Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

February's genre for book club became banned books, a nod to Freedom to Read Week at the end of the month. I actually don't remember how I picked my book. Was it a book clubber suggestion? From Facebook? Twitter? Goodreads? I think likely a randomly googled banned book list. It just felt right to follow up reading Indian Horse with another novel about life as a Native American. And really, when was the last time I read a YA novel?

February 2014: Banned Books

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie
288 pages

Junior is a young cartoonist from the Spokane Indian Reservation. A bright, awkward, yet talented basketball player, he makes the monumental decision to leave the reservation to go to a nearby "white" high school. Add to all the usual teenage angst subjects the hardships of growing up on a reservation, and you've got Alexie's heartbreaking yet humourous journey through high school. The novel is semi-autobiographical, and feels like an insider's view into reservation life. Since Junior copes with his struggles by drawing comics, the text is punctuated with various comics and illustrations by artist Ellen Forney, which really add to the experience of reading the story.

It's weird to say this was an enjoyable book, because nothing really good happens to our poor hero. He's got health issues, is poor, gets bullied and beat up, fights with his best friend, and loses members of his family to the horrors of alcohol. I think it's the combo of the cartoons and the wit of the author that makes you care about and root for Junior. And in the end, he provides hope for himself, his family, and his tribe.

This is an excellent read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who reads YA (heck, maybe I should read more YA) or who wants to get behind the stereotypes and learn about what growing up on a reservation might be like.

So why was it banned? Apparently, there was some controversy about the depiction of sex and violence. It was banned by a school board in Missouri and a school in Wyoming in 2010, and a school board in Washington in 2011. Really, as if the harsh realities of real life are worse than the dystopian crap of The Hunger Games (actually, that's also a banned book, oops). Yes they talk about masturbation (good grief, they're teenage boys), and lots and lots of drinking, and someone gets shot but really, isn't that an episode of the Simpsons? Kids ought to read this book. Maybe they'd learn something and then they'd stop being so damn mean to each other. And adults should read this too, maybe it would cure racism.

And yes, the film is coming. I hope they do a good job.