. There are some things that are not easy to tackle on a daily basis and with some people but books like these help us to reach a form of communicating these things that are not easy to talk about. I am a first year student in one of the universities in South Africa and we really appreciated the book. We were looking forward to more books like this one unfortunately we had the end of the semester. This book should be kept for future generations,they will appreciate it too

  12. Pingback: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | the Bookworm

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