Welcome to our seventh and final post from the Museum Studies class as they explored Banned Books Week and censorship. If you want to review their assignment or learn more about Banned Books week, please see Prof. Julie Holcomb’s recent post: Banned Books Week Introduction. Many thanks to this class for helping us think about books, censorship, and our freedom to read.
by Laine Harper
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
In honor of Banned Books Week, I selected a text from the 2021 Banned Books list. I chose The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I had no previous knowledge of the book and chose it strictly because it stuck out to me in the list of titles. I am a history major, so the mention of “Indian” got my mind rolling on the history of America’s indigenous peoples, yet this book is not a history book. It is a modern story of a young Spokane Indian and all of his challenges (and victories) that he encountered whilst living on a reservation.
Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, was born to Spokane parents on the reservation. His childhood was not the greatest. Junior was born with too much cerebral fluid on his brain, resulting in many surgeries, seizures, and a large cranium. He was also born with too many teeth, is extremely lanky, has giant feet, and wears grandpa-thick glasses as a high school freshman. Needless to say, he was bullied and picked on by everyone on the reservation. Junior’s story encompasses his courageous move from the reservation school, Winnipit, to the white farm town school outside the reservation, Reardan. No one ever leaves the reservation, but Junior did, and consequently every Indian left on the reservation saw him as a “white-loving” traitor. Even Junior’s best friend, Rowdy hated him for leaving his Native American family and friends behind in exchange for white people. But Junior thrives at Reardan, he gets a girlfriend, starts on the varsity basketball team as a freshman, and ultimately finds a caring community in the people he’s taught to be wary of.
According to Marshall Libraries, the book was banned in 2021 “for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author.” The novel definitely contains some slurs, curse words, and crude humor, but I do not think it warrants being banned. The author mentions masturbation and brushes over some brief sexual content, but not in too much detail. This is an increasingly common occurrence in YA literature, as maturity is occurring faster in young adults and they are exposed to more taboo subjects at younger ages.
As for the sexual harassment allegations, I was previously under the influence that the fictional account of Junior closely reflects that of Alexie and he had written about misconduct through the actions of the fictional character. However, after some research, the allegations were directly against Sherman Alexie. To which allegations he admitted that he has “harmed others” and that there are “women telling the truth” (NPR). After reading the sources and stories from women that came forward, it is evident that Sherman Alexie has some explaining to do. I do not condone his misconduct towards women, and it is a tarnish to the reputation of a prolific Native American author. I bought his book, knowing that it was banned for a reason, so in a way, did I support him? Did my money fund his ego enough that he will try to lure in another woman with his authorial air and promises of publishing? These are ethical questions to be answered another time.
Yet, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a good book. It is well written, wise, witty, and entertaining. Yes, it contains some mature content, but nothing that a teenager in public school doesn’t already know. It should not be censored, as there are other books far more graphic still on the shelves and in school curriculum. However, my support for Sherman Alexie (and future publications) after my research into the sexual misconduct allegations against him, has lessened significantly.