Unlike most book clubs, at the McBride & District Public Library, instead of everyone reading the same book, we are given a theme, and members can choose whatever book they want that relates to that theme. February’s theme was “Banned Books” and I chose the novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, which often shows up on lists of banned books. Here is my review of the book:
This National Book Award winning novel, is written in the first person through the eyes of a fourteen year old Native American boy, who lives on a reservation in Washington State. Because it is written as the uncensored words and thoughts of an adolescent male, it may come off as being crude and sometimes vulgar to people who see themselves as “proper” and above the riff-raff of society. I found the style of writing reminiscent to that of Demon Copperhead, which was also written as a first person narrative from the viewpoint of a teenager, who also grew up in poverty.
Arnold, the protagonist, was born with hydrocephalus, so he is small for his age, and suffered from seizures, poor eyesight, and stuttering, which make him the target of a lot of bullying on the “Rez”. He had one friend and playmate; Rowdy, who protected him from bullying. His parents, have problems with alcohol, so Arnold’s future doesn’t seem all that bright.
He is a smart kid, but in frustration at the ancient text book he is given in school, he throws the book, accidentally hitting his teacher in the head. That night the teacher, who holds no malice and recognizes Arnold’s intellect, visits Arnold at home and urges him to get away from the Rez and transfer out of the reservation school, so he can get a good education and not be dragged down by the reservation culture of dead ends.
Surprisingly, Arnold takes the advice to heart, and decides to transfer to Reardan, a white high school 20 miles away, located just outside the reservation. When they could, his parents drive him, at other times, Arnold has to hitch a ride to the school, but he is determined attend, and he begins his rather lonely schooling in the richer and whiter school. At first, he is basically ignored by all of his class mates, but as the year progresses, he begins to have a few friends, which include a tough football player, an attractive girl, and the outcast intelligent classmate.
Through sheer toughness and determination, Arnold, despite his small stature and a freshman, makes the high school varsity basketball team and starts to become popular with his classmates. While his transfer to the white school gradually becomes very beneficial to Arnold, his transfer creates problems for him back at the reservation, where everyone, even Rowdy, his former best friend, see him as a turncoat to the tribe and refuse to have anything to do with him.
One thing I really liked about the novel was Arnold’s recognition that alcohol was the cause of most of the problems on the Reserve. He says something like, “at his age of 14, most white kids have had to go to maybe, one or two funerals, probably for a grandparent, but at that age, Arnold had already gone to 42 funerals on the Reservation, and most of those deaths were caused by alcohol.
Because Arnold is a teen and faces teenage problems, this novel is often used in high school classes. The novel has sometimes been banned due to content and language, (I found two references to masturbation, and one reference to the slur “Nigger” which was used in a racial joke aimed at Arnold on his first day in the white school).
The other reason some pious person wanted it banned was because after the multitude of unnecessary deaths Arnold witnesses on the Rez, in his frustration, Arnold furiously takes aim at “God”.
With all of the things now available and accessible to teens on the Internet and in teen culture, trying to to ban this uplifting and enlightened novel is laughable, and seems beyond ridiculous to me. I am sure most of those who want to ban it have never read it.
I originally thought that there may be some kickback because the “White” education and mixing with White society, really improved the projection of Arnold’s life, but I didn’t read of any comments about that.
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